Developing Workplace Innovation Policies in the European Union

2021 – In the Palgrave Handbook of Workplace Innovation, Frank Pot, Peter Totterdill and Steven Dhondt wrote a chapter (3) on EU policies on workplace innovation (WPI) since the mid-1990s.


Workplace Innovation: Process and Outcome

In the first section the authors reflect on the concept of Workplace Innovation.

Workplace Innovation describe new and combined interventions in work organisation, human resource management, labour relations and supportive technologies.

WPI is not widely adopted in the EU. However the growing awareness of the need for new forms of work organisation stimulated successive waves of policy intervention at the European level, described in the following sections.


Modernising the organisation of Work (1995 – 2010)

The section presents many initiatives to promote WPI and it reviews a lot of literature and policy statements and notes about the positive results of WPI, published in this period. But it concludes that the outcome of this period is a European policy pattern that has remained largely fragmented: a series of separate EU policy fields such as competitiveness, innovation, employment, health and safety and social inclusion that add up to less than the sum of the parts.


Adoption of Workplace Innovation in EU Policy (2011 – 2016)

In this period Workplace Innovation was promoted by many initiatives and programs supported by national, regional and EU authorities such as DG GROW (former Enterprise) and DG EMPL ánd by national and EU funds. Thus dialogue was stimulated and campaigns developed for knowledge dissemination and capacity building as ‘soft regulation’. The conclusion was that WPI is not suitable for a regulatory approach (legislation) because its implementation depends very much on the social dialogue at European, national, sectoral and organisation levels.

In the Europe 2020 strategy (2015) however the positive relation between EU’s innovation capability, labour productivity and organisational performance is put forward: “Complementing technological innovation with workplace innovation”.


Complementing Technological Innovation with Workplace Innovation (2017 and beyond)

Several high level recommendation (f.i. by EU-OSHA, DG-EMPL, EESC) reflect high levels of agreement about the positive impact of Workplace Innovation. However the transposition of these recommendations to EU and national policies is not that self-evident.

One of the reasons might be that employers representatives emphasise that work organisation and technology is their prerogative and responsibility.

Nevertheless there are government initiatives in France, Germany, Finland, the Basque country and Scotland.



For the European Commission all these high level recommendations are an extra reason to continue the policy of supporting Workplace Innovation. Furthermore WPI could be easily integrated in EU policy agenda’s such as: innovation, new skills, more and better jobs and social dialogue.

EU and national authorities have shown that they can successfully stimulate social dialogue and develop campaigns for knowledge dissemination and capacity building. And it is a challenge to extend WPI programs to European countries with less tradition and experience.



Frank Pot, Peter Totterdill and Steven Dhondt: ‘Developing Workplace Innovation Policies in the European Union’. In: A. McMurray, N. Muenjohn and C. Weerakoon (Eds.) The Palgrave handbook of workplace innovation. (Ch.3, pp41-56), 2021, Cham (Switzerland): Palgrave MacMillan.