Quality of life in Europe - facts and views - employment

Data extracted in March 2015. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database.
Figure 1: Employment rate by sex versus Europe 2020 target, EU-28, 2005–14 (% of population aged 20–64)
Source: Eurostat (lfsi_emp_a) and (lfsa_urgaed)
Figure 2: Employment rate versus national targets, by country, 2013 (¹) (% of population aged 20–64)
Source: Eurostat (lfsi_emp_a) and (lfsa_urgaed)
Figure 3: Satisfaction with job and commuting time, EU-28, 2013 (% of population)
Source: Eurostat (ilc_pw05)
Figure 4.a: Satisfaction with job, by country, 2013 (left axis: % of population; right axis: mean rating)
Source: Eurostat (ilc_pw01) and (ilc_pw05)
Figure 4.b: Satisfaction with commuting time, by country, 2013 (left axis: % of population; right axis: mean rating)
Source: Eurostat (ilc_pw01) and (ilc_pw05)
Figure 5: Satisfaction with job and commuting time, by age group, EU-28, 2013 (¹) (left axis: % of population; right axis: mean rating)
Source: Eurostat (ilc_pw01) and (ilc_pw05)
Figure 6: Satisfaction with job and commuting time, by sex, EU-28, 2013 (left axis: % of population; right axis: mean rating)
Source: Eurostat (ilc_pw01) and (ilc_pw05)
Figure 7: Satisfaction with job, by income tercile, EU-28, 2013 (left axis: % of population; right axis: mean rating)
Source: Eurostat (EU SILC)
Figure 8: Satisfaction with job and commuting time, by educational attainment, EU-28, 2013 (¹) (left axis: % of population; right axis: mean rating)
Source: Eurostat (ilc_pw01) and (ilc_pw05)
Figure 9: Satisfaction with job and commuting time, by labour status, EU-28, 2013 (left axis: % of population; right axis: mean rating)
Source: Eurostat (EU SILC)
Figure 10.a: Satisfaction with job, by occupation, EU-28, 2013 (left axis: % of population; right axis: mean rating)
Source: Eurostat (EU SILC)
Figure 10.b: Satisfaction with commuting time, by occupation, EU-28, 2013 (left axis: % of population by satisfaction level; right axis: mean rating)
Source: Eurostat (EU SILC)
Figure 11: Satisfaction with job and commuting time, by working time, EU-28, 2013 (¹) (left axis: % of population; right axis: mean rating)
Source: Eurostat (EU SILC)
Figure 12: Satisfaction with job and commuting time of those who change their job as compared to the previous year, EU-28, 2013 (left axis: % of population; right axis: mean rating)
Source: Eurostat (EU SILC)
Figure 13: Satisfaction with commuting time, by degree of urbanisation, EU-28, 2013 (left axis: % of population; right axis: mean rating)
Source: Eurostat (ilc_pw02)
Table 1: Employment condition versus low job satisfaction, by country, 2013 (%)
Source: Eurostat (EU SILC)
Figure 14: Low job satisfaction versus very low work intensity, by country, 2013 (job satisfaction: % of employed respondents aged 16 and over; work intensity: % of population aged 0-59)
Source: Eurostat (ilc_pw05) and (ilc_lvhl11)
Figure 15: Low job satisfaction versus underemployed part-time workers, by country, 2013 (job satisfaction: % of employed respondents aged 16 and over; underemployed part-time workers: % of total employment)
Source: Eurostat (ilc_pw05) and (lfsa_eppgai)
Figure 16: Low job satisfaction versus temporary employment, by country, 2013 (job satisfaction: % of employed respondents aged 16 and over; temporary contracts: % of employees aged 15–64)
Source: Eurostat (ilc_pw05) and (lfsa_etpga)

This article is the second in a series of nine articles dedicated to the quality of life of European residents or of people in the European Union (EU) and is part of a set of articles forming the publication Quality of life in Europe - facts and views.

The article focuses on employment, or more specifically ‘productive or main activity’, which is the second dimension of the ‘8+1’ quality of life indicators framework. Employment is at the heart of European Union (EU) policies as it is the basis for wealth creation. Knowing how satisfied EU residents are with their occupation is very important since losing one’s job may undermine one’s life satisfaction and its overall meaning[1].

Main statistical findings

Employment in the European Union

In 2014, the employment rate for the age group 20–64 in the EU was 69.2 %, compared with 67.9 % in 2005 and 70.3 % in 2008, the year the global financial and economic crisis hit (Figure 1). The employment rate was thus in 2014 5.8 percentage points (pp) below the 75.0 % target (of the same age group) which the EU has set for 2020. In spite of efforts to bring more women into employment, there was still an 11.5 pp gap between male and female employment rates in 2014 (down from 15.9 pp in 2005).

