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Investments in a sustainable workforce in Europe: causes and consequences in comparative perspective

Final Report Summary - SUSTAINABLEWORKFORCE (Investments in a sustainable workforce in Europe: causes and consequences in comparative perspective)

How do organisations contribute to a sustainable European workforce? To understand why organisations invest in certain work arrangements, if and why employees actually use these arrangements and what the consequences are, we have combined general theoretical insights from economic sociology with field-specific theories from sociology of organisations, family sociology, labour economics, as well as from psychology and the literature on Human Resource Management. Unique multi-level data were collected from 11,011 employees in 259 organisations across nine European countries: Bulgaria, Finland, Germany, Hungary, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Before the start of this project multi-actor data from three levels of employment were non-existent: for the first time we introduced and integrated the meso organisational level into research on the micro and macro levels of employment. This project was able to approach and consult a large number of organisations using this ground-breaking research design, and developed a remarkable nested dataset which has yielded rich new insights about organisations and their employees.

The overarching conclusion of this research is that organisations want to invest in their employees, through training, leave, flexibility or old age policies. However, there is no uniform approach: investment appears to be contingent on the specific policy, employees concerned, and organisational conditions. Findings varied among demographic groups: Formal rules and regulations were important for typically less privileged groups in the organisation, such as women and immigrants. Employees on temporary contracts lag significantly behind employees with permanent contracts in their participation in training activities. With respect to work-family policies, we found that organisations play a role in the utilization decisions of men regarding parental leave, but not of women. This suggests that while women are expected to use parental leave, men base the extent of their involvement at home partially on pressures within the organisational context. Among workers age 50+, being older still increases the likelihood of participating in phasing-out policies, such as a lighter workload, additional leave and semi-retirement. Overall, employees with a higher educational level and higher job status make more use of all sorts of policies.

Organisational conditions influence both the investments made by the organisation and their potential use by the employees. Structural conditions matter less than we had anticipated, yet organisational size appears to be relevant: bigger organisations provide more parental leave and they are also more likely to train all their employees. While structural characteristics often did not explain variation in investments, other organisational characteristics did, especially the role of co-workers and managers. Colleagues and managers appear to play a decisive role in the uptake of policies, via support or acting as a role model. On the whole, our results show that worker well-being and performance are positively correlated, yet policies can have trade-off effects. Investments directed at improving employee performance do not increase well-being, or conversely, that investments directed at well-being are harmful for performance. For example, flexible work arrangements have a direct negative effect on performance, although they positively influence well-being. These findings support the idea that a multi-dimensional analysis is needed to understand how policies produce mutual gains, more productive and cohesive workplaces and, ultimately, a sustainable workforce.