Czech Republic: Transformations in the quality of working life

Findings from a recent survey aim to capture national developments in the Czech Republic in the quality of working life. Results from the survey on the nature of work, job security, workers’ experiences of stress and its intensity, and the evaluation of different aspects of work are highlighted in this article.

About the survey

The survey of a representative sample of the working population, entitled ‘Transformations in the quality of working life’ (TQWL 2014) forms part of a wider project of the same name that was publicly funded through the Technology Agency of the Czech Republic (TACR), the state agency which supports research, experimental development and innovation. The project was coordinated by the Occupational Safety Research Institute (VÚBP) and the Public Opinion Research Centre (CVVM). These two institutions worked together from 2005–2008 on a project entitled ‘The influence of changes in the world of work on the quality of life’, during which, a relatively extensive ‘Quality of working life’ survey was conducted. Despite the fact that the current TQWL survey has a different title from previous Quality of Working Life surveys, it has some common indicators and is partly built on this previous cooperation.

The project focused on an analysis of transformations in the quality of working life in the Czech Republic and the implementation of an already established methodology for continuous monitoring purposes. The main motive for addressing this issue is the absence of a system for measuring the quality of working life, as such, and the under-estimation of its importance in the overall complexity of the quality of life in the Czech Republic.

The idea behind the project is that the tools it creates, and its outputs (methodologies, software and publications), might motivate the relevant high-level authorities to facilitate regular feedback on the quality of working life. This would include the gathering of information not only from official statistical data, but also via the evaluation of the working lives of Czech citizens themselves (that is, the quality of working life as perceived subjectively).

The results of the project consist of:

Despite the fact that the project points to the absence of regular research surveys on working conditions, it seems that the continuity of survey work in future waves cannot be guaranteed due to the overall tendency towards funding short, time-limited projects. 

Data collection methods and description of the research sample

The project was conducted over a period of two years from 1 January 2014 to 31 December 2015, with the data collection taking place in the period from May to June 2014. A total of 2,029 respondents were interviewed, respondents being economically active inhabitants aged 18–64 working at the time they were surveyed. Data collection was conducted employing the personal interview method, with a standardised questionnaire of 213 items/questions on different aspects of working life.

The research sample from the economically active population was compiled on the basis of quota sampling and was fully representative in terms of quota characteristics: region NUTS 3 (the Nomenclature of Territorial Units for Statistics level 3), size of place of residence, gender, education and age. Support for the determining of quota characteristics provided by the Population and Housing Census from the Czech Statistical Office of 2011.

Findings

The results, presented thematically here, reflect analysis published in a single-theme issue of the Journal of Safety Research and Applications (JOSRA) in June 2015 (Volume 8). This issue was devoted to special research analysis based on the results of the 'Changes of working life quality' project. A total of five peer-reviewed articles were published.

Nature of the work

With regard to the nature of the work performed, respondents were asked to evaluate individual components of the ‘nature of work' on an 11-point scale (0–10) with the extremes specifying opposite characteristics of the work environment: monotony versus variety, slow versus fast pace of work, physically undemanding versus physically demanding and mentally undemanding versus mentally strenuous. Analysis revealed that interviewees considered their current employment position to be more mentally (average 5.62) than physically demanding (average 4.65), with a higher pace of work prevailing (average 5.84) and more varied and diverse than dull and monotonous (average 5.81).

  • Physically demanding work is more common for men (5.14) than women (4.09), frequently involves people with only a basic level of education (average 6.50) and is associated with skilled workers in the agriculture, forestry and fishing sectors (7.63), unskilled workers/elementary occupations (7.04) and craft and related trades workers (6.89). Conversely, office workers (2.43) and legislators and managers (2.74) evaluated their work as being physically undemanding. Typically, those respondents who stated that their work was physically demanding also declared dissatisfaction with their work and overall life. The less respondents valued their profession, the more they evaluated their work as being physically demanding.
  • Mentally demanding work differs little between men (5.58) and women (5.66) with its extent increasing with a person’s level of completed education and reaching the highest level among those who have completed university education (6.92) including specialists (7.23) and legislators and managers (7.07). A more detailed analysis showed that those respondents who value their profession more highly are rather more inclined to evaluate their work as mentally strenuous.
  • The pace of work on average differed only minimally according to educational attainment. A higher pace of work was recorded for people working in hotels and catering (6.54) and construction (6.44). Conversely, a slower pace of work was perceived by those working in the public, social and personal services (5.03) and the real estate, machinery and equipment rental, research and development and consultancy (5.18) sectors. From the point of view of profession, a faster pace of work was recorded with respect to skilled workers in the agriculture, forestry and fisheries sectors (6.90) and plant and machine operators and assemblers (6.46). Workers in the services and sales (5.38) and clerical support (5.59) sectors rated their pace of work as slower. A higher degree of dissatisfaction with their overall and work lives was expressed by those respondents required to work at a fast pace.
  • Monotonous work was found to be more typical in the case of lower-skilled workers. The results revealed that such work is performed more by women (5.61) than men (5.99). Conversely, workers in the schools and education sector were found to be more likely to consider their work as being varied. In terms of profession, those respondents who rated their work as being varied included legislators and managers (7.46) or specialists (7.45). Labourers in elementary occupations (3.31) and plant and machine operators (4.45) were found to be most likely to evaluate their work as being monotonous. In terms of work monotony, the analysis revealed that the more varied and diverse the work, the more respondents valued their profession.