Employment rate

The employed population consists of those persons who during the reference week did any work for pay or profit for at least one hour, or were not working but had jobs from which they were temporarily absent. (i.e. the number of employed people as a proportion of the population aged 15–64). However, as the Europe 2020 employment target is based on a lower age limit of 20 years (to ensure compatibility with the strategy’s headline targets on education), the employment rate is calculated here by dividing the number of persons aged 20–64 in employment by the total population of the same age group. The indicator is based on the EU-LFS. The survey covers the entire population living in private households and excludes those in collective households such as boarding houses, halls of residence and hospitals.

As 2013 is the reference year for the data collected through the EU-SILC ad-hoc module on subjective well-being, the analysis presented in this article, which aims to link the objective indicators on employment with the subjective ones from the EU-SILC module, will not use the latest 2014 employment figures, but the 2013 ones.

The employment rate in 2013 for the EU as a whole was 68.4 % but EU Member States experienced rather diverging situations, as shown in Figure 2. In 2013, the highest employment rates were reported in Sweden (79.8 %) and other northern or western EU Member States such as Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark and Austria (all above 75.0 %) while the lowest were reported in Greece (52.9 %) and some other southern/mediterranean EU Member States such as Croatia, Spain and Italy (all below 60.0 %).

All EU Member States — except Germany (for which the employment rate stood at 77.3 %, slightly exceeding its 77 % target) — still needed to make an effort to meet their national targets. Sweden was a mere 0.2 pp away from its 80 % target while Luxembourg and Austria were less than 2 pp away from their less ambitious targets of 73 % and 77 % respectively. The biggest gaps with the target (over 15 pp) were recorded in Greece and Spain.

The employment situation of the EU was worse than that of its main international competitors with an employment rate of approximately 2.8 pp lower than that of the United States (68.3 % vs 71.1 %) and 8 pp lower than that of Japan (68.3 % vs 76.4 %).

The EU also reported a gap of 11.6 pp between male and female employment rates in 2013 (74.2 % vs 62.6 %), although similar gaps were also recorded in the United States (77.0 % vs 65.4 %) and Japan (86.4 % vs 66.3 %).

Job satisfaction

Paid employment is essential in order to guarantee a decent standard of living, enabling people to achieve their personal goals and expectations. It is thus a strong factor in and predictor of life satisfaction. A recent study showed that job satisfaction was the second most important predictor of overall life satisfaction among British workers[2]. Conversely, unemployment was closely associated with low levels of life satisfaction and happiness.

In the EU, approximately one in five residents (19.4 %)[3] currently in employment expressed low levels of satisfaction with their job, whereas approximately one in four (24.8 %) expressed high levels of satisfaction. The remaining residents (55.8 %) declared medium levels of satisfaction with their job (Figure 3). On a scale of 0 to 10 — where 0 is the lowest level of satisfaction and 10 the highest[4] — this resulted in a mean satisfaction of 7.1, which was similar to the overall average life satisfaction in the EU.

Employment is also associated with constraints such as commuting time. This is the time (mostly unpaid) workers go from home to work and back. Some workers are eligible for the reimbursement of at least part of their travel expenses, in particular self-employed workers. Although this is not considered as working time from the employers’ point of view, it is time dedicated to work[5]. As can be seen in Figures 4.a and 4.b, the proportion of EU workers[6] who declared low levels of satisfaction with their commuting time was close to the proportion of EU workers who reported low job satisfaction (20.5 % vs 19.4 %). However, EU workers were much more likely to be highly (37.9 %) or moderately satisfied (41.7 %) with their commuting time compared to their job satisfaction. This led to a higher mean satisfaction with commuting time compared to job satisfaction (7.4 vs 7.1 out of 10).

At country level (Figure 4.a), the mean job satisfaction varied from 6.0 in Bulgaria and 6.1 in Greece to 8.1 in Denmark and Finland. The underlying reason behind the negative assessment made by Greek residents is likely to have been Greece’s currently unfavourable labour market situation, with an employment rate of 52.9 % and an unemployment rate of 27.3 % in 2013. Bulgaria’s situation was similar, with low employment (see Figure 2) and high unemployment rates (63.5 % and 12.7 % respectively in 2013). On the other hand, Denmark and Finland recorded some of the most favourable labour market situations in the EU, with employment rates well above and unemployment rates well below the EU average (unemployment rate among the population aged 20–24 reaches 6.6 % in Denmark and 7.5 % in Finland; the EU-28 average is 10.6 %).

Apart from the overall situation of the labour market, a whole set of other factors influencing the levels of life satisfaction may explain the diverging situations in these two groups of countries (see the article on overall life satisfaction).

The mean satisfaction hides wide-ranging differences regarding the levels of job satisfaction reported by individuals working within a country. Thus, the low mean reported in Bulgaria and Greece may be formulated by the very high proportion of workers with a low level of job satisfaction (47.7 % and 37.7 % respectively). In the Netherlands and Belgium the mean satisfaction was relatively high, which may be attributed to the very high proportion of workers with a medium level of job satisfaction. Likewise, although the average job satisfaction in Spain and Germany was similar, the levels of job satisfaction varied. In particular, Germany reported a higher proportion of people with high and low satisfaction compared to Spain.

