Collecting data about working conditions

The European Working Conditions Survey (EWCS): a growing instrument: a reflection on the methodology, the reasons for and the use of the survey

Agnès Parent-Thirion, Greet Vermeylen, Gijs Van Houten, David Foden, Jorge Cabrita, Sophia MacGoris, Victoria Rahm, Milos Kankaras, Eurofound, European Foundation for the improvement of living and working conditions.

The European Working Conditions (the EWCS) Series
  Eurofound, the European Foundation for the improvement of working and living conditions is a European tripartite agency which contributes to the improvement of working and living conditions. A key instrument to do so is the EWCS. The EWCS aims to comparably measure working conditions across European countries and beyond. This allows for the analysis of relationships between different aspects of working conditions, the identification of groups at risk and issues of concern, as well as areas of progress and the monitoring of trends over time. These analyses contribute to European policy development, in particular on issues with regard to the quality of work and employment. Following earlier editions of the EWCS in 1991, 1995, 2000, 2005 and 2010, a sixth wave of the survey will be fielded in 2015. Eurofound develops the questionnaire and outlines the design of the survey as well as a strict quality assurance framework. The actual preparation and implementation of fieldwork is contracted out. The development of the questionnaire is user led. Tripartite users of the survey are key in setting priorities for change. The questionnaire of the 6th EWCS maintain many trend questions which allow mapping changes over time. Yet a number of new questions will be included in the 6th editions which cover recent changes in work, boundaryless work, work life balance, organisational justice, engagement, sleeping problems, chronic diseases, blurring frontiers in employment status, workplace representation . .

Changes over time
On average there are little changes: this is because work situations and working conditions are becoming more diverse and inequalities in working conditions are increasing. On average, workers work less and less workers work long hours. They also work less “atypical” working hours. Work is taking place in more collective environment (clients, devolution of coordination tasks down to employee level etc.). Yet employment relations are more individualised. Technology use is on the increase but level of reported cognitive demands has remained the same. Exposure to physical risks remains high. Exposure to psychosocial risks is probably on the increase as illustrated by work intensification. Employment status in evolution: frontiers between categories less strict: the employment contract plays a key role in framing working conditions. Over time, there has been slow progress in gender segregation. Women still bear much of the burden of care activities. Sustainable work on the increase: good working conditions are key for sustainability as well as the provision of meaningful work. Less people report a good / very good work life balance. Important differences are lost at the aggregate level. Unfavourable working conditions tend to cluster disproportionally in some groups.

Policy conclusions
The improvement of working conditions is not automatic and need to be supported. Lifecourse perspective is important to understand trade-offs between job quality features. Social and economic policies are linked together: good work and good working conditions are key in facilitating good performance and wellbeing. Actions to support the improvement of working conditions are not necessarily costly. Many actors contribute to the improvement of working conditions and their efforts need to be supported. Monitoring working conditions Work and employment differs. A working conditions survey is a useful complementary tool to labour force surveys. There are many differences between real work and prescribed work: a working conditions survey allows addressing this information gap. The information is relevant as interlinkages between labour market , household decision and workplace arrangements are increasing as a result of destandardisation process. It is important therefore to monitor work and its conditions. The EWCS has gained experience and legitimacy and has proved a useful tool to compare working conditions between countries.