Working conditions

12 December 2019

Working conditions refer to the conditions in and under which work is performed. A working condition is a characteristic or a combination of characteristics of work that can be modified and improved. Current conceptions of working conditions incorporate considerations of wider factors, which may affect the employee psychosomatically. Thus, a broader definition of the term includes the economic dimension of work and effects on living conditions. Working conditions are a subject of labour law and are regulated by all of its various sources: legislation, collective agreements, works rules, the employment contract, as well as custom and practice.

European countries have a strong commitment towards improving working conditions. While much attention has focused on working conditions that have a negative impact on health and safety and well-being, conditions supportive of ‘good work’ and high job quality are also gaining in importance. 

EU context

Working conditions and job quality are high on the European policy agenda. The Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) underlines as significant objectives the ‘promotion of employment, improved living and working conditions … proper social protection, dialogue between management and labour, the development of human resources with a view to lasting employment and the combating of exclusion’. 
EU policy enshrines equal opportunities in the workplace for women and men, limits working hours, sets standards to ensure safety, and promotes investment in skills development. The European Commission and Member States have set up different processes to monitor progress and developments in relation to working conditions.  

On 17 November 2017, the European Parliament, the Council and the European Commission formally proclaimed the European Pillar of Social Rights. One of the main principles of the pillar is to achieve fair working conditions. This covers secure and adaptable employment, wages, employment conditions and protection in case of dismissals, social dialogue and involvement of workers, work–life balance, as well as a healthy, safe and well-adapted work environment and data protection. 

Adopted in June 2019, and as a direct follow up to the Pillar, the new Directive 2019/1152 on transparent and predictable working conditions sets out new minimum rights for all workers and new rules on the provision of information to workers about their working conditions.  

Research

Eurofound monitors the working conditions of employees and self-employed at work. It provides analyses focusing on work situations of interest – such as ICT mobile work and psychosocial risks at work – and addressing specific groups in the labour market. Research on sustainable work looks at the role of work and its conditions in supporting people’s participation in work across their life course in ways that accommodate individual preferences and enable them to experience a good quality of work. 

Working conditions survey data

Since its launch in 1990, Eurofound’s European Working Conditions Survey (EWCS) has provided an overview of working conditions in Europe. The scope of the survey questionnaire has widened substantially since the first edition, aiming to provide a comprehensive picture of the everyday reality of men and women at work. The seventh EWCS takes place in 2020, covering 37 countries.

The EWCS covers a wide range of issues: 

  • job quality (physical environment, social environment, skills and discretion, work intensity, working time quality, prospects and earnings) and the risks and resources contributing to these aspects of work, including employment status 
  • work determinants and characteristics of work (working with customers, use of technology, where work takes place) 
  • workers and enterprise demographics (age, sex, seniority, enterprise size, industry)
  • second jobs and multi-activity work 
  • organisational factors that can be validly captured through a workers’ questionnaire (work processes, work pace, pace determinants, employee participation, team work, workplace human resource policies and work organisation characteristics, trust, cooperation and organisational rewards) 
  • the quality of working life as assessed by workers (work–life balance, health and well-being, skills match, financial security, sustainability of work, absence and presenteeism, and outcomes such as engagement and motivation) 

By including these multiple dimensions, the EWCS provides some insight into contemporary challenges in the world of work, for example the blurring of boundaries between working life and private life, the changing nature of work organisation or increased reliance on outsourcing. Further insights can be gained if surveys are regularly updated to integrate emerging risks, such as those related to workers’ privacy and collection of private data at the workplace.

Data and resources

Ongoing work

Other topics addressed will include:

  • Analysis of how working conditions differ across sectors to provide evidence on working conditions and their implications for sustainable work
  • Links between forms of work organisation and employee engagement and development of workers' knowledge and skills
  • Flagship report on working conditions and sustainable work (including findings from ‘Differences in working conditions between various groups of workers – analysing trends over time’)
  • Highlights of recent developments of selected features of working life in so-called topical updates, with one featuring statutory minimum wages

 

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