Job satisfaction is analysed in conjunction with various factors, reflecting more comprehensively the overall objective and subjective assessment of the situation of the national labour market. These include the supply and demand of labour, the employer assessment of potential growth or contraction, the ease with which employers can hire or fire, together with the structure of the economy, the autonomy and flexibility workers can benefit from and other job quality related aspects. These elements affect employees’ job opportunities and perceived job security, hence their job satisfaction. Some of these elements are analysed in the following sections.

Figure 4.b displays the satisfaction of EU employees with commuting time. Northern EU Member States are displayed at the right end of the scale, reporting the highest levels of satisfaction with commuting time (close to or above 8.0 out of 10).

All western EU Member States, including Ireland, Germany and the United Kingdom reported an average satisfaction with commuting time above the EU mean. On the other hand, most eastern EU Member States (except Poland, Lithuania and Slovenia) and all southern EU Member States (except Portugal) reported an average satisfaction with commuting time below the EU mean.

The figures on mean satisfaction with commuting time were nonetheless comparable to those recorded for the job satisfaction. The lowest average satisfaction was reported by Bulgaria (5.9 out of 10) and the highest by Denmark (8.3 out of 10) and Finland (8.2 out of 10). Satisfaction with commuting time may be influenced by several factors such as the number of commuting hours, the number of paid and unpaid working hours and the eligibility for reimbursement of travel expenses[7].

Among the EU population in employment, 25 % declared a high level of satisfaction with their job, while 19 % reported a low level.

How is the socio-demographic background associated with job satisfaction?

Characteristics such as age, sex, income, educational attainment, labour status and occupation, living in an urban or rural area, working time and a recent change of job may lead to different objective conditions, but also expectations and preferences, which are then reflected upon an individual’s assessment of their working conditions. This can refer to their job or to some work-related aspects such as commuting time. The analysis below first considers how such factors influence the level of job satisfaction in the EU as a whole. It then focuses on specific working conditions such as low work intensity, underemployment or temporary contracts, and assesses their respective relation with job satisfaction at country level.

Job satisfaction did not vary with age, although older workers were slightly more satisfied with commuting time

As Figure 5 shows, the relation between age and job satisfaction during an individual’s active life time is very weak, with a mean remaining constant among the three age groups for job satisfaction and varying by 0.2 points for satisfaction with commuting time. The three age groups considered (consisting of people participating in the labour force) had an identical average job satisfaction of 7.1 out of 10. This highlights that job satisfaction does not increase with age, even though incomes are expected to rise with age as a result of longer work experience. However, the proportion of workers with a high and a low level of satisfaction was slightly higher in the older age group than in the other two.

In 2013 satisfaction with commuting time grew gradually with age, ranging from 7.3 out of 10 in the youngest age group (25–34), to 7.4 out of 10 in the middle age group (35–49) and 7.5 out of 10 in the older age group (50–64). These differences may be related to different housing situations of each age group. People in the youngest age group often have dependent children making commuting a more constraining obligation whereas people in the older age group often have the ability to buy a property closer to their place of work or have better chances of finding a job close to home due to their experience.

Slight gender effect on satisfaction with commuting time

As shown in Figure 6, the mean level of job satisfaction for men and women is the same, at 7.1 out of 10 although slight differences can be observed. In particular, the percentage of women who reported low and high levels of job satisfaction was respectively 0.8 and 1.6 pp higher than that of men, who, in turn, were more numerous in the ‘medium’ category.

The ‘gender effect’ on satisfaction with commuting time is a bit more pronounced. In particular, women who were highly satisfied with their commuting time were 5.0 pp more numerous than their male counterparts.

However, on average, women were only 0.2 points more satisfied than men (7.5 vs 7.3 out of 10) with regard to commuting time. This may be due to the fact that women spent less time commuting than men[8] as they were more likely to occupy jobs closer to home and/or work fewer days a week to be able to also cope with family obligations.

Job satisfaction was closely related to income levels

Figure 7 depicts the relation between income level (measured through the income tercile that a person belongs to on the basis of the distribution at the country level) and job satisfaction. The average level of job satisfaction progressed by tercile from 6.7 out of 10 in the lowest to 7.1 and 7.4 out of 10 in the second and third terciles. At the same time, the percentage of employed people with a high level of satisfaction ranged from 22.2 % in the bottom tercile to 27.2 % in the top one. Conversely those in the bottom tercile were almost twice as likely to report a low level of job satisfaction as those in the top tercile (27.2 % versus 15.1 %).[9]

Satisfaction with commuting time did not show a link with income (the mean varied by merely 0.1 pp ranging from 7.3 to 7.4 out of 10 across terciles), which is why it is not illustrated in a graph.

Strong effect of education on job satisfaction

As indicated in Figure 8, there was a clear relationship between educational attainment and job satisfaction and to a lesser extent, with commuting time. People with a low level of education had a mean job satisfaction of 6.8 out of 10, whereas people with an upper secondary education or a tertiary education had a mean job satisfaction of 7.1 and 7.3 out of 10 respectively.

