Sweden: Recent Developments in Work Organisation in the EU 27 Member States and Norway

  • Observatory: EurWORK
  • Topic:
  • Published on: 24 Listopad 2011


Disclaimer: This information is made available as a service to the public but has not been edited by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions. The content is the responsibility of the authors.

There are no reliable statistics on the pattern of work organisations. Due to its relation to company size, sector and work characteristics it is difficult to accurately describe the pattern. However, based on research topics and initiatives such as Verksamhetslyftet and Produktionslyftet, the overall trend seems to be the implementation of lean production, specifically within manufacturing and healthcare. An interesting aspect of this trend is the cooperation between the social partners which can be illustrated by the above initiatives. Another interesting aspect is the focus on innovative work organisations which strive for increased value creation rather than cutting costs. Finally, it has not been possible to identify any significant changes in the patterns of work organisations due to the financial crisis.

Block 1: Existing main sources of information dealing with the issue of work organisation at national level and its relation with working conditions, innovation and productivity

  • Are there national statistical sources (censuses, special surveys, other surveys, etc) that analyse the issue of work organisation or are used for analysing the issue of work organisation in your country?. If so, identify them and explain the way work organisation types are defined and asked in these surveys.

  • Are there any other main sources of information published after mid-2000s that may provide valuable information on the issue (i.e. ad-hoc studies, sectoral studies, administrative reports, articles, published case studies, etc). If so, identify them.

  • Have there been any innovations introduced/expected in the existing national statistical sources intended to take into account the issue of work organisation in your country?

The main statistical source for information on work organisation is found in the Work Environment reports produced by Statistics Sweden on behalf of the Swedish Work Environment Authority. The Work Environment report does not include any definitions of work organisations but are investigating work organisation related topics such as the ability for the employee to set their own work pace or variations in work tasks. Other sources for information are the academia and specific work life research institutions which produce information on work organisation related issues, such as:

There are annual reports from various public agencies, authorities and organisations on the relationship between work organisation and its effects on occupational health and economic development. One example is a knowledge overview report called Managing and Organizing for Innovation in Service Firms from the Swedish Governmental Agency for Innovation Systems (Vinnova), on the relationship between work organisation and innovation and developments in service companies. There is also on-going research in the academia on the relationship between work organisation and factors such as occupational health, working conditions, economic growth and innovations. One example is a project called CHEFiOS led by Annika Härenstam, Professor at the department of Work Science (Gothenburg University), which aims to enhance knowledge on managerial and organisational conditions for making public sector services more innovative and health promoting.

There have not been any innovations introduced in the existing national statistical sources within the issue of work organisation in Sweden.

Block 2: Identify existing patterns of work organisation at national level and recent evolution in time

  • Describe existing patterns of work organisation at national aggregated level (according to existing used national definitions) and their associated characteristics per pattern, based on the existing information. Provide information on the (quantitative and qualitative) importance of the different forms of these work organisations in the national context. In order to to reflect the workplace practices, NCs are also requested to provide information on different work organisation-related-items, based on the national Working Conditions surveys that stress the main changes that have taken place in the last 5-7 years (i.e. higher/lower presence of team work; higher/lower presence of autonomy at work; higher/lower presence of job rotation; higher/lower assistance from colleagues or hierarchy; higher/lower task complexity; higher/lower degree of learning, higher/lower problem solving capacity, etc), stressing existing differences by sectors and enterprise sizes, and identifying the main reasons behind these changes. Identify (if possible), the recent evolution in time of work organisation patterns in your country (last 5-7 years). Pay special attention to the effects derived from the current economic crisis. Identify existing differences in work organisation patterns accordingly to sector and company size considerations, as well as (if possible) recent changes in these patterns.

  • Identify work organisation patterns associated with high performance working environments/enterprises.

  • Identify the main drivers for change or barriers to change underpinning these recent developments in work organisation in the country, paying special attention to the effects derived from the current economic crisis.

