Forms of work organization in European countries

Mako (2014) noted the asymmetry in the distribution of new forms of work organization among European states, especially between Western and South-Eastern countries.

The table below summarizes the distributions of work organization in the Eastern and Central European post-socialist countries in comparison with the EU-27 average.

 Frequencies of forms of work organization in the Post-Socialist Countries (%)



Discretionary Learning Lean Production Taylorism Traditional or simple Total
Bulgaria 20,6 27,2 32,7 19,5 100
Czech Republic 28,0 26,7 22,5 22,8 100
Estonia 40,7 33,4 11,2 14,7 100
Hungary 38,3 18,2 23,4 20,1 100
Lithuania 23,5 31,1 22,0 23,4 100
Latvia 33,4 34,5 17,1 15,0 100
Poland 33,3 32,6 18,9 15,2 100
Romania 24,1 33,4 27,6 14,9 100
Slovenia 34,9 32,1 16,7 16,3 100
Slovakia 27,2 21,0 33,8 18,0 100
EU-27 38,4 25,7 19,5 16,4 100

Source: Valeyre et al., 2009, p. 22.

 The Discretionary Learning (or Innovative) Organization is characterized by the overrepresentation of job features as autonomy in work, learning and problem solving, task complexity, assessments of the quality of work, autonomous teamwork. Lean Production forms of work organization (limited innovation capability) is characterized by the overrepresentation of both autonomous and non-autonomous teamwork, job rotation and multi-skilling; jobs include the self-assessment of quality as well as the indirect variable of just-in-time production, measured by demand-driven constraints on work pace. This type of work can be labeled “controlled autonomy”, reflecting the employers’ intention to “trade-off” direct control over the employee and the benefits of employee involvement in work related decisions. Taylorist forms of work organization (no need for innovation capability) characterizes the typical mass production job, including minimal autonomy in work with low task complexity along with weak learning possibilities; teamwork and job rotation are nearly at an average level. Traditional and simple structure version of the work organization includes working methods that are not essentially formalized, presenting difficulties in accurate description (Valeyre et al., cited in Mako, 2014, p. 2).

In Romania, the presence of “discretionary learning” organizations (with the strongest innovation capabilities) is below the EU average: 24,1% in our country versus 38,4% in the EU-27. Discretionary learning forms of work organization are least diffused in Bulgaria, Lithuania and Romania. The share of the less innovative lean production type is well above the European average: 33,4% in Romania versus 25,7% in the EU-27. Also the Taylorist form of work organization is above the average: 27,6% in Romania compared to 19,5% in EU-27.


Workplace innovation – a way to improve the working conditions

Workplace innovation has been recently defined as social innovation in organizations, as “the implementation of new and combined interventions in the fields of work organization, human resource management and supportive technologies” (Pot, 2011, p. 404). Other authors use relatively synonymous terms, such as organizational innovation (Armbruster et al., 2008; Lam, 2011; Mako, 2013; OECD, 2005) or high performance work practices (HPWPs) (Cox et al., 2012).

Workplace innovation includes aspects regarding work organization (job autonomy, self-managed teams, flexible working, integration of technology etc.), organizational structure and systems (transfer of decision-making to employees, fairness and equality, supporting employee initiative etc.), learning and development (high involvement innovation, staff learning and development, shared knowledge and experience etc.), workplace partnership (social dialogue, representative participation, involvement in change, openness and communication, integrating tacit and strategic knowledge etc.).

Unfortunately, workplace innovation is an underused resource for European private or public enterprises: the data showed that only 47% of European workers are involved in improving work organization or work processes in their department or enterprise, only 47% are consulted before targets for their work are set and of all workers, only 40% can influence the decisions that are important for their work. More, there are great differences between countries in the control that employees can exercise over their work tasks and their participation in organizational decision-making: the Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland and Sweden) had the highest levels of involvement, while the Southern countries (Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain) and the East-South countries (Bulgaria and Romania) had particularly low levels (Totterdill et al., 2014).

Field researches conducted by Cox et al. (2012) in 13 European companies showed that employee motivation was improved by the workplace innovations which provided job enrichment, greater responsibilities and autonomy, skill variety and development, enhanced training, increased trust and organizational support,  enhanced job security,  opportunities for suggestions or challenge; but HPWPs that improved autonomy, task variety, flexibility and decision-making authority also increased job strain through increasing work pressure, workloads and work pace, despite efforts made by management to implement health and safety measures.

The management of high-skilled employees in the knowledge economy

In the context of the on-going competition on globalized markets and of the transition from industrial-type economies to those economies specific to knowledge-based societies, a competition between organizations that takes place more likely on the field of employees’ knowledge, the vision about the working person changes radically: high-skilled employees become the main resource of company development, in particular, and of society development, in general. This change requires organizations to practice a new type of management which values the person with all its dimensions (not just the physical one, as in Taylorism, but also the intellectual, moral and social dimension). The individual has to represent the supreme goal of the organization’s activity, and not just a means used by the organization; in general, the organization has to take into consideration employee’s needs and aspirations.

A knowledge worker is innovative, creative, understands and adopts organizational culture, has the capacity to cooperate and share knowledge, is eager to learn and implement new methodologies, is accustomed to adapting to uncertain situations, has self-discipline, has clear understanding of the issue he is involved in and adapts his personal and professional development to the company’s vision. An adequate manager for this type of employees is not the traditional one (action-oriented, spending his time watching over his employees, delegating tasks, controlling and ensuring that procedure is respected), but the “intelligent manager”, who is learning-oriented, focusing on organizational knowledge, and who acts as professor and not as supervisor to his employees. The role of the latter is to maintain employee motivation, manage cooperation and coordinate competitive activities among the employees, to create, share and use knowledge in day-to-day activities, to recruit “brilliant” employees, eager to work with knowledge etc.

In order to keep these employees within the organization, financial stimulation is not enough; the manager has to tackle aspects such as work-life balance and to provide interesting and adequate projects to experts-employees etc., which would motivate them and highlight their strengths.