In summary, less skilled work is associated with a faster pace and higher level of work monotony which is reflected in poor ratings with respect to the value placed on that work. Those who evaluate their work as being varied and diverse, albeit more mentally demanding, were found to most value their profession.

Please note, this part of the text draws on an article by Iveta Mlezivová, Changes of character of subjective perception of selected dimensions, published in JOSRA’s 2015 special issue.

Job satisfaction and evaluation of particular dimensions of work

Surveys of the quality of working life in the Czech Republic usually reveal a positive image, in which most workers are satisfied with their job or in which average satisfaction is found in the positive items range of the value scales offered. For this reason, the SQWLi (Subjective Quality of Working Life index) research tool was designed, the purpose of which was to test dimensions of work separately (18 dimensions structured in 6 key domains: remuneration, relationships, time, self-fulfillment, job security and physical working conditions) both in terms of the subjective importance of these aspects for the respondent and in terms of how he/she currently rates his/her work according to the evaluation of specific aspects. The subjective assessment of the importance of individual aspects is then compared with the actual situation with respect to a particular job position. This method is inspired by theories of satisfied needs – the extent to which economic activity meets those needs that people expect to be satisfied as a result of their work (Sirgy et al, 2001; Porter, 1961). Respondents were asked to rate/evaluate specific working aspects of their current job according to an 11-point scale ranging from -5 (very bad) to +5 (very good) centred on point 0. The importance of aspects of work (meaning importance in general, not connected to their current job) was rated on a scale from 0 (totally unimportant) to 10 (absolutely essential).

Figure 1: Positive evaluation of various aspects of current job, (%), 2014

Source: data source TQWL (2014); analysis, Vinopal 2015.

Note: the figure presents the proportion of workers who rated their present main job as good in relation to this aspect; on a scale from -5 (very bad) to +5 (very good), they chose one of the positive values in the range +1 to +5.

Czechs predominantly see their work in a favourable light. With respect to all the aspects referred to by the authors of the survey, the majority of Czech workers expressed satisfaction and assessed their work as good. The highest ratings concerned relations with colleagues, technical equipment, cleanliness, tidiness and hygiene, the nature of the employment, occupational health and safety and interpersonal relationships in the workplace, as shown in Figure 1. Less positively evaluated aspects related to remuneration and the potential for self-realisation self-fulfillment.

Figure 2: The importance of various aspects of working life, 2014

Source: data source, TQWL (2014); analysis, Vinopal 2015

Note: the figure presents average values of the importance of each aspect for the set of all respondents. The personal importance of each aspect for respondents was rated on a scale from 0 (totally unimportant) to 10 (absolutely essential).

With regard to importance, thus establishing ‘needs’, the most highly-valued aspects consist of job security, remuneration equity and the level of earnings, as shown in Figure 2. Conversely, non-financial benefits and opportunities for further education and personal development figured at the very bottom of the scale of importance. It is worth noting here that, in terms of importance, all three items relating to self-fulfillment (development of oneself for further self-realisation, autonomy and further education and self-fulfillment) were ranked at the bottom part of the table. Figure 2 displays the overall hierarchy of needs/expectations as expressed by Czech workers.

As can be seen in Figure 3, the authors’ analysis linked these two sets of responses (converted to the same range 0–10). For the purposes of the analysis of the quality of working life, it is essential to know whether respondents evaluated their work as good concerning those aspects that are important to them. The results revealed that the most apparent discrepancies referred to the aspects of remuneration, equity, amount of earnings and job security. Furthermore, a certain degree of frustration was detected regarding interpersonal relationships, in particular the behaviour of superiors towards subordinates. An evenly-oriented mismatch is apparent between the importance and value assessment of the current situation with regard to the time demands posed by work and the amount of time available for oneself and family.

