Convergence: Working conditions

07 December 2018

Convergence in working conditions is particularly important to the pursuit of better-quality jobs. The exploration of changes in working conditions and job quality over time and convergence/divergence across countries in this area is of interest to policymakers as it reflects the impact of specific policies at the job level (against the backdrop of financial and economic factors, or other macroeconomic and institutional developments). Many policy debates are based around the topic of working conditions and the improvement of aspects of job quality. At EU level, particular attention is paid to the extension of working life and increasing the participation of workers in paid employment, with an emphasis on creating an inclusive labour market that incorporates those who are economically inactive. Supporting job quality is likely to contribute to a positive experience of working life and therefore the effectiveness of these policies.

Main findings

Eurofound’s analysis reveals that there was no clear-cut movement towards upward convergence in working conditions. Indeed, upward convergence was only observed in two of the subdimensions: physical environment and working time quality. There were overall improvements in work intensity, skills and discretion, and compensation per hour, but countries diverged in those indicators. Downward convergence was apparent in income inequality, with increasing levels but less dispersion across countries.

Featured: Earlier Eurofound work on convergence in working conditions

Latent growth modelling indicated that working time quality had converged across the EU15, as there was a significant negative relationship between the initial mean level and rate of change in working time quality. The comparative analysis of rates of change between countries indicated that the convergence of working time quality between EU15 countries had resulted from the following factors:

  • countries with low levels of working time quality in 1995 (France, Spain, Italy and Ireland) having significantly faster growth rates than countries with higher working time quality in 1995
  • declining trends in Denmark and Sweden. The overall pattern of change in working time quality can, therefore, be characterised as harmonised improvement

Publication: Convergence and divergence of job quality in Europe 1995–2010 (2015 report)

Dimensions and indicators

Physical environment

The absence of physical hazards that pose a risk to health and well-being is an acknowledged feature of job quality. Eliminating or minimising these risks is the aim of occupational health and safety policy in Member States.

Work intensity

While work intensity can be presented as a way to maintain and develop workers’ interest in their day-to-day activities, high levels of work intensity can have a negative impact on health, well-being and effectiveness at work. Moreover, work intensity is not necessarily linked to better company performance. It can lead to poor planning, poor task preparation, delays and lower-quality work.

Working time quality

Working time – its duration and organisation – is important for job quality in two ways. On the one hand, working time plays a role in the health and well-being of workers. For example, the extent to which workers are exposed to workplace risks increases with the duration of work, while the availability of sufficient periods of rest is crucial for a proper recovery. On the other hand, a good balance between working time and non-working time throughout life is essential for workers to be able to work and to continue working.

Skills and discretion

The skills and discretion dimension captures the extent to which workers develop and grow through their experience of work. The concept takes in the skills required in a job, as well as the autonomy given to workers to apply those skills.

Wages and inequality

The dimension of wages and inequality is measured through two indicators, both of which are included in the Social Scoreboard. The first is compensation per hour, which is the average pay employees received by hours worked, expressed in euro. The second is income inequality, the ratio of total income received by the 20% of the population with the highest income (the top quintile) to that received by the 20% of the population with the lowest income (the bottom quintile).

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