  • Partners are requested to identify one/the most dynamic national economic sector in terms of work organisation changes and for whom information is available. For this selected economic sector, NCs are requested to provide information on existing predominant work organisation patterns in this sector, as well as recent trends and changes in the last 5-7 years and reasons behind these changes. Also, and in the case the selected economic sector is a non-tertiary one, NCs are requested to provide some general information on recent trends and changes in work organisation patterns in the last 5-7 years and reasons behind these changes in any tertiary sector selected by each NC (i.e. consultancy services, HORECA, consultancy services, call centres, etc).

There is no reliable way to statistically describe the pattern of work organisation at the national aggregated level. The types of work organisation are highly dependent on the sector, size of the company and work characteristics and have not been studied in a quantitative sense. However, according to Lennart Svensson, Professor in Sociology at the University of Linköping, lean production (in a wide sense) is becoming the dominating type of work organisation, not least within the public sector and specifically within healthcare.

The Work Environment Agency (Arbetsmiljöverket) reports do however provide information on work organisation-related-items in an overall view. These surveys are conducted every two years and study the subjective experience of how the work is organised (higher/lower presence of autonomy at work; higher/lower presence of job rotation; higher/lower assistance from colleagues or hierarchy; higher/lower task complexity; higher/lower degree of learning, etc). The results are presented by occupation, sex, socioeconomic status and business sector.

There have been no significant changes in how the work situation is perceived over the last 5-7 years. The overall picture for all employees is relatively constant. There are however consistent differences between sexes in some areas, as can be seen in the figure below. The data is for the years 2005, 2007 and 2009 taken together, as they are presented in the report. The results are also related to occupation, for example: repetition of the same working operation is most common among salesmen in retail, office and customer support services and among assistant nurses; too much work is most common among elementary school teachers, preschool teachers and management work in large or medium enterprises; work experienced as mentally stressful is most common among elementary school teachers, work that demands specialist competence in biology and healthcare and assistant nurses.

Focus in Sweden has been on how to create innovative workplaces. The argument is that the transition to the knowledge based economy demands new forums for innovation and that a well-functioning workplace is able to meet these demands. The idea is to change the perspective and to view the workplace as a system of learning and innovation rather than just one of production. The Swedish Governmental Agency for Innovation Systems (Vinnova) and the Swedish council for Working Life and Social Research (FAS), produced a report in 2009 on this subject. The report presents the so-called “high road strategy”, which means that companies are to shift focus from cutting costs and to strive for increased value creation. The strategy of the work organisation has no specific means and is instead conceptualised in terms of goals. According to this “high road strategy”, there is no divergence between competitiveness and quality of working life, but rather the opposite.

The most dynamic sectors in terms of work organisation are the public sector and healthcare, in particular. The need for a reformation in the public sector came from a continuous trend of savings demands, high sick absence rates and an aging workforce. The goal was to create a work environment that enabled older employees to work until retirement but also to make it attractive for younger employees to stay in the organisation. Through the implementation of lean production, the aim is to increase productivity and the work environment. One example is the initiative Verksamhetslyftet, a program led by the Employment Security Fund (Trygghetsfonden) which is a cooperation between the employer organisation Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SKL) and the trade unions: the Public Employees’ Negotiation Council (OFR), the Swedish Municipal Workers’ Union (Kommunal) and the Academics Alliance(Akademikeralliansen). The program aims to provide knowledge and information for municipalities and county councils that wish to implement lean production in their operations. The program’s support in the practical work consists of courses, study visits, seminars and a network of experiences but each organisation and work place is responsible for their own implementation strategy. An additional goal is to include evaluation research of the program’s effects. A similar initiative has earlier been established in the industrial sector called “Produktionslyftet” (Production boost) financed by The Knowledge Foundation (KK-stiftelsen) and the Swedish Governmental Agency for Innovation Systems (Vinnova).

Block 3: Associated effects of identified different forms of work organisation and work organisation-related items on working conditions

  • Identify associated effects of different existing patterns of work organisation and work organisation-related items on working conditions (i.e. training, skills and employability; health, safety and well-being; working time and work-life balance). Particular elements to be analysed may include stress, job satisfaction, work life balance, workloads and learning

  • Identify (possible) changes in working conditions associated to each work organisation pattern in the last 5-7 years, as well as the main reasons underpinning these changes

  • Partners are requested to provide information focused on the existing relationship between predominant work organisation patterns and existing working conditions in the economic sector selected in previous section.

