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The pandemic, the climate and digitalisation: three major adaptations of working life right now

Portraits of Åsa Lundqvist, Susanne Boëthius, Chris Mathieu and Anders Kjellberg. Photo: Emma Lord and Christer Lindberg.
The Department of Sociology's researchers Åsa Lundqvist, Susanne Boëthius, Chris Mathieu and Anders Kjellberg. Photo: Emma Lord and Christer Lindberg.

The future of working life in Europe is analysed in a new anthology which, with the help of multiple researchers, looks primarily at three major changes taking place in working life right now. These changes are due to three inevitable phenomena: the pandemic, climate change and digitalisation. Four sociologists from Lund University contribute with chapters in the book.

Never in modern times has working Europe faced such fundamental changes, says former Director General of the Swedish Labour Market Board Allan Larsson in the introduction to the book. He describes how we are at the beginning of several powerful transition processes - an innovation-driven digital transition, a policy-driven climate transition, and a pandemic-driven restructuring of important parts of our economy and our way of working.

Four researchers from the Department of Sociology in Lund contribute with chapters in the book: Åsa Lundqvist, Susanne Boëthius, Christopher Mathieu and Anders Kjellberg.

Challenges for a sustainable working life for older women in Europe

Research shows that older employed women (55-64+) experience less well-being when compared to other groups on the labour market. They are more likely to pursue early retirement or reduce their working hours, they experience much physical and mental stress in working life and they are more likely to take sick leave compared to other groups.

The chapter "Challenges to a sustainable working life for older women in Europe", which has been written by, among others* professor of sociology Åsa Lundqvist, presents an overview of recent research documenting the experiences and well-being of older female workers in the European labour market. The aim is to identify the challenges but also the helpful facilitators experienced by older female workers entering, retaining their roles, and progressing in the labour market.  

Several key factors influencing the workplace experiences and wellbeing of older women in Europe are identified, including financial status, physical and mental health, work decisions of partners or other close family members, caring responsibilities, and job satisfaction.

The results are expected to support the labour market to become more age-inclusive and provide older female workers with sustainable work that assists their physical and mental wellbeing.

"The virtuous spiral”, which is based on employee participation in innovation activities and improvements in job quality in line with the sustainable work agenda.

Sustainable work with interaction between innovation and job quality

In the chapter "The dynamics and (job) qualities of sustainable work", Susanne Boethius and Christopher Mathieu argue that achieving sustainable work requires recognizing the mutually generative interaction between innovation and job quality. That is, more innovation will bring more job quality and vice versa.

The chapter presents results from quantitative and qualitative empirical studies carried out in the QuInnE project ( and with the help of these studies the connection between innovation and different dimensions of job quality is clarified.

The chapter also presents two ideal types.

The first is “The virtuous spiral”, which is based on employee participation in innovation activities and improvements in job quality in line with the sustainable work agenda.

The second is "The vicious spiral", which is based on top-down innovation, Tayloristic work processes, little consequent investment in employee capabilities and innovation participation. This results in low and often declining job quality, which is characteristic of unsustainable work.

The chapter shows how sustainable (and unsustainable) work is produced through various processes, based on the interconnected choices regarding innovation and job quality that are already being made by companies and organisations.

The Swedish labour market model from a European perspective

Labour market models vary greatly between EU/EEA countries. The Nordic/Swedish model, which is based on self-regulation through collective agreements, stands in contrast to the French state-regulated model where minimum wages are set by the state.

According to the Swedish model, a large proportion of employees are union members and there is a high union presence in workplaces. The Swedish model means that employers' organisations and trade unions jointly negotiate wages and employment conditions. Swedish self-regulation is the most far-reaching among the Nordic countries, as government intervention is less common than in Denmark, Finland and Norway.

Anders Kjellberg's chapter "The shifting role of European unions in the social dialog: Sweden in a comparative context" reflects on the Swedish labour market model from a European perspective by looking at variations in trade union density, the coverage rate of collective agreements and the role of labour market partners and power relations in working life in a general context.

For EU member states, European legislation, labour law and other political measures play an important role. The current policy development from the European Commission regarding minimum wages illustrates the tensions between, on the one hand, the Nordic model with collective agreements and a stronger role of the social partners, and on the other hand, the EU regulation which gives a stronger position to European institutions such as the European Commission and the European Parliament.

Swedish trade union density is still among the highest in the world, but has declined significantly over the past twenty years. As a heavily export-dependent country dominated by large transnational corporations, Sweden is very exposed to globalization. This has shifted the balance of power in favour of transnational corporations, thereby limiting the efforts of unions to achieve developing jobs and improved working environments.