Employment and labour markets

New forms of employment in Europe – How new is new?

Standard employment is not simply being replaced by non-standard work; employment is becoming more diverse, and policy must accordingly become more tailored.

The last decade has seen much public and policy debate on the future of work. Standard employment – permanent, full-time and subject to labour law – is still dominant in Europe, and non-standard work, with the exception of part-time work, has been growing only to a rather limited extent. But it is acknowledged more and more that something is happening in the European labour market that is not transparent from the data, that this is of increasing importance, and that it is influencing the quality of work and employment.

To probe further, in 2013–2014, Eurofound conducted a mapping of new forms of employment across the EU and Norway. It identified nine trends, emerging or of growing importance since about 2000, in the European labour market. These related to formal relationships between employers and employees that differ from the established one-to-one employment relationship, uncommon work patterns or work organisation (notably related to time and place of work), networking and cooperation among the self-employed, or some combination of these.

The employment form most often identified as new or increasingly important at that time was mobile work enabled by information and communications technology (ICT) – what we refer to as ICT-based mobile work. Here, an employee or a self-employed person works from various locations outside the traditional workplace – less place-bound than traditional telework and, indeed, working anytime, anywhere.

While this trend can be attributed to digitalisation as well as societal change, the second biggest trend – casual work – is driven more by the economic requirements of employers. In this employment form, the employer is not obliged to provide the worker with regular work but can call them in on demand, resulting in an unstable and discontinuous work situation for the employee.

Rising platforms

In 2020, with the European labour market in flux, Eurofound repeated its mapping exercise, this time to explore how prevalent the nine previously new forms of employment had become. ICT-based mobile work, identified by about 60% of the analysed countries as new in 2013–2014, now exists in all countries. Casual work, previously found to be new in about 44% of the countries, is now prevalent in about 86%.

Some caution is called for when comparing the two mapping exercises due to the different underlying questions (whether an employment form was new since about 2000 versus whether it existed in the country in 2020) and slight differences in coverage (Estonia and Malta did not take part in the earlier survey). But the substantial furtherance of all nine trends justifies the claim that new forms of employment are of increasing importance in Europe. Particularly striking is the rise in platform work, which was new in about 40% of the countries in 2013–2014 but exists now in more than 95% of them (Figure 1).

Figure 1: New forms of employment in Europe, identified as new in 2013–2014 compared with prevalence in 2020 (number of countries)

Sources: Eurofound 2015, 2020

The new employment forms are not only becoming more prevalent across Europe, they also contribute to greater diversity in the labour market within countries.

While in 2013–2014 three new employment forms on average had been identified in the countries analysed, in 2020 this was true of six on average. In 2013–2014, less than 20% of the countries analysed identified six or more employment forms as new; in 2020, however, almost 80% found six or more to be prevalent (Figure 2).

Figure 2: New forms of employment in Europe, identified as new in 2013–2014 compared with prevalence in 2020 (number of employment forms)

Sources: Eurofound 2015, 2020

While discussions on the future of work and new forms of employment continue, the elephant in the room is the lack of (harmonised) concepts and definitions, which are an important precondition for establishing regulatory frameworks and generating policy intelligence such as statistical data. Better understanding these not-so-new-anymore trends is probably even more important today than it was a while ago. They are not only part of the more structural ‘twin transition’ to the digital age and a carbon-neutral economy but also a factor to be considered in the era of Covid-19.

Digitally enabled new forms of employment could play an important role in the recovery, as might those found to be related to more resilient business models (for example, worker cooperatives) or contributing to a win–win situation for employers and employees alike, including in economically difficult times (such as employee-sharing). At the same time, some of the new employment forms identified as less advantageous for workers (casual work and some types of platform work) might surge due to a lack of alternatives in the labour market in the crisis situation, rendering already precarious workers even more vulnerable.

Nuanced approach

Policymakers should focus on balancing flexibility with the retention of employment standards and workers’ protection. This requires a nuanced approach: tailor-made interventions should tackle the specific opportunities and challenges inherent in individual employment forms, rather than taking a one-size-fits-all stance across the diversity of new forms of employment.

In casual work, voucher-based work, platform work and collaborative employment, employment status should be clarified and sustainable career trajectories ensured, to avoid labour market segmentation and to support collective voice. In the digitally enabled new employment forms, the focus could be on monitoring and control, algorithmic management, and data ownership, protection and use.

Ensuring adequate working time would be key in those new forms of employment where working hours tend to be too long or too short or characterised by unpredictability. Workers in employment forms subject to less integration in organisational structures could meanwhile be supported in skills development to enhance their employability. Finally, transversal and entrepreneurial skills could be improved and good-quality self-employment fostered in the new forms of employment in Europe characterised by a high degree of self-organisation.

Image © AdobeStock/InsideCreativeHouse

A investigação realizada antes da saída do Reino Unido da União Europeia, em 31 de janeiro de 2020, e posteriormente publicada, pode incluir dados relativos aos 28 Estados-Membros da UE. Após esta data, a investigação apenas tem em conta os 27 Estados-Membros da UE (UE28 menos o Reino Unido), salvo especificação em contrário.

Part of the series

  • New forms of employment

    This series reports on the new forms of employment emerging across Europe that are driven by societal, economic and technological developments and are different from traditional standard or non-standard employment in a number of ways. This series explores what characterises these new employment forms and what implications they have for working conditions and the labour market.

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