Figure 3: The difference between the importance and value assessment of various aspects of working life

Source: data source, TQWL (2014); analysis, Vinopal 2015.

Note: the figure presents the average importance and average value assessment of individual aspects (values are converted to the same scale of 0–10).

Figure 4: The overall discrepancy rate with regard to individual groups of workers

Source: data source, TQWL (2014); analysis, Vinopal 2015.

Note: the figure presents the average values of discrepancies (rate of importance minus rate of current job evaluation) in the various subgroups.

Please note, this part of the text draws on two articles by Jiří Vinopal, Do Czechs have good jobs? I and Do Czechs have good jobs? II, published in JOSRA’s 2015 special issue.

Job security

The survey monitored the issue of job security using the same indicators used for job satisfaction and the evaluation of particular dimensions of work. In terms of importance, job security is ranked as one of the most important aspects with an average score of 9.0 (evaluated on an 11-point scale of 0–10).

Although such a clear result about the importance of job security does not provide much space for any substantial differentiation in terms of sociodemographic factors, a number of statistically significant differences were apparent in the analysis. In terms of gender, importance of job security is slightly more stressed by women (average 9.15) than men (average 8.91). With respect to age, the issue of job security ranks somewhat less than the general score for those in the 18 to 29 years age group (average 8.82), increasing among the 30 to 39 age group (average 9.11) and culminating with the 40 to 49 years age group (average 9.17). The issue diminishes in importance with concern to the 50-and-over cohort (average 8.94) which may well be related to the life cycle and thus whether the person must provide for his/her family and especially dependent children. The analysis also revealed a lower level of importance of job security for those with no dependent children (average 8.94) than those with two (average 9.24) or three (average 9.38) children.

Level of education was found to have a somewhat ambiguous relationship with the declared importance of job security; whereas a relatively lower average for this was recorded by respondents with only an elementary education (8.70) and, at the opposite extreme, by university graduates (8.83), a higher score was recorded for those who completed secondary education with (9.14) or without (9.09) the school leaving certificate.

Moreover, a distinct difference in this respect was found between those whose main job was conducted on a self-employment basis (average 8.57) and employees (9.11).

Although job security constitutes a very important issue for the majority of workers, an assessment of the real situation clearly revealed that many workers have concerns about losing their jobs. On a transformed scale from 1 (a very bad evaluation of the issue) to 11 (a very good evaluation) where the central value is 6, job security was rated at 7.89.

A more detailed analysis based on sociodemographic characteristics reveals that the assessment of job security increases with age and education level of respondents. Among those aged under 30 years, the average assessment of job security was just 7.39 while, for those aged 50 years and above, the value reached 8.12. Those with a basic level of education (average 6.41) and, to a lesser extent, those with a secondary education but without a school leaving certificate (average 7.39) expressed a lower evaluation in this respect than the overall average, while the opposite was found to be the case for those with a secondary school education and a school leaving certificate (average 8.13) and especially university students (average 8.82).

A surprisingly significantly higher evaluation of job security was expressed by self-employed people (average 8.66) than employees (average 7.76). In terms of profession, a high evaluation of job security was expressed by professionals (average 8.97), policymakers and managers (average 8.70) and technicians and skilled workers (average 8.44), whereas those groups of workers who expressed a lower evaluation included labourers and unskilled workers (average 6.58), plant and machine operators and assemblers (average 7.04), skilled workers in the agriculture, forestry and fishing sectors (average 7.60) and those working in the services and sales sectors (average 7.61).

As for professionals, the workers who expressed a high evaluation of job security were employed in:

  • education and training (average 8.91);
  • health and social care and veterinary work (average 8.69);
  • public administration, defence and compulsory social security (average 8.62);
  • banking, insurance and financial (average 8.15);
  • real estate, machinery and equipment rental, research and development and consultancy (average 8.07).

Conversely, those who expressed a low evaluation of job security were employed in:

  • mineral extraction (average 6 35);
  • sales and repair of motor vehicles and consumer goods (average 7.11);
  • hotel and catering (average 7.55);
  • transport, warehousing, post and telecommunications (average 7.60);
  • manufacturing (average 7.67).

Moreover, the assessment of job security significantly improves with one’s seniority. In terms of company size, a distinctly lower evaluation of job security was advanced by those working in small firms with up to five employees (average 7.25) compared with the higher evaluation from those working in companies employing from 51 to 100 people (average 8.02).

Please  note, this part of the text draws on an article by Jan Červenka, Job security importance and evaluation, published in JOSRA’s 2015 special issue.

Stress and the health status of employees

The research also addressed the influence of respondents’ main job on their overall health status.

