New survey to measure impact of change on EU employees

Globalisation, rapid changes in technology and demographics, such as an ageing population and migration, together with the economic crisis, are putting considerable pressure for change on organisations and their employees. Organisational change can be highly disruptive, resulting in a decline in productivity and lower economic performance or even company failure. These challenges are recognised in the Europe 2020 Strategy, which calls for change to be managed positively, and for innovative and flexible forms of work to be promoted to improve the quality of employment and company performance.

Understanding how organisations adapt to changes in technology and markets while preserving their essential dynamism is essential for the effective management of organisational change. However, there is currently a lack of comparable data that can be harmonised across Europe to show how EU enterprises organise their work and coordinate processes such as design, production, purchasing and sales. This leads to an incomplete understanding of the impacts of organisational change on productivity and employee working conditions.

The research project MEADOW (Measuring the Dynamics of Organisations and Work) has developed guidelines and survey questionnaires for collecting and interpreting internationally harmonised data on organisational change, and its economic and social impacts, from both private and public sector organisations.

Researchers believe that reliable information on organisational change would provide a sound basis for effective benchmarking of best practice across EU Member States. It would contribute directly to the success of European policy initiatives aimed at increasing the flexibility and adaptability of organisations and employees, while simultaneously improving the quality and security of jobs, employee skills and equal opportunities.

The multi-disciplinary consortium of 14 partners from 9 European countries designed an innovative linked employer-employee survey to study the dynamics of organisational change. The indicators measured through the employer and employee level questionnaires include degree of innovation, use of ICT, working conditions, human resources (HR) management, and developments in skills and training.

For example, the survey can show:

  • How work organisation and HR policies affect job characteristics and performance of employees.
  • Whether innovation at organisation level has an impact on employee well-being indicators, such as stress or days of absence.
  • How changes are communicated and made visible to employees.
  • How employees react to and cope with different types of change.
  • How many employers are innovative or flexible.
  • The types of flexible arrangements, further training or job design which are best suited to maintain older workers in employment.

The MEADOW survey has been designed for organisations of twenty employees or more. The survey can be conducted over the telephone, taking around 30 minutes, and tracks changes over a two year period through retrospective questions. By using a linked employer-employee survey, a richer set of complementary information can be collected to establish causal relationships. Employers can characterise the organisation’s overall strategy and structure, including the nature of relations with other organisations and external actors, while employees can provide information about job characteristics, work organisation, skills development and utilisation, work-life balance and well-being at work.

The survey was translated into seven languages and subjected to cognitive testing to ensure the feasibility of producing harmonised statistics on organisational dynamics across a range of different cultures. Almost 250 interviews were undertaken in 11 European Member States with private and public sector organisations from a variety of sectors and establishment sizes, together with more detailed pilot testing in Sweden and Denmark.

The researchers believe the survey can be used to determine whether planned organisational changes, designed to improve innovation and performance, are compatible with the security of high quality jobs and reducing inequalities. It can distinguish which types of organisational design are best adapted to introducing new skills, innovative work methods, promoting gender equality, or maintaining the employment opportunities of older workers. By aggregating individual data collected in the survey at employer and employee levels, it can be used to construct relevant sector, national or EU-level indicators of states and change.

The MEADOW survey design complements work undertaken by organisations such as Eurostat, OECD and the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions.

The ‘Guidelines for collecting and interpreting harmonised data on organisational change and work restructuring and their economic and social impacts at the EU level’, together with a range of documents, publications and activity reports on the MEADOW network, can be downloaded from: http://www.meadow-project.eu/index.php?/The-MEADOW-Guidelines.html

MEADOW - Measuring the Dynamics of Organisations and Work: proposed guidelines for collecting and interpreting data on organisational change and its economic and social impacts (duration: 1/3/2007 - 28/2/2010) was a Coordination Action funded under the 6th Framework Programme for Research of the European Union, Thematic Priority 7 - Citizens and governance in a knowledge-based society.

See: http://www.meadow-project.eu

Contact: Nathalie Greenan, nathalie.greenan@cee-recherche.fr