Germany: Latest findings from DGB Good Work Index

The German Confederation of Trade Unions (DGB) introduced the DGB Good Work Index in 2007 as a measurement tool, based on data from an annual survey, for monitoring quality of work. This article describes the background to the DGB Good Work Index, the most recent findings and the debate around the Index. 


The idea of a work quality index was fuelled by the German labour market reforms of the early 2000s, which raised employment by making it easier to use temporary agency workers and to offer so-called ‘mini jobs’ – short part-time work not fully covered by the social security system. The reforms provoked strong public protests and the trade unions called for job quality over quantity.

While the Lisbon Strategy spoke of more and better jobs (PDF), the German Confederation of Trade Unions (DGB) decided to campaign for good work. Declaring that data on job satisfaction are not a reliable indicator because workers may just be satisfied to have a job at all, DGB claimed that only workers themselves can define good work.

Under the financial umbrella of the Initiative New Quality of Work (Initiative Neue Qualität der Arbeit, INQA) – a multistakeholder approach set up by the federal government – DGB promoted a representative survey and research study, What is good work?, conducted by the International Institute for Empirical Social Economy (INIFES). Published in 2006, the findings fed into the design of the DGB Good Work Index, which was first published in 2007.

The DGB Index was conceptualised to serve three objectives:

  • to provide data for DGB’s campaign on good work;
  • to support its affiliated trade unions with research findings on various issues;
  • to give a tool to worker representatives for measuring work quality at company level.

Since 2012, all Index-related activities are coordinated by the Institute DGB Index Good Work. The DGB Institute also holds the copyright on the index methodology, but the design, methodology and survey are outsourced to avoid potential criticism of bias and lack of reliability. The DGB Institute’s academic researchers have developed the methodology in cooperation with an INIFES) and a joint agency set up by DGB and the University of Göttingen – the Cooperation Office Trade Unions and Universities of the University of Göttingen (Kooperationsstelle). The annual survey is outsourced to a university-based survey specialist (uzBonn). On request, the DGB Institute provides access to the survey data for research purposes.

The DGB Institute releases the findings in annual reports, sector-related supplements and special issues. As of 2016, nine annual reports are available plus special issues on topics such as intensification of work, stress, and transition into retirement. The United Services Union (ver.di) uses the survey data to investigate sector-related issues. The Index methodology is also applied by worker representatives for measuring work quality at company level.

Index methodology

The methodology is basis on three principles.

The first principle is that the Index shall indicate the quality of work from the workers’ point of view. Hence only subjective indicators are used. This holds even with regard to factual items such as income or company benefits. For example, workers are asked ‘Thinking of you working, do you find your income appropriate?’ (four scales from ‘not at all’ to ‘very much so’) and ‘Thinking of your main income, to which of the following statements do you agree (four scales from ‘not sufficient’ to ‘enough to get along with’ to ‘I live well from it’). The annual survey covers a representative random sample of some 5,000 to 6,000 workers (including workers on atypical contracts) in all sectors and regions. The questionnaire contains 42 standard questions plus additional questions that vary depending on the topic.

The second principle is that the Index shall measure all dimensions of work that have an impact on the worker’s well-being. Based on the 2006 research study, 11 subdimensions were defined:

  1. Possibilities to influence work and creative opportunities
  2. Skill training and personnel development
  3. Corporate culture, quality of management, social climate
  4. Meaningfulness of work
  5. Schedule of working time
  6. Social and emotional requirements/demands
  7. Physical demands
  8. Contradictory demands and work intensity
  9. Income and retirement pensions
  10. Company benefits
  11. Job security, future prospects

Of these, subdimensions 1–4 form the partial index ‘resources’; 5–8 the partial index ‘demands’; and 9–11 the partial index ‘income/security’.

The third principle is that quality of work is defined as dependent on the relation between individual resources, demands/strains and income/security. Work is defined as ‘good’ if individual resources are promoted, job demands are not felt to be a burden, and income and security are considered appropriate.

