Working conditions and sustainable work

20 September 2017

The demographic challenge of an ageing population and the increasing diversity of working life have led to a greater focus on the concept of sustainable work over the life course. This emphasises the relevance of the quality of a worker’s job and their working environment over the entire course of their working life.

Working longer implies working better. Work organisation and working arrangements should suit individual needs.  

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Current concerns for EU policymakers include work–life balance, particularly for working parents, extending working life and ensuring a proper balance between flexibility and security. This also means fighting undeclared and fraudulent work, investing in human capital, and tackling the significant inequalities that people face in the labour market.

The European Commission’s Europe 2020 strategy strives for ‘smart, sustainable and inclusive growth’ and this implies a focus on job quality and working conditions. This is highlighted in the Commission’s 2010 ‘Agenda for new skills and jobs’. The Commission launched the European Pillar of Social Rights package in April 2017. The principles and rights enshrined in the Pillar are structured around three categories, one of which is fair working conditions.

Eurofound's work

Eurofound has proven expertise in monitoring and analysing working conditions across a wide range of dimensions for over 40 years. These include working time and work–life balance, workplace health, safety and well-being, training and skills, work organisation, earnings and prospects, and job satisfaction.

It has looked specifically at the working conditions of men and women, of working conditions in different sectors and occupations and of workers of different age groups.

It has placed a particular focus on the conditions that older workers are facing and how they are linked to the ability and willingness to work up to retirement age. The links between work and health are investigated in close consultation with the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA). Eurofound also collaborates with the International Labour Organization (ILO) on the issues around the future of work.

Key contributions

Eurofound’s sixth European Working Conditions Survey (EWCS) conducted in 2015 interviewed 44,000 workers in 35 countries on a broad range of work-related issues. It builds on the lessons learned from the previous five surveys to paint a wide-ranging picture of Europe at work across countries, occupations, sectors and age groups. The Survey Mapping Tool presents these data in interactive format, enabling analysis of the variables according to Member State and demographic characteristics. 

Using EWCS data, Eurofound has developed indices for measuring different dimensions of job quality across Europe. Other research examined policies that enable people to participate in the labour market until an older age and specifically how to extend working life through flexible retirement schemes.

Work with EU-OSHA has resulted in a joint report on psychosocial risks in European workplaces. Eurofound has also looked more specifically at physical and psychological violence at work.

Ongoing work

The analysis of the most recent data from the sixth EWCS will shed more light on:

  • the working conditions of workers of different ages
  • the link between working conditions and workers’ health (with EU-OSHA)
  • the role of motivation in keeping workers longer in work
  • exploring job quality through sectoral and occupational comparisons
  • the link between employment status and working conditions and well-being outcomes
  • the challenges of work–life balance for men and women
  • working conditions and employee engagement and development of workers knowledge and skills
  • the link between job quality and the sustainability of work.

Eurofound will work with the ILO to look at working conditions in a global perspective.

There will also be a particular focus on gender equality at the workplace and on the the associated risks and opportunities of casual work.

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