Better ‘workability’ means longer careers

The most recent results from a three-yearly study that examines perceptions of work in Belgium’s Flemish Region, asking respondents to score ‘workability’ factors, showed that just over half the employees who participated were in a job where they felt motivated and offered them the chance to learn new skills. The same group reported no problems with stress, and said they enjoyed a reasonable work–life balance. Just under a third of the respondents reported that stress was a problem.


Every three years, the Foundation for Innovation and Labour, part of the Flemish Social-Economic Council (SERV), carries out a survey of attitudes towards work in the Flemish Region of Belgium. The results are used to assess the ‘workability’ of jobs in the region. The survey was first carried out in 2004, and the results of the fourth wave conducted among employees in 2013 (in Dutch) have been published.

A job is defined as ‘workable’ for the purposes of the study when it:

  • provides the employee with a high degree of motivation;
  • offers the employee the chance to learn and increase skills;
  • causes no problems with stress at work;
  • offers a reasonable work–life balance.

Employees generally positive about work

The workability rate in the Flemish Region has increased from 52.3% when the first survey was carried out in 2004 to 54.6% in the 2013 survey. The new figures show that 54.6% of Flemish employees have a ‘motivating’ job with ‘sufficient learning possibilities’, ‘no problematic stress at work’ and ‘good work–life balance’.

However, there is still an issue with stress at work, reported by 30% of employees. The results also show that 45.4% of all Flemish employees are faced with one or more ‘workability’ problems. Almost a quarter (24.2%) have problems on one indicator of workability, 13.8% on two, and 7.5% on three or all four indicators of workability.

Between the first wave of the survey in 2004 and the second in 2007, the workability rating increased from 52.3% to 54.1%. Workability stabilised at around the same level of 54.6% in both 2010 and 2013.

The workability score in 2013 was better on three of the four indicators than in 2004 (see table). The proportion of employees who felt they had ‘limited opportunities for learning’ decreased from 22.6% in 2004 to 18% in 2013; problems with work–life balance decreased from 11.8% to 10.8%; and the number of ‘demotivating’ jobs reported decreased from 18.7% to 18.1%.

Workability in the Flemish Region (2004–2013)





Problems with stress at work





Demotivating job





Difficulties with work–life balance





Limited opportunities for learning





Workability rate





Source: Flemish workability monitor 2013 – employees, SERV

Workability and career length

The 2013 report focused particularly on the link between workability and motivation, and how this might affect a person’s decision about whether or not to work until the legal retirement age of 65.

The research looked at the responses from employees aged 40 or over who said all four indicators were satisfactory for their job, and 83.2% of this group also reported that they planned to continue working until the legal pension age.

Willingness to carry on working decreased in line with the reported ‘workability’ of jobs. Among all employees aged 40 years or over who reported problems on one or more indicators, only 48.5% said they were likely to continue in their job until the legal pension age.

High workability in the construction sector

The public sector, employing those in public administration, health and social care, and education have high workability rates (see figure). The food industry and the transport sector have the lowest workability rates.

Workability rate by sector, 2004–2013

Workability rate by sector, 2004–2013

Source: Flemish workability monitor 2013 – employees, SERV

The construction sector is remarkable for having the highest workability rate at 58.9%, given that respondents also report high levels of stress at work and a lack of learning opportunities.

Another notable area is the financial sector. The global economic crisis has had a strong negative effect on workability in this sector. Indicators for job motivation and stress at work have deteriorated since 2007.

Flemish Future Pact 2020

In 2009, the Flemish government and the Flemish social partners agreed on a common Flemish Future Pact 2020. In it, the Flemish social partners committed themselves to a target annual increase in the workability rate of 0.5%. The aim is to keep workers in the labour market for longer in ‘qualitative and workable jobs’. The target is an employment rate of 60% in 2020.

The actual growth rate is currently too slow to reach that goal and the social partners are taking steps to accelerate the workability rate.

A campaign (in Dutch) has been launched to keep employees aged 50 and over in the labour market. A toolkit on workable jobs (in Dutch) has also been created, suggesting possible solutions for concrete workability problems, and extra action plans have been devised at sectoral level.

Caroline Vermandere, HIVA KU Leuven




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