While the most educated people are expected to occupy the most skilled and best paid jobs, thereby attaining a higher level of job satisfaction, the link between education and satisfaction with commuting time was less clear-cut, ranging from 7.2 out of 10 among the least educated to 7.4 out of 10 for those with intermediate and higher education. As was the case with income, education did not appear to influence satisfaction with commuting time, which is probably more dependent on other factors such as actual commuting time and family obligations.

Among the EU residents in employment with tertiary education, 26 % were highly satisfied with their job and 39 % with their commuting time.

Satisfaction with commuting time was more related with the type of employment than job satisfaction

Figure 9 highlights the relation between the type of employment and job satisfaction, which was similar in magnitude for the two indicators, varying by 0.5 average rating points in both cases.

Self-employed workers with employees were more satisfied with their job (at 7.5 out of 10) than their counterparts without employees and part-time employees (both at 7.0 out of 10) and moderately more satisfied than the full-time employees (at 7.2 out of 10). The self-employed with employees probably had more rewarding and better paid jobs resulting in higher shares of highly satisfied workers. Job flexibility and a high degree of control over their work probably played a role in the important share of self-employed without employees reporting high levels of job satisfaction. In the group of the full-time employees, safer working conditions and greater job security might explain their high levels of satisfaction with their jobs.

Self-employed persons and employees

Self-employed persons are the ones who work in their own business, farm or professional practice. They are considered to be working if they meet one of the following criteria: working for the purpose of earning profit, spending time on the operation of a business or in the process of setting up their business.

Employees are defined as persons who work for a public or private employer and who receive compensation in the form of wages, salaries, payment by results or payment in kind; non-conscript members of the armed forces are also included. Full-time/part-time time distinction in the main job is made on the basis of a spontaneous answer given by the respondent in all countries, except for the Netherlands, Iceland and Norway, where part-time is determined on the basis of whether the usual hours worked are fewer than 35, while full-time on the basis of whether the usual hours worked are 35 or more, and in Sweden where this criterion is applied to the self-employed persons as well.

The figures relating to the satisfaction with commuting time were a lot more contrasting. For reasons related to the number and nature of hours spent commuting, the full-time employees reported the lowest degrees of satisfaction. On the other hand, commuting time is often more flexible and travel expenses more commonly reimbursable for the self-employed, explaining their more positive perception of this additional time spent on the road. Part-time employees tend to spend less time commuting than their full-time counterparts as they are more likely to accept jobs closer to their place of residence and/or to work fewer days per week[10].

Managers and professionals were most satisfied with their job and commuting time

Figure 10.a reveals a strong link between job satisfaction and occupation, with the average level of job satisfaction varying along with the level of education across various occupational classes. Higher educational attainment generally gives access to higher-level careers and better paid jobs, thus leading to a better appreciation of a person’s job.

Unsurprisingly, elementary occupations, which require basic skills, recorded the lowest mean rating (6.5 out of 10) followed by skilled workers in the primary sector[11] (6.6 out of 10) and plant and machine operators (6.9 out of 10). These last two occupation classes include people mainly holding upper secondary education degrees (over 50 % of the former and close to 70 % of the latter) and very few tertiary graduates (less than 10 %).

In the most educated categories of workers, consisting of professionals, managers and technicians, two thirds of which graduated from higher education, the satisfaction was highest, ranging from 7.3 out of 10 for technicians, to 7.5 out of 10 for managers and professionals. In between, craft workers, sales workers and clerks reported a mean satisfaction rating of between 7.0 and 7.1 out of 10. The differences between occupational categories reflected to some extent those between the different educational attainment levels (Figure 8) (see the article on Education).

The pattern of the satisfaction with commuting time (Figure 10.b) is different across occupational classes and can be analysed through three main groups. A first group consists of more satisfied workers with a mean satisfaction level comprised between 7.5 and 7.6 out of 10 including managers, service, sales workers and professionals. A second group covers workers who rated their satisfaction at 7.4 out of 10 and includes clerks, technicians and skilled workers, i.e. people with different educational backgrounds. Finally a third group of less satisfied employees, reporting a mean rating of 7.1 to 7.2 out of 10, includes workers in elementary level occupations, plant and machine operators (the least educated categories) but also craft and related trades workers. Actual commuting time and the degree of flexibility of the workers to adjust their working hours are likely to be more associated with the satisfaction with commuting time than occupation, education or income.

Working time had a pronounced effect on satisfaction with commuting time

Figure 11 shows that working time had little impact on job satisfaction. Indeed, those working between 31 and 40 hours per week (that is full time or close to it)[12] were on average more satisfied with their job (by only up to 0.3 points) than those working less. Full-time workers also recorded the lowest share of people with low satisfaction (17.1 %) but not the highest share of people with high satisfaction. Interestingly enough, the people working the fewest hours were also the most satisfied. People working more than the usual 40 hours per week and those working between 21 and 30 hours per week shared the same mean satisfaction rate at 7.1 out of 10 and also followed very similar satisfaction patterns.

