CAIRN-INT.INFO : International Edition

1 This book brings together contributions from sociologists, economists, managers, and political scientists who took part in Tanja van der Lippe’s European Research Council-funded Sustainable Workforce project. It aims to shed light on the availability and use of organizational mechanisms to ensure the ‘sustainability’ of the workforce, and to analyse the consequences of these practices, from an international comparative perspective. A key aspect of the approach taken here is the integration of the meso level—organizations—along with the micro and macro levels. Institutions are central because they take a leading role in transformations of the organization of work and employment relations; they also make investments in human resources, which can be more or less consciously targeted at certain groups of employees.

2 The first part of the book presents the theoretical framework, context, and method. A workforce is described as ‘sustainable’ when employees are productive and happy, organizations are profitable and maintain cohesion among employees, and countries have a high level of labour market participation and a thriving economy. The theoretical approach is not uniform; each chapter develops its own theoretical apparatus, ranging from economic sociology (in terms of costs and benefits, or transactions between parties), to identifying stereotypes, in particular around gender, culture, and norms. The empirical analysis is based on data from nine countries (Hungary, Bulgaria, the United Kingdom, Germany, Portugal, Spain, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Finland), which represent ideal types in Esping-Andersen’s typology of welfare states. Chapter 2 presents their respective institutional contexts in terms of employment flexibility, training, work–life balance policies, health, and employability of older workers.

3 The book’s strength derives from the empirical material on which almost all the analyses are based: the European Sustainable Workforce Survey, whose protocol is detailed in the third chapter. The survey is an ambitious one; the information was collected in 2015 in a uniform fashion in nine countries, six sectors (industry, health, telecommunications, financial services, transport, and higher education), and at three levels (human resources managers, team leaders, and employees). The material is not representative, however; because of low response rates from randomly selected organizations, more had to be chosen and added. The sectors were selected on the basis of the proportions of women, workers of different ages, levels of qualifications, and personnel on short-term contracts in the workforce, as well as economic development. In total, 259 organizations with more than 20 employees, 869 teams or departments, and 11,011 employees responded to the survey, with satisfactory response rates from managers (80%) and employees (60%).

4 The second part of the book concerns organizations’ investments in human resources and employees’ use of them. Each chapter focuses on a particular policy area: training, work–life balance, employability of older workers, flexibility of employment contracts, and health-related measures. In Chapter 4, we learn, for example, that women are as likely as men to participate in institutionalized training programmes (taught by professionals), but their chances of benefiting from informal training, perhaps provided by colleagues, are lower. Similarly, migrants have less access to training, whatever their individual characteristics or those of their organizations, with the exception of organizations that offer particularly large amounts of training. The self-employed and employees on short-term contracts also have less access to training than employees on longterm/permanent contracts (Chapter 11). And for the use of parental leave (Chapter 5), it emerges that, for women, the organizational context has very little effect, in contrast to national-level policies. For men, the perceived support of the manager, the manager’s own use of parental leave, and the proportion of women in the organization are decisive—a sign that fathers feel more pressure from the organization in deciding whether to take parental leave. Regarding health policies, there appears to be a major gap between the available measures and employees’ perception of them (Chapter 7), except where organizations offer a plan that combines the various measures into a coherent whole. This result reveals problems of communication, but also how measures tend to be exclusively targeted at certain types of employees.

5 A general conclusion that emerges from the chapters taken together is that, whatever the domain, in addition to differences by age and gender, it is the most qualified employees and those in stable employment who benefit the most from access to different kinds of investments. Among organizational characteristics, size appears to be the determining factor in the availability of various measures, with large establishments investing more than smaller ones. Being public or private and rates of unionization have a lesser impact. Intermediate levels within organizations—colleagues and managers—play an important role in determining whether individuals will make use of the available mechanisms.

6 The third part analyses the effects of these investments for employees. Chapter 9 reveals that the great majority contribute both to employees’ wellbeing and to their performance. Autonomy at work is also crucial, both for performance and for well-being. However, the results of this key chapter must be qualified. Depending on the indicators, these objectives can conflict; for example, flexible working arrangements favour well-being but can negatively affect performance. Training has little effect on well-being. These contrasting results underline the importance of a detailed and multidimensional analysis of investments in human resources. The effect of organizational policies also depends on the type of contract that employees have. Workers on temporary contracts have a better work–life balance than those on permanent contracts because they are less exposed to stress at work (Chapter 10). However, those on short-term contracts also experience more uncertainty, which has the opposite effect. As for the characteristics of the organization, for example, it emerges that the recruitment strategy for non-permanent staff has little effect. The manager’s gender also appears to have little influence on employees’ perceived prospects of promotion (Chapter 12), either because female managers do not have enough power or motivation to change gendered promotion practices, or because they do not act as a role model for women.

7 In the end, this is a coherent collection of studies, based on a large and rich dataset that enables the authors to carry out analyses at various levels. As such, it represents an important contribution to the literature. Each chapter is well structured around a theoretical framework, and the hypotheses are tested by sophisticated analyses (multilevel models, structural equation models). They examine a large number of measures aimed at increasing employees’ well-being. It is regrettable, however, that the measures examined are sometimes either too broad or too narrowly focused. There is more to policies on work–life balance, for example, than parental leave and flexible hours. In addition, the exclusive reliance on static data and on a sample of employed individuals means that these studies do not take selection bias into account. This leads to some surprising results, such as the finding that men and women are equally likely to use parental leave, or that women are less likely to benefit from age policies. Finally, while the initial ambition was to conduct a comparative analysis, this aspect remains underdeveloped here, as the authors themselves lament. The number of countries selected for analysis is too small to study the effect of macro characteristics, while sometimes the differences between countries are too large to be precisely examined. Finally, the use of more precise indicators to perform analyses on a single country, or to conduct comparative analyses of similar countries, would allow for a more detailed analysis of the processes at work.

Uploaded on on 19/04/2022
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