Track 4: Human Resources, Quality of Work and Digitalisation

HRM is a continuously changing practice – not only in the firm, but also in inter-organisational relations between firms or between firms and (self-employed) individuals. As a consequence, we experience a massive change in practices of HRM, in the respective constellations of actors in HRM and employment relations. A growing digitalisation of (multinational) firms as well as their business relationships, new business models based on digital technologies (e.g., crowdwork) leading to a “Gig economy” and the use of artificial intelligence impacts on the quality of work, HRM practices and employment relations.

Workshop: ‘Socioeconomics of personnel’ as an evolving research program


  • Martin Schneider, Paderborn University

Few in the field of human resource management would deny the success of personnel economics since the 1990s as a research program. It has its own Journal of Economic Literature (JEL) classification code, M5. In Europe, an annual Colloquium on Personnel Economics (COPE) has been steadily growing since its inception in 1998.

However, some economists focus in their research on personnel issues without considering themselves “personnel economists”. Critical of the research program defined in particular by Edward Lazear (Lazear 2000; Lazear and Shaw 2007), they express their uneasiness with the “imperialistic” nature of a theory which claims to define the very field of personnel research (Kaufman 2012; Spencer 2013; Nienhueser 2017). Personnel economists themselves have softened the narrow official agenda defined by Lazear. In particular, it has been suggested that an economic view of personnel comprises personnel economics and employment politics (Personalökonomie und Arbeitspolitik, Sadowski 2002) and that results from behavioral and experimental economics can help magnify personnel economics’ explanatory power (Backes-Gellner, Bessey, and Pull 2008).

The  workshop brings together scholars who would like to discuss a socioeconomics of personnel: a research program with a broader spectrum of assumptions concerning human interaction and with a stronger sensitivity to market imperfections than personnel economics. The socioeconomics of personnel includes (among other topics) work on fairness considerations, non-selfish motivation, identity economics, power, and voice institutions. It studies outcomes such as worker health, job satisfaction, and wage inequality in firms and in societies. Overall, the socioeconomics of personnel is a personnel economics which embraces social norms in its assumptions and focuses on societal concerns in its research questions.

A first session of the proposed workshop brings together voices that review and critique the present state of personnel economics (Sadowski, Riach) and explore ways in which to expand its assumptions and models (Spencer, Nienhüser). A second session discusses empirical examples that either extend behavioral assumptions to incorporate social norms (Thommes/Hoffmann) or address personnel questions that matter to social outcomes (Schneider, Matiaske).

Based on the presentations, workshop participants may discuss more general questions related to the new research program: What are concepts and ideas from economics that need to be integrated into a research program that is more socially relevant than personnel economics? Is the label “socioeconomics of personnel” useful in inviting other disciplines? What are key behavioural assumptions of the socioeconomics of personnel? Do we need to focus on wider societal concerns than personnel economists have done or should we rather leave this job to labour economists, sociologists, and management scholars?


  • Backes-Gellner, Uschi; Bessey, Donata; Pull, Kerstin (2008): What Behavioural Economics Teaches Personnel Economics. In: Die Unternehmung 62 (3), pp. 217–234.
  • Kaufman, Bruce E. (2012): An institutional economic analysis of labor unions. In: Industrial Relations: A Journal of Economy and Society 51, pp. 438–471.
  • Lazear, Edward P. (2000): Economic imperialism. In: The Quarterly Journal of Economics 115 (1), pp. 99–146.
  • Lazear, Edward P.; Shaw, Kathryn L. (2007): Personnel economics: The economist's view of human resources. In: Journal of Economic Perspectives 21 (4), pp. 91–114.
  • Nienhueser, Werner (2017): Socio-economic Research in Personnel versus Personnel Economics. In: Forum for Social Economics 46 (1), pp. 104–119.
  • Spencer, David A. (2013): Barbarians at the gate: A critical appraisal of the influence of economics on the field and practice of HRM. In: Human Resource Management Journal 23 (4), pp. 346–359.