The reason for the high share of high satisfaction level among people working more than usual may be that these employed persons were doing overtime which is paid extra by their employer. This increased their income and therefore — marginally — the satisfaction with their job. Some of them may also have occupied the highest, most rewarding but also most time-consuming positions in the hierarchy.

In the category of employed working 21–30 hours, part-time work was probably more of a personal choice, made in many cases by women living in dual-earner households. In the remaining two categories, consisting of employed working up to 20 hours, part-time may have been chosen involuntarily hence giving rise to a lower mean satisfaction with the job (mostly due to higher proportions of employed with a low job satisfaction than in the other categories).

Figure 11 shows a very distinct pattern in which mean satisfaction with commuting time declined as working time grew. The mean satisfaction of those employed working the least hours was 8.0 out of 10 while the mean satisfaction of those employed working the most hours stood at 7.4 out of 10. This may be explained by the time spent in commuting which was lower amongst those working less intensively[13].

Job stability engendered higher levels of satisfaction

A connection between job satisfaction and job stability can be established by looking at Figure 12. The average rates of job satisfaction indicate that among all respondents, those who were working and changed their job recently were slightly less satisfied than those who remained in the same job over the last year (6.9 versus 7.1 out of 10). Though a high proportion of those having a new job reported increased levels of job satisfaction (as this may provide opportunities for career development and increasing motivation), an even higher proportion (as compared with those who did not experience any change) reported low levels of satisfaction.

Changing jobs

For employees, a change of job means a change of employer or a change of contract with the same employer.

For the self-employed, a change of job means a change in the nature of the activity performed (or moving between employee and self-employed status).

A similar pattern — although with a slightly stronger magnitude — appears for the level of satisfaction with commuting time. A recent change of employment decreased the satisfaction with commuting time on average by 0.3 rating points.

The degree of urbanisation only slightly impacted the satisfaction with commuting time

Whereas no strong link between the degree of urbanisation and job satisfaction could be established (which is why it is not illustrated in a graph), the impact of urbanisation on satisfaction with commuting time is more evident, as Figure 13 shows.

People living in the more and less densely populated areas were less satisfied with their commuting time (respectively 7.3 and 7.4 out of 10) than those living in intermediately urbanised areas (7.5 out of 10). The differential is probably due to a higher commuting time in the former two types of areas. This resulted in more time spent in traffic jams for people living in densely-populated areas due to traffic caused by city dwellers, and in longer travel distances for those people living in thinly-populated areas.

How do various objective employment conditions connect with the job satisfaction of EU residents?

At country level, job satisfaction and working conditions are closely related. Table 1 compares the share of residents experiencing various forms of unfavourable working conditions (living in households with very low work intensity, being underemployed or working under a temporary contract) with the share of people declaring a low satisfaction with their job in 2013[14] [15].

The nature of people’s jobs has consistently been shown to be a central factor affecting their long-term risks of unemployment, poverty and ill-health[16]. Hence, low work intensity, underemployment and temporary employment measure the important aspect of lack of employment in the context of quality of life. For people working fewer hours than they would like to there are implications for their income opportunities, social interactions and shaping of identity, all of which impact their quality of life. People sometimes accept part-time work due to lack of full-time alternatives. In some EU Member States without favourable legislation or collective agreements, part-time work may involve inferior conditions in terms of access to benefits and training opportunities[17] as well as career advancement.

Against this background, the shares of reported low job satisfaction varied by a factor of 10 across EU Member States. Countries in which high proportions of employees were confronted with lack of job security as expressed through high shares of households with low work intensity tended to record higher shares of low job satisfaction. This was less clear-cut for underemployment and temporary employment as these employment situations may generate different conditions in terms of social protection depending on countries or professions. They are often related to lack of job availability on the labour market, although certain employees may opt for temporary contracts voluntarily, as a result of their household situation or for reasons of ‘flexicurity’[18]. The opposite may also be true: legal barriers to laying off employees combined with a permanent contract may, in reality, be quite weak in some countries.

Low work intensity associated with low job satisfaction

Approximately 19.4 % of EU workers[19] assessed their job negatively in 2013. In the same year, 10.8 % of the population aged 0–59 was living in households with very low work intensity. This is 1.7 pp higher than in 2008, when the global financial and economic crisis started to impact the European economy (EU-27 figures, source: Eurostat EU-SILC ilc_lvhl11). On average slightly more women than men tended to live in such households (by 1 pp)[20]. Figure 14 shows that most EU Member States are clustered in the bottom left part of the graph, relatively close to the EU average, indicating a link between job satisfaction and low work intensity. The relation is most visible in countries such as Luxembourg, France and Latvia on the one hand, and Hungary, the United Kingdom and Croatia on the other. These EU Member States are positioned in an almost straight line (which also encompasses the EU average) and their low job satisfaction shares have grown parallel to their low work intensity shares. Greece and Serbia were at the extreme end of this virtual line as these countries recorded very high shares of people living in households with low work intensity and employed persons with low job satisfaction.

