Telework, employee involvement: Work organisation - Q1 2014 (EurWORK topical update)

Telework and working from home

Forms of work organisation where work does not have to be performed at the employers ‘premises’ all of the time – telework being one of them – continue to be developed in the European Union, as shown in the following two examples.

In 2014, Belgium’s largest telecommunications company, Belgacom, intends to expand its project on homeworking which started in 2013. Currently, some 4,700 employees are working some days per month at home, but the company intends to increase this number to 7,000 employees, corresponding to half the company’s total workforce. A positive evaluation of the project was the main driver of the expansion: 70% of the team leaders reported higher productivity levels and 91% of the ‘homeworkers’ mentioned positive effects for their well-being.

On 6 December 2013, in France, Astrium (now Airbus Defence and Space), a subsidiary of the Airbus Group (formerly EADS) operating in the space industry, and the unions represented in the company – CFDT, CGT, CFE-CGC, CFTC and FO – have concluded an agreement on telework. Despite involving a large number of workers’ representative structures in the company, the agreement is rather limited. Over a three-year period, up to 100 workers of the near 6,000 employed by the company in France will be able to volunteer for telework. If accepted, workers will be able to telework up to two days per week. The scheme is open to employees on permanent contracts with at least two years of seniority, with the exception of certain high-level managers and engineers. The company bears part of the costs, including provision of a computer and €110 per year.

In contrast, Germany seems to be moving in the opposite direction in terms of people working from home. A study on homeworking (in German, 559 KB PDF), published in February 2014 by the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW), found that fewer Germans are working from home. In 2012, almost five million people, or 12% of the labour force, worked from home most or some of the time. It is mainly highly qualified employees such as managers, academics, lawyers, journalists, engineers and teachers who work from home. The variation between men and women or different age groups is small but, in households with children, mothers or fathers are somewhat more likely to work from home. Nevertheless, occupation is the most decisive factor. The number of people working from home in Germany increased at the turn of the millennium, but plummeted significantly from 2008 onwards and has been declining at double-digit rates in almost all occupations since then. Compared with other EU countries, Germany is below average when it comes to homeworking; in other western and central European states, especially Scandinavia, working from home is far more widespread.

Employee involvement and participation at work

The different forms of workers’ participation at work need rules so that all the actors involved have a clear understanding of how to proceed and misunderstandings are avoided. Overregulation and overdetailed rules can, however, can hinder the smooth functioning of workers participation mechanisms.

Research carried out in Croatia (Hanzalek, 2014) concluded that the electoral procedure for works councils is perhaps too cumbersome, particularly the rules for elections to these workers’ representative bodies. According to the study, a large number of formalised steps, with short deadlines, can be a heavy burden for works council electoral committees. The elections are held by workers who are usually non-specialists in the field of labour law, and this can be problematic in smaller companies where there is a lack of specialists in the field. Moreover, the provisions of the rules can be too demanding for many workers and this may lead to two undesirable outcomes: either abandoning elections, or bypassing the rules and simplifying the process at their own discretion, which may lead to invalid results. The research recommends cutting down on and simplifying the rules.

Activity in some EU Member States

Lithuania: Dialogue on employee representation in corporate management

In February 2014, the social partners at the the Tripartite Council of the Republic of Lithuania (LRTT) discussed amendments to the Lithuanian Labour Code dealing with employee representatives’ rights in corporate management. The objective was to discuss the enactment of provisions entitling employee representatives to attend the meetings of company boards when issues related to employment relationships and legal status of employees are on the agenda. No agreement has been reached to this effect and the social partners agreed to return to the question later.

Netherlands: Review of information and consultation in mergers

The Dutch Social and Economic Council (SER) set up a committee to review the SER merger code in January 2014. This code, introduced in its present form in 2001, gives the unions the right to be informed and consulted in the case of mergers, acquisitions and take-overs. The committee will analyse the definition of the concept of mergers and its compatibility with security law, the legal basis of the code and its scope (at present, the code only applies to the private sector). The committee consists of independent members and representatives of employers and trade union federations and is expected to issue an opinion later in the year.

Spain: Internal communication in collective dismissals

In Spain, in March 2014, a consultancy firm specialised in communication and public relations, Estudio de Comunicación, published a report on Internal communication in companies in collective dismissals proceedings and labour crisis situations. The study was based on interviews conducted among 242 employees from 51 companies in Spain, across virtually all economic sectors. It found that internal communications is still an unresolved matter for companies operating in Spain, both in normal situations and in cases of collective dismissals. Of those interviewed in 2014, 40.9% said that their employer did not tell them anything about the company and the business situation (in 2009, this percentage was lower, at 32.2%). Only 21.9% of the workers affected by collective dismissals said that they were informed about the process by the company itself. Some 37.2% reported they were informed by the works council and 18.6% through a colleague or rumour.

UK: Staff engagement and well-being linked to patient satisfaction

In the United Kingdom, the Point of Care Foundation published a report on staff care (936 KB PDF) in January 2014, using the NHS Staff Survey and a survey of CEOs at NHS trusts (organisations providing services on behalf of the NHS). The study found that NHS trusts with higher levels of employee engagement and well-being also tended to have higher levels of patient satisfaction, as well as lower levels of mortality and hospital-acquired infections. The report claimed that 30% of sickness absence in the NHS was due to stress and that if overall sickness absence was reduced by a third, it could deliver savings of GBP 555 million a year (about €686 million). The authors called on employers in the NHS to put further effort into increasing employee engagement in order to trigger positive patient outcomes and increase efficiency, arguing that caring about the employees in healthcare is key to developing a caring and compassionate health service.

About this article

This article is based mainly on contributions from Eurofound’s network of European correspondents. Further resources on work organisation issues can be obtained from Eurofound’s European Working Conditions Survey (EWCS) and European Company Survey (ECS).

For further information, contact Jorge Cabrita: jca@eurofound.europa.eu

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