EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life


Adaptability is the third of the four pillars of the European Employment Strategy. The employment guidelines adopted at the Special Luxembourg European Council Summit (the ‘Jobs Summit’ of November 1997) were grouped around four pillars: employability , entrepreneurship , adaptability and equal opportunities. The adaptability pillar aims to encourage adaptability in terms of work organisation, working patterns and work contracts, as well regarding regulatory and training systems. This pillar also acknowledges the necessity to strike a balance between a business’s need for flexibility and the need for employees to have security of employment (European Commission’s Green Paper on Partnership for a new organisation of work). However, in an evaluation of the European Employment Strategy after five years of operation, the Commission criticised some aspects of the adaptability pillar, notably the failure to introduce a balance between flexibility, security and job quality, leading to the growth of flexibility to the detriment of employment security.

This evaluation led to new draft employment guidelines announced by the Commission in April 2003. The European Employment Strategy now comprises three main objectives: i) full employment; ii) the improvement of quality and productivity at work; and iii) the strengthening of social cohesion and inclusion. Member States must also implement 10 ‘priorities for action’ in pursuit of these main objectives. The third of these 10 priorities is to ‘address change and promote adaptability in work’.

The guidelines have consistently highlighted the importance of strong involvement of the social partners at European and especially at national level ‘to ensure effective implementation […] in all areas under their responsibility, in particular concerning the management of change and adaptability’. However, the annual reports on adaptability and quality in work have regularly highlighted the weak role of the social partners in the implementation of the European Employment Strategy, and have called for more active engagement on their part in this process.

In the context of the proclamation of the European Pillar of Social Rights (November 2017), the European Commission has made a proposal for a directive on transparent and predictable working conditions in the European Union. In this proposed directive, adaptability is one of the key elements that must be balanced with the need to promote more secure and predictable employment. The directive considers adaptability to be a necessary ingredient for maintaining labour market innovations, and therefore focuses on its regulatory dimension. In this context, the text states that the adaptability of new forms of employment to changes in the economic context has enabled new business models to develop, including in the collaborative economy. Adaptability has also enabled entry into the labour market for people who previously would have been excluded.

See also: European Employment Strategy; flexicurity; National Action Plans; vocational training


Please note: the European industrial relations dictionary is updated annually. If errors are brought to our attention, we will try to correct them.


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