Innovation

05 December 2018

Innovation is an important driver of improved competitiveness, productivity and the growth potential of companies, strengthening their position to compete internationally. Alongside technical innovation in products and processes, non-technological innovative practices can also have a positive effect on the innovation capacity of companies. Examples include new methods and practices of organising work and decision-making, collecting employees’ views on production or service quality, developing the talent of the workforce but also motivating and rewarding employees. Such practices and approaches can also be associated with mutual gains for workers and businesses but also more broadly for the European society. 

The European Commission recognised as early as in the 1990s that new ways of working would contribute to creating productive, learning and participative organisations. The Innovation Union strategy, a Europe 2020 flagship initiative aims to improve Europe’s capacity to innovate. As highlighted in the Skills Agenda for Europe, adapting work organisation practices to new challenges and using employees’ tacit knowledge are considered important aspects in developing workforce skills. The Commission made workplace innovation a priority in 2012 through the reinforced EU Industrial Policy Communication, supported by the European Workplace Innovation Network (EUWIN) in 2013. Furthermore, through its commitment to the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals, the Commission monitors EU progress towards full productive employment, decent work and innovation.

Eurofound’s work

Eurofound research has explored the paths European companies take towards workplace innovation and their outcomes, based on EU-wide survey data. It has also examined factors, and specifically workplace practices, associated with innovation in European establishments. Research on win-win arrangements helped to better understand whether certain company practices are linked with mutual gains (or win-win outcomes) that help companies to grow and innovate while at the same time benefiting workers.

Key contributions

Eurofound’s Europe-wide surveys offer comparative analysis on the scale of company innovation and the role played by employee involvement, training and social dialogue in fostering workplace innovation and better working conditions. Other studies at national, sectoral and workplace levels have highlighted cases that have achieved win–win benefits and analysed the elements that underlie them.

Survey data

The European Company Survey (ECS) 2013, the third since 2004, analyses workplace practices related to work organisation, workplace innovation, human resources policies, employee participation and social dialogue. The ECS 2013 overview report examined company practices and how these relate to each other and to the outcomes for companies and workers.

Eurofound’s 2015 ECS-based research on workplace innovation in European companies has shown that the competitiveness of companies does not depend solely on their capabilities for technological innovation: it is also shaped by the design and organisation of workplaces and the extent to which organisations are innovative in this regard. 

A 2017 ECS report on innovative changes in European companies explores which workplace practices have the strongest links to innovative company behaviour. It looks at innovation in the form of new or significantly changed products or processes, new or improved marketing methods, and organisational change.

The European Working Conditions Survey (EWCS) 2015, the sixth since 1990, provides a wide-ranging picture of Europe at work, looking at work organisation, work–life balance, health and well-being at work, employee participation and employee involvement. The EWCS 2015 overview report showed that 67% of employees are at least ‘sometimes’ involved in improving the work organisation or work processes of their department or organisation. A smaller proportion (31%) work in a 'high-involvement organisation’, characterised by a high level of task discretion and a high level of organisational participation. 

Industrial relations

A 2016 study on innovative measures through social dialogue at company level identifies how management, employees and their representatives find common solutions to work organisation problems.

Further research on changes in remuneration and reward systems examines the different types of supplementary pay schemes, their prevalence in different countries and sectors across the EU and Norway, and their relevance to different groups of employees. As part of the human resource management practices, remuneration and rewards play a role in encouraging creative thinking, motivating innovative behaviour and rewarding employees. This research shows the extent to which such practices are used in European establishments.

Born global enterprises

‘Born globals’ are young, small and medium-sized companies engaged in international activities immediately after start-up. While showing diversity in some of their other characteristics, one aspect they have in common is that they are highly innovative. Eurofound research on these enterprises explores their employment and economic potential. The study also examines the public support instruments available to these start-up enterprises, such as entrepreneurship and internationalisation support.

Resources

Ongoing work

Fieldwork for the fourth ECS begins in 2019 and fieldwork for the seventh EWCS in 2020.

Other current research will focus on:

Eurofound will also explore the impact of crucial innovations in computing and telecommunications technologies in its digital age topic area.

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