Sustainable work

28 September 2022

Sustainable work means achieving living and working conditions that support people in engaging and remaining in work throughout an extended working life.  Work must be transformed to eliminate the factors that discourage or hinder workers from staying in or entering the workforce.Read more

Sustainable work means achieving living and working conditions that support people in engaging and remaining in work throughout an extended working life.  Work must be transformed to eliminate the factors that discourage or hinder workers from staying in or entering the workforce. But also individual circumstances have to be taken into account. Availability for work differs and is likely to change over the life course. The challenge is to match the needs and abilities of the individual with the quality of jobs on offer.

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EU context

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Demographic ageing is one of the driving forces behind the ambition to increase labour force participatRead more

Demographic ageing is one of the driving forces behind the ambition to increase labour force participation. This is reflected in the new 2030 EU headline target on employment proposed in the European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan  (at least 78% of the population aged 20–64). With the numbers of retirees rising and the working population declining, social protection systems could become threatened. For social support systems to remain viable as Europe’s population ages, more people need to work and stay in work for longer over their lifetimes.

These goals will be achieved only if workers are in good health, qualified and employable, and motivated to stay in work for longer. Wider societal supports must be in place to enable people to access work and have a good work–life balance. Job quality and the work environment are key components of allowing all workers to remain longer in the labour market. But the interaction between these components and individual circumstances, such as health and motivation to continue working, is also a major factor and needs to be better understood.

At EU level, concerns about the sustainability of pensions, economic growth and labour supply have triggered policy responses to support the goals of longer working lives and later retirement. The main thrust of the European Commission's active ageing policy is helping people to stay in charge of their own lives for as long as possible as they age and, where possible, to contribute to the economy and to society.

The European Green Deal is the new European Sustainable Growth Strategy which aims to enable European citizens to benefit from sustainable green transition. This means investing in research and innovation and improving the well-being of people via a path that is just and socially fair, leaving no individual or region behind. 

Eurofound’s work on sustainable work links in with the Commission’s 2019–2024 priority on a European Green Deal. 

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European Industrial Relations Dictionary

Research

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The multifaceted nature of the sustainable work concept means that it intersects with many key areas of Eurofound’s work. Eurofound has created a framework for understanding the concept of sustainable work, which is used as a reference point for a range of research projects on this topic.

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The multifaceted nature of the sustainable work concept means that it intersects with many key areas of Eurofound’s work. Eurofound has created a framework for understanding the concept of sustainable work, which is used as a reference point for a range of research projects on this topic.

Enabling sustainable work

Eurofound has analysed national policies and strategies that help to achieve sustainable work throughout the life course. Research has investigated how partial retirement schemes can contribute to sustainable and adequate pension systems by enabling and motivating people to extend their working lives. It also examined how mid-career reviews can help workers to explore their options to remain in work until a later retirement age. 

Working conditions and quality of work

Eurofound’s sixth European Working Conditions Survey (EWCS 2015) describes the current state of key working conditions across the EU Member States. Previously, Eurofound examined the working conditions that make work sustainable over a lifetime and are therefore likely to promote a longer working life: good working conditions, physical and mental well-being, as well as work–life balance.

Eurofound’s research maps the progress achieved since 2000 in improving working conditions and examines whether all workers have benefited equally from positive change. It explores inequalities in working conditions between groups and the drivers of inequality, and highlights which groups are the most at risk of being left behind. It also provides evidence for measures that could lead to the further improvement of work and the achievement of fair working conditions for all in the EU. 

Good quality of work is a precondition for well-being and motivation and, as such, is a cornerstone of sustainable work. As part of the EWCS, Eurofound has developed indices for measuring different dimensions of job quality. Eurofound has also researched several components of job quality and the work environment separately, including employee involvement in decision-making. Using EWCS 2015 data, research has explored the factors influencing the working conditions of workers of different ages and in the context of Eurofound’s concept of sustainable work. The research shows that, overall, job quality in the EU is improving, if slowly. But not all workers are benefiting to the same extent. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated trends, reinforcing concerns and highlighting the importance of achieving job quality for all.

Health at work

Eurofound also recently used EWCS data to examine working conditions and their implications for worker’s health. The rise in psychosocial risks to employee well-being motivated a joint report with sister agency EU-OSHA in 2014 on psychosocial risks in European workplaces. Eurofound has also looked more specifically at physical and psychological violence at work, as well as the relationship between health and well-being and work.

The Agency has also produced studies examining the employment situations of young people with health problems and disabilities and people with chronic diseases. These studies also describe policies and measures public authorities have taken aimed at integrating these groups into the labour market.

Work–life balance

Eurofound has addressed the issue of broadening labour force participation on many fronts. Research on working time and work–life balance describes prevailing working time patterns, demonstrating the degree of flexibility available to workers in reconciling the demands of work and private life. This topic is particularly relevant to policymaking on increasing participation of women in the workforce.

Older workers

The Agency has also teamed up with three other EU Agencies in looking at age-friendly work in Europe.  Another study documents initiatives by governments and social partners to retain older workers in the labour market. 

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Key outputs over the years

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Key messages

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Making work sustainable requires:

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Making work sustainable requires:

  • Technological and organisational design in place to create high-quality jobs
  • Creating a fit between structural characteristics of a job (job quality) and the characteristics of an individual in relation to work (abilities, needs, health, skills, etc.). 
  • Policy interventions that will help to achieve this match to take place at all levels: government level (through legislation, regulations, public services, infrastructure, public funding),
    • sectoral and company level (collective agreements, social dialogue), 
    • workplace level (flexible work arrangements, managerial support, training etc.) 
    • individual level (lifelong learning, upskilling, employability, etc.).
  • Policies and practices that support not only those who are employed but also those who are currently outside the labour market
  • Gender mainstreaming and a focus on gender equality to address the substantial differences in sustainable work outcomes between men and women
     
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Publications & data

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The sections below provide access to a range of publications, data and ongoing work on this topic.

  • Publications (113)
  • Data
  • Ongoing work (1)

Data

A selection of related data on this topic are linked below. 

Ongoing work

Research continues in this topic on a variety of themes, which are outlined below with links to forthcoming titles. 

 

Other ongoing work

  • Analysis of how working conditions differ across sectors to provide evidence on working conditions and their implications for sustainable work.
  • Links between employee engagement and development of workers knowledge and skills
  • A flagship report covering working conditions and sustainable work (including findings from ‘Differences in working conditions between various groups of workers – analysing trends over time’).