The vast majority of respondents were found to consider the influence of their main job on their health as unfavourable. The negative impact assessment was found to increase with age and to decline with educational attainment. A greater negative influence of work on their health was expressed by:

  • labourers and unskilled workers;
  • plant and machine operators and assemblers;
  • skilled workers in the agriculture, forestry and fisheries sectors;
  • artisans and tradespeople.

This pattern, unsurprisingly, is also reflected in an analysis by sector. The impact of a main job on health was found to be less important in:

  • banking, insurance and financial;
  • public administration;
  • defence;
  • compulsory social security;
  • education and training;
  • health and social care;
  • veterinary;
  • the production and distribution of electricity, gas and water sectors.

Conversely, a relatively greater influence on health was expressed by those working in:

  • mineral extraction;
  • manufacturing;
  • construction and agriculture;
  • hunting and forestry.

With regard to stress, respondents assessed the frequency and intensity of stress arising from their main job, as shown in Figure 5. Only 15% of the economically active population said they had never experienced stress in their current main job. However, on the whole, the frequency of stressful moments was found to be generally low. Approximately one-third of all respondents reported that they rarely experienced stress. Fewer than one-quarter of respondents reported experiencing stress several times a month, while one-quarter of the economically active population reported experiencing stress in their main job several times a week or more.

Figure 5: Frequency of experiencing stress in the current main job (%)

Source: data source, TQWL (2014); analysis, Svobodová and Červenka 2015

In terms of occupation, stress was more frequently experienced by legislators and managers, whereas craft workers and tradespeople reported lower stress levels. Stress was experienced relatively frequently by those working in the transport, warehousing and post and telecommunications sectors, whereas those in the other public, social and personal services sector reported lower levels of stress.

It was found that the more often a respondent is exposed to stress at work, the stronger is the evaluation of its intensity. Respondents rated the intensity of stress on an 11-point scale with 0 corresponding to very weak stress levels and 10 to very severe stress. Those respondents who declared that they experienced stress at work every day on a regular basis expressed an average value for stress intensity of 6.7. Conversely, those who encountered stress only rarely recorded a mean stress intensity value of just 2.8.

The average stress intensity value of those respondents who encountered some level of stress in their current main job was determined at 4.1, close to the limit of the ‘very weak stress’ variant. An intensity of stress up to a value of 4 was expressed by 55% of respondents, and a value of 7 and above by 29% of respondents.

A more detailed analysis revealed that intense stress is experienced by policymakers and managers and, to a lesser extent, by specialists. Conversely, low levels of intense stress were expressed by artisans and tradespeople and those working in services and sales. From a sectoral perspective, those working in the health and social care and veterinary sectors reported high intense stress levels.

Please note, this part of the text draws on an article by Lenka Svobodová and Jan Červenka, Modern times escalate stress, published in JOSRA’s 2015 special issue.

Commentary

The survey ‘Transformations in the quality of working life’, following a period of 10 years or so, has at last provided an opportunity for the monitoring of the status of individual working conditions in the Czech Republic through the responses of a representative sample of the Czech population. The last national representative survey on this topic was conducted by the same team in 2005 in the context of the ’Quality of Working Life’ project indicators over time.

From the available and already-published results it can be summarised that the Czech labour market continues to feature disadvantaged groups of employees whose working lives pose an increased health risk or give rise to feelings of frustration or of not being fully appreciated.

The results of the analysis of discrepancies between expectations and the fulfilment of needs are of particular interest in that they provide fresh insight into the problems surrounding the employment of young people. This group of employees, aged up to 30 years, expressed the highest degree of discrepancy between their needs and how they are met in terms of remuneration, self-fulfillment and job security. This discrepancy may well result in both frustration and disillusionment with working life in the future.

Low-qualified workers are traditionally more exposed to job insecurity, work performance with a negative impact on health, monotonous work and feelings of under-estimation. Education is reflected as a transversal factor that mitigates such risks and has a positive impact on the quality of working life except in terms of subjectively perceived stress. On this aspect of working life the research provides interesting findings – that the perceived intensity of stress increases in line with the frequency of the occurrence of stressful situations; therefore, it is possible, methodologically, to identify extremely stressful working positions. This observation remains, however, only an indication for further secondary analysis options employing the dataset presented in this study.

References

Porter, L. (1961), ‘A study of perceived need satisfactions in bottom and middle management jobs’, Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol. 45, No. 1, pp. 1–10.

Sirgy, M.J., Efraty, D., Siegel, P and Lee, D.J. (2001), ‘A new measure of quality of work life (QWL) based on need satisfaction and spillover theories’, Social Indicator Research, Vol. 55, No. 3, pp. 241–302.

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