Workshop: Gig economy and its implications for social dialogue and workers’ protection


  • Johannes Kiess, University of Siegen
  • Maria M. Mexi, University of Geneva

The workshop is based on a collaborative project funded by the Swiss Network for International Studies and coordinated by Jean-Michel Bonvin (University of Geneva) and will present results from our research in four countries. New work concepts resulting from the digital transformation are revolutionising the world of work. The ‘gig economy’ or ‘sharing economy’ has profound implications for social dialogue and workers’ protection. While some see gigging as a way into the workforce for the hard-to-employ, others portend a pessimistic future of workers with little or no income-security protections. The project seeks to generate a better understanding of how the gig economy is transforming social dialogue and workers’ protection and to provide an integrated picture of its implications for the role of employers, workers, government, and society at large. The research identifies concrete policy options for public policy and social dialogue actors to meet the challenges of the gig economy. Thus, it will contribute to the advancement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which recognises the pivotal role of decent work in realising the 17 Social Development Goals.The three main questions guiding the research are: What are the implications of the gig economy for employment arrangements, social protection, and for social dialogue and labour relations in different sectors and countries? How can the technological and business-model innovation of the gig economy be managed and enhanced to ensure it delivers a measure of security and social protection to the millions of workers who are beginning to depend on it for their livelihoods? What should be the role of social dialogue and the social partners in shaping developments in the gig economy and ensuring decent work for ‘crowd workers’?The core of the research comprises a thorough examination of case studies of ‘crowdwork’ and ‘work-on-demand via app’ following a cross-national comparative design studying Switzerland, Germany, Greece, and UK. The national cases have been studied via legal frameworks, policy debates, and the national model of industrial relations. In addition, in each country, case studies dominating the national agenda and policy debates have been investigated in-depth. The workshop will present the results of the fieldwork, which are currently also prepared for publication. A first presentation will highlight the challenges and potential disruptions of the gig economy in relation to (national) industrial relations. Then, four papers will present the main findings of the national studies. A final presentation will discuss the need for global standards.

Workshop: Experiences of work in the platform economy

Ways in, ways through, ways out of the platform labour market


  • Simon Joyce, University of Leeds
  • Mark Stuart, University of Leeds
  • Chris Forde, University of Leeds

Research on platform work – by which we mean paid work mediated by online platforms – has led to considerable speculation about the future of work (Vandaele 2018). However, we still know relatively little about the realities of the working lives of platform workers and how this might vary across different platforms. This workshop addresses these shortcomings by bringing together contributions from leading European researchers, including a unique mix of academic and policy-oriented backgrounds.

The four papers examine different aspects of the experience of platform work, and together offer new empirical insights and deeper conceptual understanding of the complexity of platform work as a form of employment. In particular, we are interested in the place of platform work in the wider context of work and labour markets, as well as its place in the working lives of the people who do it.

The workshop will explore the following dimensions of working in the platform economy:

  • Pathways into platform work – How and why do workers enter the platform economy? Consideration will be given to prior work histories, the balance of platform work and wider household realities and the relationship between platform work and other forms of employment.
  • The types and conditions of platform work – Consideration will be given to the types of work performed via platforms, in terms of work content, skills level, length of tasks, remuneration and performance management. Does such work offer high levels of worker autonomy or job satisfaction or is such work indicative of a wider trend towards ‘gig work’ and ‘bad jobs’? Does platform work offer a viable source of long-term work, income security, and social protection?
  • Worker mobilisation and emergent forms of collective action – To what extent are platform workers able to represents their interests and, where they are, through what means is this achieved? Set against a backdrop of wider debates on bogus self-employment and lack of social protections, emergent forms of collective action are apparent. But we still know very little about the dynamics of such worker mobilisation, their relationship with established forms of labour organisation and ultimately the gains for workers’ rights that are possible. Are new models of collective action possible?
  • Pathways from platform work – Evidence suggests that workers turnover in the platform economy is high, suggesting that workers engage in such work for a limited duration and then move on. What are the dynamics of such pathways, and does platform work represent a temporary form of employment to make ends meet (for example while studying) or does it provide a starting point for particular pathways into more established forms of employment or new types of career trajectory?

It is anticipated that the workshop will run for either 1.5 or preferably 2 hours. If the former, each paper will be allocated 18 minutes, with 12 mins for presentation and then a general 30 minute discussion after the presentations.


  • Vandaele, K., 2018. Will trade unions survive in the platform economy? Emerging patterns of platform workers’ collective voice and representation in Europe, ETUI Working Paper 2018.05, ETUI, Brussels.