Bulgaria and Ireland displayed quite different profiles. In Bulgaria, almost half of the workers (47.7 %) — the highest rate at EU level — assessed their job negatively, whereas a comparatively lower rate of workers (13.2 %, which is 2.2 pp more than the EU average) lived in households with low work intensity. Slovakia, Poland, Cyprus and the Czech Republic reported low shares of households with a low work intensity (under 8.0 %) and comparatively high shares of people with a low job satisfaction (between 19.0 % in the Czech Republic and 22.3 % in Slovakia). Ireland, on the other hand, was the country most affected by low work intensity (23.9 %), while its share of workers reporting a low job satisfaction (20.0 %) only slightly exceeded the EU average. Denmark and Belgium reported rather similar shares of low work intensity (12.9 % and 14.0 % respectively, or about 2–3 pp over the EU average) and both EU Member States also reported comparatively low job satisfaction figures (9.1 % and 8.5 % respectively).

Underemployment and low job satisfaction not closely linked

In 2013, 4.6 % of total employment (approximately 10 million people) consisted of underemployed part-time workers, varying from 0.7 % in the Czech Republic and less than 2.0 % in Bulgaria, Estonia and Slovakia to 9.1 % in Spain and over 7.0 % in Ireland and Cyprus .At EU level the share of underemployed part-time workers grew by 1.3 pp between 2008 and 2013, confirming a trend towards more such contracts and generally more part-time employment, whether voluntary or not.

Underemployment affected women much more than men (6.7 % versus 2.8 %). As illustrated in Figure 15, the underemployment share in 2013 did not tend to be closely associated with the percentage of employed people reporting a low level of job satisfaction. Nonetheless, EU Member States such as the Netherlands, Finland, Denmark, Belgium and Austria appeared at the left bottom of the graph as they displayed low shares for both variables. Spain, Ireland and Cyprus, displayed a different pattern, with shares of low satisfaction around 20.0 % and shares of underemployment between 7.4 % (in Cyprus) and 9.1 % (in Spain). In Bulgaria, where the share of underemployed part-time workers was close to the figures reported in the Czech Republic (around 1.0 %), its residents were more than twice as likely to report a low job satisfaction (47.7 % versus 19.0 %). In fact, many eastern EU Member States were in a similar situation, recording low percentages of underemployment but high percentages of people with low job satisfaction (i.e. the Czech Republic, Estonia, Croatia, Slovakia, Hungary, Poland and Slovenia). Greece had 6.1 % of underemployed part-time workers and low job satisfaction was reported by 37.7 % of people in employment.

Temporary employment not linked to low job satisfaction

The percentage of temporary contracts amongst EU employees grew from 13.2 % in 2004 to a peak of 14.6 % in 2007 before decreasing to 13.7 % — close to mid-2000s levels — in 2013. There was neither a real gender gap[21] nor any education effect on the prevalence of such contracts across the employee population[22]. While 19.7 % of respondents declared a low satisfaction with their job in 2013, Figure 16 reveals that there was no strong relationship between the two variables, with the majority of country values being sparsely distributed over the lower bottom of the graph.

While there is considerable range in the propensity to use limited duration contracts between EU Member States, there is also considerable range in the patterns of job satisfaction. Hence, countries such as the Netherlands or Finland recorded high proportions of temporary contracts without a corresponding share of people with a low job satisfaction, which one might have expected. However in Poland, Spain and Portugal, high shares (close to or above EU average) of temporary contracts were clearly associated with lower job satisfaction. The opposite was not always true. Indeed, Bulgaria and the United Kingdom — who are aligned vertically on the left side of the graph, as they both account for low proportions of employees in temporary employment (5.6 % and 6.1 % respectively) — experienced very divergent shares of employed people with low job satisfaction, at 47.7 % and 22.4 % respectively. Slovakia displayed the same pattern as the United Kingdom. Similarly, Greece, Ireland and Hungary all recorded shares of employees on temporary contracts at under 11 %, while their negative job evaluations ranged from 37.7 % in Greece, to approximately 20.0 % in Ireland and Hungary. Meanwhile, in the Netherlands, where temporary work contracts were quite common (20.3 %), only a very small minority of people declared a low job satisfaction (5.4 %).

In 2013, the Netherlands and Finland recorded high proportions of temporary contracts but only a small share of people with a low job satisfaction.

Temporary contracts are rarely the result of a choice made by the workers but rather a constraint of the labour market. The relation between job satisfaction and the proportion of employees with a temporary contract might be linked to some extent to the way in which flexibility is applied across EU Member States. A question to be asked would be whether temporary contracts are accompanied by low or high security for the employees (and how this ultimately translates into labour productivity and GDP per capita)[23]. Looking at the Netherlands and Portugal, which have similar shares of temporary contracts, their diverging assessments of job satisfaction may lie in that the former applies flexicurity (which combines high flexibility and job security) whereas in the latter, low flexibility is not associated with a high security of employees. What matters to employees is not so much whether or not their contract is temporary, but the risks they are exposed to due to their contract being temporary, which can be buffered by the welfare state and the availability of jobs on the labour market.

