Working conditions and sustainable work

The demographic challenge of an ageing population and the increasing diversity of working life have led to an increased focus on the concept of sustainable work over the life course. This emphasises the relevance of the quality of a worker’s job and their working environment over the entire course of their working life.

Working longer implies working better by ensuring work organisation and working arrangements that suit individual needs; training and skills development; maintaining health, safety and well-being at the workplace; providing adequate earnings and prospects; and paying attention to working time and work–life balance.

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The European Commission’s Europe 2020 strategy strives for ‘smart, sustainable and inclusive growth’ and this implies a focus on job quality and working conditions. This is highlighted in the Commission’s 2010 ‘Agenda for new skills and jobs’.

Current European policy concerns include work–life balance (in particular for working parents), fighting undeclared and fraudulent work, extending working life, ensuring a proper balance between flexibility and security, investing in human capital, and tackling the significant inequalities that people face in the labour market.

Eurofound's work

Eurofound has proven expertise in monitoring and analysing working conditions across a wide range of dimensions for over 40 years. It has looked specifically at the working conditions of men and women, of working conditions in different sectors and occupations and of workers of different age groups.

It has placed a particular focus on the conditions that older workers are facing and how they are linked to the ability and willingness to work up to retirement age. The links between work and health are investigated in close consultation with the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, EU-OSHA with a joint report on psychosocial risks in European workplaces. Eurofound has also looked more specifically at physical and psychological violence at work.

The analysis of the most recent data from the sixth EWCS conducted in 2015 will shed more light on the link between job quality and the sustainability of work. The question of whether employment status is linked to particular working conditions and well-being outcomes will be investigated and there will be a particular focus on gender equality at the workplace and on the analysis of employee engagement and development of workers’ knowledge and skills.

Eurofound will also focus on changing employment relations, looking into the incidence of non-standard work forms, such as casual work, in an effort to inform policymakers about available data on the extent of their use, the characteristics of people engaged in them, their working conditions, social protection and employment rights.

Key contributions

The sixth European Working Conditions Survey (EWCS) interviewed 44,000 workers in 35 countries on a broad range of work-related issues builds on the lessons learned from the previous five surveys to paint a wide-ranging picture of Europe at work across countries, occupations, sectors and age groups. The Survey Mapping Tool presents these data in interactive format, enabling analysis of the variables according to Member State and demographic characteristics. 

Using EWCS data, Eurofound has developed indices for measuring different dimensions of job quality in order to assess job quality across Europe. Other research examined policies that enable people to participate in the labour market until an older age and specifically how to extend working life through flexible retirement schemes.