Working conditions

At your service: Working conditions of interactive service workers

Policy brief
Published
15 July 2020
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Key findings

  • Overall, 41% of EU employees work in direct contact with clients, customers, users, patients or other service recipients. One-fifth of these are health workers on the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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  • Overall, 41% of EU employees work in direct contact with clients, customers, users, patients or other service recipients. One-fifth of these are health workers on the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Interactive service work is female-dominated: 61% are women. The subgroup of frontline health workers is even more gender-imbalanced, comprising 85% women.
  • Compared to other workers, interactive service workers (ISWs) have more challenges with respect to working time – atypical hours, inflexible time arrangements and longer hours. They also have higher work intensity – meaning, for instance, that they have tight deadlines and their pace of work is more often determined by the demands of clients and customers. Their social environment is poorer, too, attributable in part to their contact with clients and customers, which exposes them to more adverse social behaviour.
  • The data show that 22% of all ISWs and 32% of frontline health ISWs are exposed to high emotional demands – such as having to hide their feelings – compared to 14% of EU employees overall.
  • Job resources mitigate the negative consequences of emotional labour. High-quality management, for instance, is associated with better well-being.
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Abstract

Around three-quarters of the EU workforce is employed in the service sector, and a sizeable portion of service workers interact directly with the recipients of the services they provide, such as clients, patients, pupils and so on. This can be demanding work as it routinely places emotional demanRead more

Around three-quarters of the EU workforce is employed in the service sector, and a sizeable portion of service workers interact directly with the recipients of the services they provide, such as clients, patients, pupils and so on. This can be demanding work as it routinely places emotional demands on these workers and can have an impact on their well-being. This policy brief examines the working conditions of people employed in
interactive service work and investigates their job quality compared to the average employee. It focuses on the multiple emotional demands placed on them and assesses to what extent specific job resources (such as social support or good management quality) can help to prevent negative impacts of such demands. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, a special focus is put on the subgroup of workers in the health sector.

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  • Full report

    Number of Pages: 
    28
    Reference No: 
    EF20016
    ISBN: 
    978-92-897-2096-0
    Catalogue: 
    TJ-AR-20-004-EN-N
    DOI: 
    10.2806/31106
    Catalogue info

    At your service: Working conditions of interactive service workers

    Available formats

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    Cite this publication as: 

    Eurofound (2020), At your service: Working conditions of interactive service workers, European Working Conditions Survey 2015 series, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg.

  • Tables and graphs

    Tables

    • Table 1: Main occupations of ISWs, EU27 and the UK, 2015
    • Table 2: Occupational breakdown of ISWs by gender, EU27 and the UK, 2015
    • Table 3: Working life outcomes by type of employee, EU27 and the UK, 2015

    Graphs

    • Figure 1: Occupational classification of ISWs and non-ISWs (%), EU27 and the UK, 2015
    • Figure 2: Distribution of ISWs by income quintiles (%), EU27 and the UK, 2015
    • Figure 3: Job quality of ISWs and non-ISWs compared across seven dimensions
    • Figure 4: Job quality of off-site and on-site ISWs compared across seven dimensions
    • Figure 5: Job quality profiles of male and female ISWs compared across seven dimensions
    • Figure 6: Emotional demands on ISWs and extent of those demands (%), EU27 and the UK, 2015
    • Figure 7: Experience of high emotional demands (%), by type of employee, EU27 and the UK, 2015
    • Figure 8: Prevalence of emotional demands in the most exposed occupations (%), EU27 and the UK, 2015
    • Figure 9: Effect of work on health (%), by ISW category, EU and the UK, 2015
    • Figure 10: Impact of social support on health outcomes of ISWs with high emotional demands (%), EU27 and the UK, 2015
    • Figure 11: Impact of autonomy on health outcomes of ISWs with high emotional demands (%), EU27 and UK
    • Figure 12: Impact of management quality on health outcomes of ISWs with high emotional demands (%), EU27 and the UK

Research carried out prior to the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union on 31 January 2020, and published subsequently, may include data relating to the 28 EU Member States. Following this date, research only takes into account the 27 EU Member States (EU28 minus the UK), unless specified otherwise.

This report presents the results of research conducted prior to the outbreak of COVID-19 in Europe in February 2020. For this reason, the results do not take account of the outbreak.

Part of the series

  • European Working Conditions Survey 2015

    Eurofound’s European Working Conditions Survey (EWCS) paints a wide-ranging picture of Europe at work across countries, occupations, sectors and age groups. This series consists of findings from the EWCS 2015, the sixth edition of the survey. The survey was first carried out in 1990.

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