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Quality of life in a changing Europe

Final Report Summary - QUALITY (Quality of life in a changing Europe)

QUALITY was an innovative, quantitative and qualitative research project that aimed to examine how, in an era of major change, European citizens living in different national welfare state regimes evaluate the quality of their lives. The project analysed international comparative data on the social well-being of citizens and collected new data on social quality in European workplaces in eight strategically selected partner countries: United Kingdom (UK), Finland, Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, Hungary and a candidate country for EU enlargement, Bulgaria.

The overall aims of this project were:
1. To give insight, from an internationally-comparative perspective, in the quality of life and work of European citizens, the way the quality of life and work are interrelated, and the impact public.
2. To increase our knowledge how and under what conditions European workplaces could be transformed into healthy organisations, where work is organised in a socially as well as economically sustainable manner.
3. To explore future trends by consulting national high-level groups (policy-makers, politicians, researchers, managers) and by sketching / constructing scenarios with respect to trends concerning the quality of life and work of European citizens.
4. To analyse whether, to what extent and how gender matters in the relationship between wellbeing and public and organisational policies.

Several ways of collecting information, in a quantitative as well as qualitative way were performed to receive an adequate answer to the research questions and to meet the project's aims. The concept of quality of life was elaborated theoretically, methodologically and empirically and quality of life for citizens (men and women) in eight partner countries was analysed. An instrument on the social quality of European workplaces was developed by selecting the relevant items for social quality based on the overall analyses of existing data on quality of life and based on national survey results. To gain insight in relevant future trends and their expected implications for the quality of life of male and female citizens in the eight partner countries, scenario analyses were developed, which were discussed in high-level expert groups in each of the participating countries; and finally the role of gender in relation to quality of life and work was studied and the impact public and organisational policies have on this relationship, by specifying the perspective of gender in each of the parts of the QUALITY project.

Based on the findings of the research, the following conclusions could be drawn:

Employees in Sweden, Finland and the Netherlands tend to be the most satisfied with their life in general while lower rates of overall life satisfaction are found in Hungary, Bulgaria and the UK. Germany and Portugal are taking a middle position. With respect to the four sectors (retail, telecom / Information technologies (IT), hospital, bank / insurance) no clear pattern is found. Resources enhance overall life satisfaction while work and household demands negatively impact overall life satisfaction. Long working hours, work pressure and job insecurity negatively influence overall life satisfaction as well as having care responsibilities for relatives outside the household. In contrast to the research team's expectations, no positive impact of flexible work arrangements and training opportunities was found.

The greater security of employment, the greater gender equality in both paid and unpaid work, the more extensive state support for family care, as is typical for the social-democratic welfare states serve to provide a better institutional context for the quality of life than high material well being but lower protection and lower equality in the corporatist and the liberal regimes. The countries in the sub-protective and post-socialist regimes tend to combine low living standards with low flexibility of work and low or declining state support.

In general, similarities between countries have increased. Flexible working arrangements and better health services allow people to stay active on the labour market longer and leave later in their life course. In low-income countries older people bear the burden of searching for additional paid work and / or informal provision of childcare for their grandchildren.

There are some differences between the health care and private sector organisations. While adequate pay is an essential hygiene factor for all, in the private sector organisations level of pay is emphasised more and in one case at least, it is considered important that pay is perceived as fair in relation to the profits to which staff effort has contributed.

While women gain in career opportunities they experience more time pressures and the need to find the right balance between work and family life. At the same time there is an enduring gender asymmetry in family care involvement, even in the more egalitarian Nordic countries.

The cross country collaboration has proved to be very valuable in gaining insight in the quality of life in different cultural, economic and political contexts. The research group itself was diverse, with men and women, and younger and older people. The team benefited in many ways from this diversity. The study was characterised by new and relatively unknown instruments to get insight in the complex causes and meanings of quality of life. The use of innovation groups enabled the research team to address the challenges identified in terms of the potential impacts on the dual agenda of enhancing quality of (working) life and workplace effectiveness, as well as to begin to engage participants in the collaborative development of small innovations that could help to meet these dual objectives. Scenario meetings were performed with high level experts to derive a more useful, theoretically oriented and methodologically sustainable alternative than making simple predictions for the future. The scenario method was a particularly appropriate method since complex problems were approached, developing over a long period of time characterised by uncertainty. Finally, a social quality instrument has been developed based on the outcomes of the quantitative survey as well as the qualitative interviews and innovation groups, and at present an instrument that has been put at the website to be filled in by individual employees.

Based on the findings of the project, it could be recommended that investing in sustainability and gender equity is of great importance. Also, an effective life course approach also contributes to the sustainability of the workforce by encouraging lifelong learning and allowing variations in career investments along the lines of family formation and life stages. Overall, a major challenge for the future is for organisations to meet new demands by attending to both aspects of the dual agenda- recognising that employee quality of life and workplace effectiveness are equally important and interdependent- and for national policy makers to find ways to encourage this.