Conclusions

Job satisfaction displayed distinct patterns depending on the socio-demographic group in which a worker may belong to. A link between job satisfaction and factors such as age and gender could not be established. However, average job satisfaction increased visibly across income terciles, education levels and occupational classes. The employment status was also related to job satisfaction as self-employed with employees reported a higher mean satisfaction compared with the other groups. Working full time slightly increased mean job satisfaction. The same held true for job stability although a recent job change gave rise to moderately higher shares of workers who were highly satisfied with their job. Satisfaction with commuting time followed distinct patterns compared with job satisfaction. There was a slight impact from age, with the youngest employees being less satisfied than their older peers. Similarly, gender slightly impacted satisfaction levels as male employees reported being a little less satisfied than their female counterparts. The impact of income was negligible and that of education only minor. Working full time decreased satisfaction with commuting time more distinctively whereas job stability (measured through the absence of a reported recent job change, see Figure 12) increased it moderately. Lastly, living in a town or suburb resulted in a slightly higher average satisfaction with commuting time compared with cities and rural areas.

Low job satisfaction varied by a factor of 10 across EU Member States. Countries in which high proportions of people in working age were confronted with work insecurity and difficulties in accessing the labour market (as expressed through low work intensity) tended to also register a lower job satisfaction. This was less clear-cut for underemployment, which depended on the prevalence of part-time contracts in the total, and temporary employment which was associated with risks that can be mitigated by the situation on the labour market or the welfare state.

Data sources and availability

An ad-hoc module on subjective well-being was implemented in the EU-SILC 2013. This module contains subjective questions (e.g. How satisfied are you with your life these days?) which complement the mostly objective indicators from existing data collections and social surveys.

The "GDP and beyond" communication, the SSF Commission recommendations, the Sponsorship on measuring progress, and the Sofia memorandum all underlined the importance of collecting high quality data about people's quality of life and well-being and the central role that statistics on income and living conditions (SILC) have to play in this improved measurement. The collection of micro data related to well-being therefore is a key objective. In May 2010 both the Living Conditions Working Group and the Indicators Sub-Group of the Social Protection Committee supported Eurostat's proposal to collect micro data related to well-being within the 2013 module of SILC in order to better respond to this request.

For more information please visit: Eurostat - GDP and beyond - Quality of life

The objective indicators presented in this article come from the EU Labour Force Survey (EU-LFS), which provides data on labour participation of people aged 15 and over as well as on persons outside the labour force, and from the EU Statistics on Income and Living Conditions (EU-SILC), a survey aimed at collecting data on income, poverty, social exclusion and living conditions. Data on subjective assessments were collected through the 2013 module of EU-SILC on subjective well-being.

Context

The analysis in this article first provides an overview of the employment situation in the EU, before focusing on subjective assessments of job and commuting time, by various socio-demographic characteristics such as age, sex, income, education, occupation and other employment situations. The last section tries to establish a link between objective working conditions (such as work intensity and types of contracts) and job satisfaction.

EU policies related to employment

Employment is at the heart of EU policies as it is the basis for wealth creation. The Europe 2020 strategy for growth and jobs is thus putting high emphasis on employment and job creation through its ‘inclusive growth’ priority.

Paid work and also unpaid main activities such as domestic work affect the quality of life besides the income or utility generated, because they are an important determinant of personal identity and provide opportunities for social interaction. Apart from mere access to employment (i.e. the quantitative aspect), the quality of paid work is especially important, since it relates to personal dignity. Hence, ‘addressing the quality of jobs and employment conditions’ and the aspect is covered in the Guidelines for the Employment Policies of the Member States (Council Decision 2010/707/EU).

Productive or main activity refers to both paid and unpaid work and to other types of main activity status. Whether paid or unpaid, work usually takes up a significant part of someone’s time and it can have a significant impact on the quality of life, either positively or negatively. On the upside, work generates an income, provides an identity and presents opportunities to socialise with others, to be creative, to learn new things and to engage in activities that give a sense of fulfilment and enjoyment. Conversely, quality of life may deteriorate when job insecurity is experienced or work is inadequately paid. Lack of work or unemployment may even threaten one’s psychological health[24].

Assessing the effects of work on quality of life is a complex matter, because many complementary aspects of a person’s activity have to be taken into account. By analysing objective situations together with subjective assessments, this article underlines that job satisfaction is influenced by a whole set of factors going beyond factual aspects of employment, thus highlighting the wide-ranging nature of quality of life.

