Franz Eiffe


Does employment status matter for job quality?

Franz Eiffe, Eurofound
Christophe Vanroelen, Free University Brussels
Deborah De Moortel, Free University Brussels
Jessie Gevaert, Free University Brussels

» Full paper: ilera-2019-paper-81-Eiffe.pdf

This paper contains an in-depth analysis of employment status in Europe, dealing with employment statuses’ distribution and the potential consequences for job quality and quality of working life.

Since the 1970’s, employment statuses have started to diversify. Non-standard forms of work emerged next to ‘standard’ permanent employment. These forms of employment may be ‘non-standard’ on several dimensions, but most important are the contractual (temporary, agency, and freelance work) and temporal (part-time) nature of work. The main classification of employment status in this study contains: indefinite contracts, fixed-term contracts of more than one year, fixed-term contracts of less than one year, other employees, dependent self-employed without employees, independent self-employed without employees, and self-employed with employees.

Since non-standard forms of employment are changing the labour market at a growing rate, European policy makers aim to formulate suitable policy initiatives. The European Pillar of Social Rights aims to modernise the rules of employment contracts, and broaden the scope of traditional employment to new and atypical forms of work (European Commission 2017a), while also earlier EU-efforts tried to deal with this issue.

In this study, first of all, we discuss the prevalence over time, socio-demographics and countries of different employment status categories. Then, we explore the relationship between the employment statuses and job quality, and the mediating influence of individual-, and country-level characteristics. Finally, we also look into the relationship of employment status and the quality of working life.

While permanent waged employment is still the norm, non-standard employment is more prevalent among new labour market entrants

Permanent waged employment is still the norm throughout Europe. Fixed-term contracts however, have no continuous pattern across European countries. Solo self-employment is increasing, especially in Southern European countries. Lastly, part-time employment tends to increase in all European countries.

While permanent employment is most often found among older, higher educated workers and in higher income quintiles, both fixed-term contracts and (involuntary) part-time employment are more prevalent among young, primary educated workers, and in low income quintiles. Self-employment without employees is prevalent in both higher and lower income quintiles.

Different employment statuses experience different degrees of job quality

The job quality of all other employment status categories is compared to that of workers holding a permanent employee contract. Long-lasting temporary contracts have lower work intensity, lower quality of social environment, lower skills and discretion, less chance of receiving training, less work schedule regularity, poorer working time quality, less job security, and less employment prospects. The pattern is very similar, but more pronounced, for short-term fixed contracts. The economicylly dependent self-employed without employees have lower employment prospects, poorer skills and discretion, less favourable physical and social environment, and lower scores on work intensity and higher job strain compared to other employment statuses. For the independent self-employed without employees similar patterns are found. The self-employed are a relatively favourable group in terms of job quality. Finally, workers in part-time employment have a worse quality of their social environment, training, skills and discretion, regularity, job security and employment prospects – but a more favourable physical environment, job strain and working time quality.

Labour market performance and working-class power are crucial to understanding the country-level influence on job quality

The results concerning country variation in job quality show that particularly indicators relating to ‘labour market performance’ (e.g. unemployment rate and R&D expenditure) and ‘working-class power’ (e.g. centralisation in collective bargaining, collective bargaining coverage and union density) are significantly related to a number of job quality indices. Such results show the importance of social dialogue.

Furthermore, the size of the associations between employment statuses and job quality indices differs between production regimes. For example, results have shown that fixed-term workers have poorer employment prospects compared to permanent workers in all but the liberal production regime.

Employment status and quality of working life

Compared to permanent contract-holders, temporary workers encounter more financial problems, adverse social behaviour, lower satisfaction with working conditions, and find their health and safety more at risk. Most of these findings are stronger among short-term temporary contracts. Also, dependent solo self-employed have worse scores on many quality of working life indicators, although their motivation is higher. Independent solo self-employed encounter more financial difficulties and work-private interference and worse self-rated health than permanent employees, while they are more motivated and engaged with work and less often absent from work. Self-employed with employees have overall the most favourable quality of working life scores, although face a problematic work-private interference. Voluntary part-timers show similar or better quality of working life than permanent workers. This cannot be said for the involuntarily part-time employed, who perform badly on most quality of working life outcomes. Also working long hours comes at a cost for many aspects of working life, although these workers are highly motivated. The relation between employment status and quality of working life is mediated by job quality. Also contextual factors (e.g. educational attainment, or the country of residence) tend to aggravate/attenuate associations between employment status and quality of working life.


The analyses uses multi-level regression models in order to explore the effects of employment status on several job quality outcome indicators (covering the following joq quality dimensions: physical working conditions, working time quality, social environment, skills and discretion, work intensity). Multilevel structural equation models are employed to identify indirect effects of employment status on quality of working life outcomes such as satisfaction with working conditions or health.


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