Workshop: Comparing digitalisation of work in Northern European countries


  • Bertil Rolandsson, University of Gothenburg
  • Johan Røed Steen, Fafo Institute for Labour and Social Research, Oslo
  • Jon Erik Dølvik, Fafo Institute for Labour and Social Research, Oslo

Since the 1960s, growing use of ICT technology at work has been foreseen to replace employees and change the demand for skills in the remaining workforce. Despite earlier concern for the end of work, alienation, deskilling, and degradation of labour (Braverman 1977; Gorz 1984; Rifkin 1991), a dominant view has been that ICT-driven changes at work strengthen the demand for skills and highly educated labour (Skilled Biased Technological Change, Katz and Murphy 1992). While the latter entails an optimistic view of ICT prompting upgrading of work , the pessimistic perception of skills and job polarization has recently gained support from the thesis of Routine Biased Technological Change (Autor et al. 2006 ) implying that current leaps in digital tools and artificial intelligence enable automation and replacement also of cognitive routine work in the middle of the occupational structure. Since many non-routine, labour intensive, and customer-reliant jobs, for instance in personal services, do not lend themselves to technological rationalization and demand is enhanced by rising incomes in the upper end, several studies, notably from the US, have predicted continued growth in low-skilled, simple jobs. The predicted rise in the top, hollowing out in the middle, and growth in the low end has revived the old debate about polarization or bifurcation of the jobs and skills structure. Yet, the demand for and supply of different kinds of labour and skills are not determined by technology alone but are contingent on market conditions and a range of institutional factors related, for instance, to wage formation, education/training, welfare services, taxation and macro-economic policies. The impact of digitalization on work may thus vary across countries, industries, and labour market systems.

Juxtaposed to the US-biased literature, we have in this workshop emerging from a project on the Nordic Future of Work invited papers comparing how the past years of digital change have affected patterns of jobs, skills, work organization, and employment relations in northern European countries. Combining quantitative mappings of changes in the overall occupational structure of employment with qualitative, actor oriented analyses of developments in traditional work, i.e. manufacturing, on the one hand, and novel forms of work mediated through digital platforms, on the other, the aim is to shed light on how the impact of digitalization is influenced by variations in the interplay between technology, institutions, economic cycles, and social actors across different labour markets.

Working parents and new trends in the human resources management in Polish companies

Barbara Godlewska-Bujok, University of WarsawKrzysztof Walczak, Warsaw UniversityThe aim of the proposal is to present the outcomes of the research project on the practices of the companies in the field of granting additional parental entitlements to workers. We try to consider whether it becomes a part of companies' strategies to enhance human resources management.The project consist of analysing the companies’ sources of labour law (i.e. collective agreements, statutes, regulations, and so forth) to assess empirically what type of policies companies provide towards parental rights and entitlements of their employees: are they only limited to the rights and entitlements provided for by the national labour law legislation, or maybe they offer a wider range of rights and entitlements, reaching far away the limit defined by the state legislation. Answering the question is important because might prove the importance of employees’s living conditions for the employer. It may also prove the common-interest approach by employers.Respect for family life, in particular in relation to care over children, has a very special meaning. It should be remembered that Polish legislation offers very generous system of parental rights and benefits, which may be considered as generous even in universal dimension. Moreover, the tradition of granting maternal/parental right and entitlements has been commenced almost a hundred years ago, just few years later than regaining the independence (1918).

More money or extra days off?

New regulations for individual choices in German collective bargaining

Thorsten Schulten, Institute of Economic and Social Research (WSI), Hans-Böckler-Foundation
Reinhard Bispinck, formerly Institute of Economic and Social Research (WSI), Hans-Böckler-Foundation

Against the background of growing work pressure due to flexible working time arrangements and digitalization but also new claims for a better work-life-balance, German trade unions are more and more pushing for new regulations which aim to increase working time sovereignty of the individual workers. Since the 2018 collective bargaining round in a couple of sectors, German unions were able to negotiate new provision which give individual workers new opportunities to choose between more money or extra days off. The paper will focus on the new collective agreements in metalworking, rail and postal sector which are the sectors with the most advanced regulations so far. It will analyse the negation process with the different perspectives of unions and employers’ associations, the compromises which came out from negotiations and determine new regulations for individual choices as well as the first experiences of their implementation at company level. For the latter the paper will draw on some original data based on trade union surveys as well as on company data. Finally, it will discuss the results against the background of more long term debates reading working time developments in Germany.

The importance of gender, professional position and family responsibility in the process of dissolution of work and private life through the use of ICT

Ines Entgelmeier, University of Duisburg-Essen
Timothy Rinke, University of Duisburg-Essen

Digital communication technologies, such as computers, laptops and smartphones, promote the use of temporally and spatially mobile forms of work and increasingly transport employment-related tasks into the private sphere of life. The sociological discourse points to ambivalent consequences for employee: Digitization as a driver of dissolving boundaries between work and private life, of intensification and extensification of work; as a guarantor of compatibility for work, family and leisure time; as a gain of autonomy for the individual arrangement of work and life, as a danger of self-exploitation and mental overload.

