Working paper

Risks to job quality from digital technologies: are industrial relations in Europe ready for the challenge?

The paper extends the debate about the future of work beyond employment and pay, to a consideration of job quality more broadly.

Publishing date
22 September 2022

We examine the job quality effects of new digital technologies in Europe, using the framework of seven job quality ‘domains’: pay, working time quality, prospects, skills and discretion, work intensity, social environment and physical environment. The theoretical effects from new technology are ambivalent for all domains. Data on robot shocks matched to the European Working Conditions Surveys for 2010 and 2015 is used to generate empirical estimates, which show significant aggregate negative effects in three domains, and a positive effect in one. Some negative effects are enhanced where there is below-median collective bargaining. In light of these analyses, and in order to think through the challenge of regulating the development and implementation of all forms of digital technologies, we review regulations in several European countries. Drawing on the principles of human-centred design, we advance the general hypothesis that worker participation is important for securing good job quality outcomes, at both the innovation and adoption stages. We also consider the application to the regulation of job quality of national and supra-national data protection legislation. In these ways, the paper extends the debate about the future of work beyond employment and pay, to a consideration of job quality more broadly.

The empirical exercises were executed by Milena Nikolova and are based on the methodology in the working paper “Robots, meaning and self-determination” by M. Nikolova, F. Cnossen and B. Nikolaev. All authors belong to the Excellence Network of stakeholders at Bruegel, through its project Future of Work and Inclusive Growth. Francis Green acknowledges funding support from the UK Research and Innovation, Grant ES/W005271/1. David Spencer acknowledges funding support from the UK Economic and Social Research Council, Grant ES/S012532/1.

About the authors

  • Janine Berg

    Janine Berg is Senior Economist in the Research department of the International Labour Office in Geneva, Switzerland and a member of the Excellence Network of Bruegel's Future of work and inclusive growth Project. Since joining the ILO in 2002, she has conducted research on the economic effects of labour laws as well as provided technical assistance to ILO constituents on policies for generating jobs and improving working conditions. She is the author several books and numerous articles on employment and labour market institutions and was the lead author of the ILO report, Non-standard employment around the world: Understanding challenges, shaping prospects. Her current area of focus is on transformations in the world of work, including digital labour platforms and algorithmic management. Janine received her Ph.D. in economics from the New School for Social Research in New York, USA.

  • Francis Green

    Francis Green is Professor of Work and Education Economics in the Faculty of Education and Society at University College London. After graduating in Physics at Oxford University, he studied Economics at the London School of Economics, before writing his PhD thesis at Birkbeck College. His research focuses on education, skills, the graduate labour market and the quality of work. His latest research project is a wide-ranging study of 21st century trends in job quality. The author of ten earlier books, and more than 150 papers, he also works as an occasional expert advisor on skills and job quality for the UK government, the OECD and the European Union. He is a member of the Excellence Network of the Bruegel project: Future of Work and Inclusive Growth in Europe.

  • Laura Nurski

    Laura Nurski is a Research Expert at the Centre of Expertise for Labour Market Monitoring at the Faculty of Business and Economics of KU Leuven. She leads the development of an integrated labour market prediction model that identifies future skill needs in the Flemish labour market.

    Laura is currently a non-resident Fellow at Bruegel. While residing at Bruegel in the past, she led the Future of Work and Inclusive Growth project which analyses the impact of technology on the nature, quantity and quality of work, welfare systems and inclusive growth.

    Before joining Bruegel, she investigated the impact of job design and organisation design on wellbeing and productivity at work. This inherently multidisciplinary domain has left her with a broad social science background, encompassing psychology, sociology and economics. As a former data scientist in the financial and retail sector, Laura is passionate about data and technology. She is also a skilled statistical programmer, survey developer and open-source aficionado.

    Laura holds a Ph.D. in Industrial Organization, a M.Sc. in Economics and a M.A. in Business Engineering from KU Leuven.

  • David Spencer

    David A. Spencer is Professor of Economics and Political Economy at the University of Leeds. His research interests lie in the areas of the economics and political economy of work. His latest book on the meaning and future of work is entitled, Making Light Work: An End to Toil in the Twenty-First Century (Polity: 2022). He is a member of the Excellence Network of the Bruegel project: Future of Work and Inclusive Growth in Europe.

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