Clear-cut categorisations of different forms of work organisations are rarely made in Sweden, and hence it is difficult to obtain this type of information. There is however research and reports made on different work organisation-related items and their effect on working conditions. They are however often limited to issues within specific occupations such as safety within construction, noise within childcare, stress within healthcare etc. For example a present study at Gothenburg University which examines the relationship between rationalisation within dental care and Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSD). But there are also studies on more general matters. A study from 2007 conducted by Stockholm stress institute on behalf of the former National Institute for Working Life (Arbetslivsinstitutet) looks into on how the reduction of working time from eight hours per day to six hours per day affected occupational health. The study concluded that the reduction in working time had positive effects on subjective health. There were however no indications of any positive effects on physiological health or long-term effects.

Block 4: Social partners’ position with regard to the issue of work organisation patterns

  • Attitude/opinion of the social partners in your country on the importance of encouraging changes of work organisation in the economic tissue

  • Main elements identified by social partners and associated with forms of work organisation, which have an impact on the improvement of working conditions and performance.

  • Please distinguish (if possible) different views between trade unions and employers organisations.

  • In some countries, agreements have been signed between social partners or initiatives/programmes have been developed by employers and/or trade unions in order to support changes in work organisation for different reasons (e.g. facing the economic crisis, improvement of productivity/performance and/or working conditions). Please, describe one/two relevant agreements or initiatives with the aim of supporting changes in work organisation.

The social partners identify the value of improvements in work organisations. Most of the trade unions have an official strategy of how to work with work organisation related items. For example, The Swedish Trade Union Confederation (LO) expresses a clear idea for improvements of the work organisation and stresses the relationship between work organisation and the work environment. The importance of work organisation is also viewed as related to issues such as discrimination. The union confederation’s main focus is a deeper cooperation between the union and the employer, but also between unions representing the different companies in the production chain.

These documents are often related to how the work organisation affects the work environment, but as the programmes Verksamhetslyftet and Produktionslyftet show, the trade unions also consider the effects on organisational performance. Another example is the employer organisation Forum for Service Companies which cooperates with other actors, such as the Swedish Governmental Agency for Innovation Systems (Vinnova) and the Trade Union for Professionals in the Private Sector (Unionen), in producing research on how to improve the work organisation within the service sector, both in terms of improved working conditions and innovations.

It is hard to distinguish specific differences between the trade unions and the employer organisations view on work organisations. The overall view is however that they share the same perspective on how a good work environment is related to productivity and innovation.

As described earlier, there are initiatives developed by employer organisations and trade unions. Both in terms of the implementation of work organisation types through programmes such as Verksamhetslyftet or Produktionslyftet (production boost), but also in producing new research on how to improve work organisations. A forthcoming report by Göran Brulin, Lennart Svensson and Per-Erik Ellström at the HELIX VINNOVA Excellence Centre (Linköping University) describes the importance of cooperation between social partners for the implementation of lean production. They use Produktionslyftet as an example of a project that includes both the implementation and research aspects and how various social partners cooperate on the issue of work organisation. It was established through an initiative by the employer organisation Association of Swedish Engineering Industries and the Union of Metalworkers (IF Metall). A former chair of the Union of Metalworkers, Göran Johansson, is chair of the steering committee of Produktionslyftet. The program also includes representatives from the academia through various universities (e.g. Royal School of Technology, Luleå University of Technology, The School of Engineering Jönköping University, Blekinge Institute of Technology and Chalmers University of Technology) and is financed by The Knowledge Foundation (KK-stiftelsen) and the Swedish Governmental Agency for Innovation Systems (Vinnova).

Commentary by the NC

There is a surprising lack of information regarding the success or failure in work organisation models elaborated in cooperation between the social partners. The idea behind the cooperation in work organisation seems to be that no work organisation model can be applied without local modifications to suit the cooperative culture and employee involvement structures in Sweden. Work organisation models such as lean are therefore adjusted through informal negotiations between the social partners, to contribute to more efficient companies, to the benefit of both employees and employers.


Mats Kullander and Carl Gahnberg, Oxford Research

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