Has ‘Discretionary Learning' Declined during the Lisbon Agenda? a Cross-Sectional and Longitudinal Study of Work Organisation in European Nations

Thursday, 2 July 2015: 10:15 AM-11:45 AM
TW1.1.04 (Tower One)
Edward Lorenz, University of Nice/CNRS, Valbonne, France
Jacob Holm, University of Aalborg, Aalborg, Denmark
In this paper we explore both the determinants of differences in work organisation between European nations and the determinants of changes over time within them during the period of the Lisbon Agenda (2000-2010). From the longitudinal perspective, our results show for Europe as a whole a decline in what we refer to as the ‘discretionary learning’ (DL) forms of work organisation; The DL forms are characterised by high levels of employee learning and problem-solving as well as considerable employee control over work methods and the pace of work. In our view this decline was a constraint on the transition to the knowledge-based economy in Europe, and was a largely unappreciated factor contributing to the disappointing performance in terms of achieving the Lisbon Agenda’s overall goal of making Europe, ‘the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion.’

The cross sectional analysis shows that strong systems of unemployment protection combined with an emphasis on active labour market policies are a strong predictor of the likelihood of the DL forms of work organisation. However, our longitudinal analysis finds no evidence to support the view that changes over time in the frequency of the DL forms within nations can be explained by how their national labour market policies evolved. Our main result in terms of explaining the decline in the frequency of the DL forms of work organisation in Europe pertains to the effects of changes in the economic climate in which firms operate. Periods of economic expansion tend to be DL enhancing, while periods of economic stagnation and decline tend to reinforce the use of more hierarchical forms of work organisation. This suggest that the decline in the DL forms of work organisation for Europe as a whole was closely linked to the deteriorating economic climate European firms operated in following the 2008 financial crisis. More generally, the results show that cross-country comparisons do not necessarily provide a sound basis for policy learning and for drawing conclusions about the impact of changes over time in institutional arrangements within nations.