Survey finds that quality of work has improved slightly

The main results of the second Flemish Workability Monitor were published in September 2007. Although the workability rate in the Flanders region of Belgium has slightly increased between 2004 and 2007, 45.9% of Flemish employees still experience workability problems. Moreover, in relation to the risk factors affecting workability, there has been little variation between the 2004 and 2007 findings.

Background

In early 2003, the Flemish Social and Economic Council (Sociaal-Economische Raad Vlaanderen, SERV) committed itself to developing a Flemish Workability Monitor on the quality of work. The workability monitor is a measurement system, which is designed to follow up on the policy agreements made in the Vilvoorde Pact (in Dutch, 1.04Mb PDF) on improving the quality of work (see report The Flemish workability monitor: A broad focus on quality of work (271Kb PDF)). The first measurement was conducted in 2004 and the data obtained were representative of sex, age and sector.

In the spring of 2007, a second workability monitor was organised. Some 20,000 workers in the Flanders region of Belgium were invited to take part in the study by mail. The response rate reached 53.3%. The survey was once again conducted by STV Innovation and Work (STV Innovatie en Arbeid, STV). Some of the main findings of this measurement and comparisons between the 2004 and 2007 results are outlined below; the full report (in Dutch, 421Kb PDF) can be viewed online.

Workability rate

According to the findings of the second workability monitor, 54.1% of all salaried employees in the Flanders region had ‘workable work’ in 2007. In other words, they are not psychologically exhausted by their work, they have a job that motivates them and provides sufficient learning opportunities, and their work and private life are sufficiently balanced.

Conversely, this means that 45.9% of all salaried employees in the Flanders region experience one or more problems relating to the quality of their work. The majority (23.9%) of these employees have a problem with one aspect of the quality of their work, 14% with two aspects, and 7.9% with three or all four aspects (Table 1).

Table 1: Composite workability indicator, Flemish labour market, 2004–2007
Flemish workability indicator, 2004–2007
Number of pressure points % employees with pressure points 2004 % employees with pressure points 2007
0 52.3 54.1
1 24.4 23.9
2 15.0 14.0
3 6.2 6.1
4 2.1 1.8

Note: The four problematic workability indicators of job situation relate to: stress at work, well-being at work, learning opportunities and work–life balance.

Source: Flemish Workability Monitor, 2004–2007

A comparison between the findings reveals that the degree of workability has increased from 52.3% in 2004 to 54.1% in 2007. The improvement with regard to workable work is due mainly to the fact that more employees – the equivalent of an extra 2.7% percentage points – have a job which provides adequate learning opportunities, and that more employees are enjoying a favourable work–life balance ( 1 percentage point). With regard to stress and well-being at work, the situation in 2007 has remained almost the same as in 2004.

Workability risk factors

The workability measurement also examines a number of key factors in the workplace that may impact on the workability of jobs. In relation to most of these factors – including workload, emotional load, autonomy and social support from supervisors – the situation has changed little in 2007 compared with 2004.

Only factors relating to physical working conditions and skill variety show significant differences when comparing the two years. In 2007, fewer employees experienced acute problems regarding skill variety compared with 2004. On the other hand, the proportion of employees with physically demanding working conditions has increased over the period 2004–2007 (Table 2).

Table 2: Employees reporting workability risk factors, 2004 and 2007 (%)
Risk factors detected by Flemish Workability Monitor, 2004–2007
Risk factor Not problematic (%) Problematic (%) Strongly problematic (%)
  2004 2007 2004 2007 2004 2007
Workload 69.0 69.4 31.0 30.6 12.8 12.5
Emotional load 79.5 79.3 20.5 20.7 4.0 4.3
Skill variety 76.2 76.5 23.8 23.5 11.5 10.5
Autonomy 79.2 79.8 20.8 20.2 7.3 7.5
Social support 83.9 84.0 16.1 16.0 6.1 6.2
Physical conditions 87.9 86.3 12.1 13.7 4.5 5.3

Source: Flemish Workability Monitor, 2004 and 2007

More specifically, initial analyses regarding the quality of work among the various labour market sectors show the following:

  • a strong increase in the proportion of employees experiencing motivation problems in the post and telecommunications sector – rising from 21.3% to 29.3%;
  • a higher percentage of employees experiencing problematic physical working conditions in the metallurgy sector – increasing from 19% to 26.5%;
  • an improved situation in the construction sector, where a lower percentage of employees suffered from stress at work in 2007 – decreasing from 31.4% to 24.1%;
  • a higher percentage of younger employees, aged under 30 years, having a job with learning opportunities – rising from 80% to 83.6%;
  • an increase in the degree of workability in large companies with more than 499 employees – rising from 52.7% to 55.7%.

Commentary

One of the most significant findings of the workability monitor is that the workability rate has not deteriorated in recent years. For example, the results on workload (see Table 2) contradict the findings of the European Working Conditions Surveys (EWCS), which found that work intensity had steadily increased for the Belgian sample. The recent EWCS were conducted in 2000 and 2005, and the Flemish Workability Monitor in 2004 and 2007. The question arises therefore whether these contradictory results can be attributed to methodological differences or if they denote a degree of stabilisation in work intensification. No doubt, future results of both surveys will either confirm or refute this hypothesis.

Guy Van Gyes, Higher Institute for Labour Studies (HIVA), Catholic University of Leuven

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