The same variables are used for all items and subdimensions. A first question asks how often a condition occurs or what the degree of availability is (four scales from ‘very often/great extent’ to ‘never/not at all’) and a second question asks to what extent this is felt to be a burden (four scales). On the basis of the responses, each individual is given a score from 1 to 100. All responses are averaged by the 11 subdimensions, obtaining an average score of each one. Then, all dimensions within the resources, demands and income/security categories are averaged again to yield the three partial indices. These three are averaged again (no weighting) to obtain the final, global DGB Good Work Index.  

  • Index values between 80 and 100 points are defined as ‘good work’.
  • Index values between 65 and 79 points are considered as ‘upper medium level’.
  • Index values between 50 and 64 points are considered as ‘lower medium level’.
  • An index value of 49 points or less is considered ‘poor work’.

Recent findings on work quality

The DGB Index Report 2015 found a global Index of 62 points (compared with 61 points in 2014): that is, the quality of work of all 11 subdimensions was at the lower medium level. The result signals some improvements compared with the first findings from 2007, which reported an index of only 57 points. The changes are presumed to relate to an increase in job security, but comparison of data is not possible due to changes to the methodology. However, the subdimension ‘meaningfulness of work’ had the highest value scores between 2007 and 2015, whereas the subdimensions ‘income’ and ‘work intensity’ had the lowest.

In 2015, the quality of work was highest in the subdimensions ‘meaningfulness of work’ (80 points), ‘schedule of working time’ (74 points) and ‘job security’ (72 points). In contrast, it was lowest in the subdimensions ‘work intensity’ (49 points), ‘income’ (50 points) and ‘company benefits’ (52 points) (Table 1).

Table 1: Quality of work by subdimension
  Poor work Lower medium level Upper medium level Good work
  49 and fewer points 50–64 points 65–79 points 80–100 points
Skill training and personnel development   63    
Possibilities to influence work and create opportunities     65  
Corporate culture, social climate      68  
Perceived meaningfulness of work       80
Scheduling of working time     74  
Emotional and social job demands     65  
Physical demands   57    
Work intensity, contradictory demands, multitasking 49      
Income and pensions   50    
Company benefits   52    
Job security, future prospects     72  


Source: DGB Good Work Index, Report 2015, Figure 12, p. 15

Differences in work quality between workers range between 62 and 66 points. Only the work of male part-time workers (66 points) and workers younger than 26 years (65 points) reached the upper medium level of quality; the work of full-time working men, of all female workers and all older age groups was found to be at the lower medium level (Table 2).

Table 2: Quality of work by individual characteristics
  Poor work Lower medium level Upper medium level Good work
  49 and fewer points 50–64 points 65–79 points 80–100 points
Women, full-time   60    
Men, full-time   63    
Women, part-time   62    
Men, part-time     66  
26 and younger     65  
26–35 years   63    
36–45 years   62    
46–55 years   61    
56 and older   63    
Supervisory position   63    
No supervisory position   62    


Source: DGB Good Work Index, Report 2015, Figure 14, p. 22.

Interestingly, no difference was found in work quality between the manufacturing industries (in total) and the public/private services sector (in total). Both remained at 62 points, but the values indicate that some sectors are in the upper medium level and others in the lower medium level of work quality. The conditions are best (65–68 points) in financial services, the information and communications sector, public services and the chemical sector. In all remaining sectors, the value is less than 65 points (lower medium level). The lowest quality is found in the construction sector and health services (59 points each).

Work intensification and excessive working hours

According to DGB findings, the intensity of work has increased over the past years of economic growth. In the 2015 survey, 60% of all respondents reported feeling an increase in their work load over the previous 12 months; 52% said they ‘often’ or ‘very often’ felt burdened by their work load or under time pressure, and 47% revealed that in the past year they had gone to work for more than five days despite feeling ill.

Multitasking and staff cuts are given as major causes for this development. Workers employed in financial and intermediary services, in information and communication, in the public services, in the chemical sector and in social services are the most strongly affected by either multitasking or staff cuts or both. Workers in education, in health services and in the hotels and restaurants (horeca) sector reported that their work kept them from taking breaks.

A 2016 DGB Index report on excessive working time found that 33% of all full-time workers worked more than 45 hours per week and 17% more than 48 hours – that is, beyond the legal threshold. Not surprisingly, the majority of these workers were male, though a considerable proportion of female full-time workers reported working very long hours. This is against the background of the study's finding that only 52% of all female respondents worked full-time compared with 92% of all male respondents. However, one-quarter of all women who work full time worked up to 45 hours or more per week (Table 3).