So far, the opportunities and risks outlined here have been little empirically examined for Germany. There is a lack of representative quantitative studies. With a few exceptions (Kirchner, 2015), the state of research is based primarily on studies from the USA and Canada (Chesley, 2014, Schieman & Young, 2013, Wright et al., 2014). Simultaneous statements on the use of digital technologies and their impact on the working and living sphere are therefore hardly possible for Germany. For example, the use of ICT can increase the workload by soften the boundaries between work and private life. This process can be distressing when recovering from work becomes a problem ("Negative dissolution of work and personal life"). But it can also serve as a resource if requirements from both spheres of life can be integrated more flexibly into everyday life ("positive dissolution of work and private life"). Furthermore, past results do not allow to say for whom work related use of ICT can become a resource and for whom it can become a risk in relation to the dissolution of boundaries of work and private life in Germany.

We are going to examine the impact of work related ICT use on the demarcation of work and private life. In addition, in this analysis, we are taking into account person-specific characteristics such as gender, occupational status and family responsibilities. Thereby “risk groups” can be identified for which work related ICT use is associated with negative outcomes as well as groups which benefit from their use.

With regard to the theoretical and empirical state of research, we assume that a work related ICT use will lead to an increase in the dissolution of boundaries between work and private life (Carstensen 2015). But the effects may differ depending on person-specific characteristics. According to Schieman et al. employee in high occupational positions, unlike those in lower, have additional resources like higher work autonomy (“resource of higher status hypothesis”) which may buffer negative aspects of work related ICT use and allows them to use them as a resource for the integration of working and private life. Women, especially women with family responsibilities, are expected to be more affected by negative aspects of dissimulation than men due to their responsibilities for both paid and unpaid work. By contrast, feminine connotations of competences resulting from their gender specific socialisation can be of great benefit to highly qualified women in dealing with demands resulting from a dissolution of boundaries (Frey 2004, Voß and Weiß 2005).

We conduct cross-sectional and panel data regression analysis with the data of the European Working Conditions Survey (EWSC 2015), the Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP 2006, 2011, 2016) and the BIBB / BAuA Employment Survey (2012). By linking the data from the BIBB/ BAuA Employment Survey with the data from the EWCS and SOEP we can make the most of the potential of these datasets for mapping the theoretical constructs. The use of these datasets allows to differentiate in detail between dimensions of work related ICT use, such as for example working on the computer and using the internet and e-mail as well as other job profiles which are particularly strongly connected with the use of ICT. The datasets also contain variables to map positive as well as negative consequences of ICT use corresponding to the concept of work-life conflict (Greenhaus and Beutell 1985, Cinamon and Rich 2002) and the enrichment concept (Greenhaus and Powell 2006).

Preliminary results from cross-sectional regression analysis with EWCS 2015 support the relevance of group-specific features for studies on the impact of employment related ICT use on the delimitation of work and private life. As computer, laptop or smartphone usage increases leisure work increases too. There are no differences between occupational positions but between women and men. While for women and also for women in management positions leisure work is reduced by working with the computer, laptop or smartphone, this effect does not show for men. The use of ICT can also facilitate compatibility between working and private sphere. Increasing computer use in the workplace improves the possibilities of reconciling the areas of life for women and men. It also makes no difference whether they live together with children or not. For people in management positions, however, the compatibility decreases regardless of gender.

From personnel economics to a political economy of work

David Spencer, Leeds University Business School

Personnel economics has helped to broaden labour economics. But its development has been at the expense of genuine interdisciplinary dialogue and the communication and integration of ideas from heterodox economics. Its rise within business schools has also been implicated in the spread of ‘bad’ management that is detrimental to the well-being of workers. The presentation considers the limits of personnel economics and the prospects of developing an alternative approach to the study of HRM that is rooted in the broader political economy tradition.

Socio-economics versus personnel economics in industrial relations research

A critique and a proposal for a socio-economic mode of explanation

Werner Nienhüser, University of Duisburg-Essen

Based on a critique of restrictice assumptions in personnel economics, this presentation outlines a socio-economic mode of explanation. It suggests that any explanation should include assumptions about three theoretical mechanisms: pursuit of utility, power, and sense-making.

Can nudges increase employee performance?

Evidence from two field experiments

Kirsten Thommes, Paderborn University
Christin Hoffmann, Brandenburg University of Technology

This presentation discusses findings from two experiments showing that nudges can improve the performance of truck drivers but that intrinsic motivation interacts with nudges and monetary incentives. Intrinsically motivated drivers did not deteriorate in performance after being nudged (experiment 1). they further improved in performance under gain contracts whereas less motivated drivers only responded to loss contracts (experiment 2).


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