See also

Further Eurostat information

Main tables

Income distribution and monetary poverty (t_ilc_ip)
Monetary poverty (t_ilc_li)
Monetary poverty for elderly people (t_ilc_pn)
In-work poverty (t_ilc_iw)
Distribution of income (t_ilc_di)
Material deprivation (ilc_md)
Material deprivation by dimension (t_ilc_mddd)
Housing deprivation (t_ilc_mdho)
Environment of the dwelling (t_ilc_mddw)

Database

Income distribution and monetary poverty (ilc_ip)
Monetary poverty (ilc_li)
Monetary poverty for elderly people (ilc_pn)
In-work poverty (ilc_iw)
Distribution of income (ilc_di)
Material deprivation (ilc_md)
Material deprivation by dimension (ilc_mddd)
Economic strain (ilc_mdes)
Economic strain linked to dwelling (ilc_mded)
Durables (ilc_mddu)
Housing deprivation (ilc_mdho)
Environment of the dwelling (ilc_mddw)
EU-SILC ad hoc module (ilc_ahm)

Dedicated section

Methodology / Metadata

Source data for tables and figures (MS Excel)

Notes

  1. See Statistics Explained on Quality of life indicators — overall experience of life (2015) and Europe 2020 strategy (Commission Communication, Europe 2020 — A strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth, COM(2010) 2020 final).
  2. Using BHPS data. See: Van Praag, B.M.S. and Ferrer-i-Carbonell, A., Happiness Economics: A New Road to Measuring and Comparing Happiness. Foundations and Trends in Microeconomics (2010), 6 (1), pp.1–97.
  3. All current household members aged 16 and over who are currently working.
  4. Where 0 means not at all satisfied and 10 completely satisfied; low satisfaction refers to 0–5 ratings, medium satisfaction refers to 6–8 and high satisfaction to 9–10.
  5. At the EU-27 level, around 4 hours were spent on commuting in 2005. Source: Eurostat (2009). Reconciliation between work, private and family life in the European Union, 2009 edition, p. 42 (source of data: Eurofound, European Working Conditions Surveys — EWCS).
  6. Respondents are all current household members aged 16 and over who are currently working. The variable refers to the respondent’s opinion/feeling about the degree of satisfaction with his/her job.
  7. For more information about working hours, see Eurostat, Reconciliation between work, private and family life in the European Union (2009), p. 42.
  8. Source: Eurostat, Reconciliation between work, private and family life in the European Union (2009), p. 43.
  9. An analysis by wage quantiles reveals the same satisfaction patterns. Wage quantiles are five equal-sized wage groups which refer to the position of wage in the national frequency distribution.
  10. Source: Eurostat, Reconciliation between work, private and family life in the European Union (2009), p. 44.
  11. Agriculture, forestry, fishing and mining.
  12. The average number of usual weekly working hours in the main job in Europe is 37.4 hours per week in 2013. Source: Eurostat Labour Force Survey (lfsa_ewhun2). Full-time/part-time distinction in the main job is made on the basis of a spontaneous answer given by the respondent in all countries, except for the Netherlands, Iceland and Norway, where part-time is determined on the basis of whether the usual hours worked are fewer than 35, while full-time on the basis of whether the usual hours worked are 35 or more, and in Sweden where this criterion is applied to the self-employed persons as well. Source: LFS series — Detailed annual survey results (lfsa).
  13. Eurostat, Reconciliation between work, private and family life in the European Union (2009), p. 44.
  14. All current household members aged 16 and over who are currently working.
  15. These figures may be seen in conjunction with the share of people in the EU-28 declaring to be underemployed part-time workers in 2013 (4.1 % of the active population, representing 9.9 million people). Underemployed part-time workers are persons working part-time who wish to work additional hours and are available to do so. Part-time work is recorded as self-reported by individuals. Source: Eurostat EU-LFS (lfsi_sup_age_a).
  16. European Commission (2002). Eurobarometer 56.1 October 2002.
  17. Employers are the most common providers of non-formal education and training activities, providing close to one third (32.0 %) of such activities according to the 2011 survey. Source: Eurostat Adult Education Survey (AES) (tmg_aes_170).
  18. The concept of ‘flexicurity’, which emerged in the Netherlands in the mid-1990s, presupposes a ‘double bind’: high levels of flexibility are required to compete successfully in a globalised market and thus to afford high levels of employment security. Flexicurity is advocated in the Europe 2020 strategy and its predecessor, the Lisbon strategy, and in guideline 21 of the European Employment Strategy 2007.
  19. Respondents are all current household members aged 16 and over who are currently working.
  20. 10.3 % of men and 11.3 % of women living in the EU-28. Source: Eurostat EU-SILC (ilc_lvhl11).
  21. Hence, in 2013, 14.2 % of women employees had a temporary contract versus 13.2 % of men. Source: Eurostat EU-LFS (lfsa_etpga).
  22. In 2013, 26.6 % of temporary contracts were held by lower educated people who made up 27.9 % of the population aged 15–64; for upper secondary education, the respective shares were 45.8 % and 46.8 %, and for tertiary education it was 27.2 % versus 25.3 %. Source: Eurostat EU-LFS: temporary contracts by education: (lfsa_etgaed), educational attainment: (edat_lfse_05), (edat_lfse_06) and (edat_lfse_07).
  23. See European Commission, Flexicurity in Europe: Final report (2013). See also: http://ec.europa.eu/social/main.jsp?catId=102.
  24. Theodossiou, I., The effects of low-pay and unemployment on psychological well-being: A logistic regression approach (1998), Journal of Health Economics, 17, pp. 85–104.