Table 3: Excessive working time by sex
  Men (as % of all male full-time workers) Women (as % of all female full-time workers)
45 hours or more per week 37 24
More than 48 hours per week 20 11


Source: DGB Good Work Index (2016), Working without end, Figure 3, p. 3

Between 23% and 29% of workers in financial services, health and social services and the manufacturing industries stated that they worked up to 45 hours per week. But in the transport and logistics sector, in the energy, mining and agriculture sector, in business services and horeca, the share of workers working very long hours ranged from 41% (horeca) to 54% (transport and logistics). The data also reveal the impacts of very long hours on work–life balance and social life (Table 4).

Table 4: Excessive working time and work–life balance
  Workers working up to 44 hours (%) Workers working 45 hours and more (%)
Has not enough time for family/friends 28 57
Is unable to forget about work when not working ('often', 'very often') 34 49
Takes shorter rest periods ('often', 'very often') 27 48
Takes work back home  11 32

Source: DGB Good Work Index (2016), Working without end, Figure 8, p. 6.

According to DGB, the 2015 findings indicate the need for more participation and co-determination at company level. The findings also support the objections made by trade unions to the flexibilisation of the eight-hour working day – a demand by employers – and their call for a new regulation against stress at work. An anti-stress regulation was debated by the Federal Council and was on the agenda of the Federal Labour Minister in 2014, but is no longer under discussion.

Critique of the DGB Index

The methodology of the DGB Index has been through phases of harsh criticism and revisions. The academic debate on its methodology culminated in 2010 when Zeitschrift für Arbeitswissenschaft, a leading journal on ergonomics and working conditions, published a special issue (1/2010) on the topic. Fundamental opponents of the Index were in the minority, but several researchers, including those from the Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (BAuA), highlighted methodological problems.

One point of criticism was the use of subjective indicators for all items including, for instance, income and company benefits. Another point was the heterogeneity of the subdimensions and items. A third one was that all variables are weighted the same and that, when aggregated, all the subdimensions have the same influence on the final result.

DGB reacted by reshaping and reducing the number of subdimensions to the 11 listed above and by changing the questionnaire. The design, methodology and conducting of the survey were outsourced to ensure reliability and academic standards, and the DGB Institute was founded.

Although there has been no academic criticism since 2012, criticism from the employer organisations has remained and has increased in recent months in response to the broad media coverage of the DGB Good Work Index. In August 2015, the Confederation of German Employers’ Associations (BDA) issued a paper arguing that the findings should be treated with great caution (PDF). For example, BDA criticised that fact that ‘income/security’ is weighted the same as ‘demands and resources’ and is overrated. It is also said that the phrasing of the questions and the valuing of the responses tend to militate against index values at the upper (‘good’) level of quality. Furthermore, BDA stated that some questions simply cannot be answered properly because they do not capture the reality at company level. The DGB Institute reacted to the BDA paper by publishing a response in October 2015 that declared the BDA’s methodological critique to be either wrong or outdated.

In August 2016, BDA published a further leaflet arguing that the DGB Index was an instrument for pushing DGB’s ‘good work’ campaign which strives for more co-determination rights and more regulation of working conditions. The BDA leaflet made the point that the most reliable indicator of good work is job satisfaction and that findings by the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (BIBB)/BAuA working conditions survey and Eurofound’s European Working Conditions Surveys (EWCS) argue against the DGB Index. BDA cited the EWCS as indicating that the job satisfaction of German workers is considerably above the European average. However, the DGB Index is the most recent working condition data available as the national employee survey by BIBB/BAuA is run only every six years.


Since 2007, the DGB Index has been through phases of critique, revision and organisational reform and in recent years has attracted broad media coverage. No such instrument exists on the side of the employers, whose criticism is that the findings of the DGB Index relate to the current demands by the trade unions for a reform of the works constitution and new regulation on stress prevention. However, this critique has not triggered a new academic debate on the Index’s reliability.

From a research point of view, the controversy between the social partners shows how closely the concepts ‘job satisfaction’ and ‘job quality’ are tied to one side or the other. However, there is no longer any controversy on the usefulness and reliability of subjective indicators.

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