Job quality and digitalisation

2024 – A new Working Paper, published by the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI), reports on a study into the impact of digitalisation on job quality.

The increasing use of digital technologies in European workplaces is undeniable, but its precise impact on the world of work remains to be determined. There is a growing consensus about digitalisation’s transformative effects on the structure of employment. Research points to changes in the task content of jobs and the automation of some forms of human labour, accompanied by the emergence of entirely new occupations and job segments (Frey and Osborne, 2013).

Research questions

But beyond the structural changes, what has been the impact on job quality and workers’ experiences at work? What are the differences in job quality between digitalised and non-digitalised work settings in otherwise similar types of jobs? This working paper aims to address such questions by providing empirical evidence to test some of the presumed effects of technology that have been put forward in the literature.


Theory and Methodology

The impact of digitalisation has been conceptualised on the basis of two theoretical approaches. One focuses on the impact of computerised systems and algorithmic management on working time, task allocation and work intensity; the other looks at digitalisation at work in terms of shifts in job demands and resources for workers.

The impact on job quality was measured based on the multidimensional European Job Quality Index. The analysis covered the 27 EU Member States and was based on data from the 2021 EWCTS.



The results provide empirical underpinning to the claims about digitalisation’s disruptive impact on existing time regimes at work. In particular, the analysis revealed that the effects of computerised systems on work include more unpredictable, hectic and intense work rhythms, as well as encroachment of paid work beyond its boundaries, longer working hours and a poorer work–life balance. All these effects were found for similar workers in similar jobs, one of the main differences being the extent of technology use and its influence in the work context. This is thus in line with the thesis that with digitalisation working time becomes more ‘atomised’ and ‘punctuated’, making it possible for employers to reduce paid work to a minimum and tightly link workloads to staffing levels. Workers fall in line and ensure reliability of labour supply by extending their availability, as postulated in Piasna (2023a).

Moreover, the analysis revealed a complex relationship between the penetration of computerised systems in the workplace and workers’ resources and bargaining power. For example, once compositional and individual differences between workers are taken into account, digitalisation is associated with greater income security (measured as predictability of earnings) and better career prospects, but at the same time with less job security. This is consistent with the dissolution Job quality and digitalisation WP 2024.01 33 of certain business models based on stable employment in favour of greater fragmentation, labour market mobility and precariousness (Rubery et al. 2016; Sundararajan 2016). However, the analysis presented in this paper shows that not only are these outcomes related to a structural transformation of labour markets, but that the technology-related difference is also observed for workers in otherwise very similar jobs.

What is more, the results challenge the view that digitalisation generally leads to greater worker autonomy and show that any increase in worker discretion is the result of compositional factors rather than the direct impact of technology on their work. It is worrying that freelancers, considered to be a relatively vulnerable group, particularly exposed to working with new technologies, actually suffer autonomy losses as a consequence of digitalisation, as predicted by the platform-economy literature (De Stefano 2018; Piasna and Drahokoupil 2021).

Finally, the analysis sheds new light on the relationship between digitalisation and exposure to physical risk factors, as well as access to collective representation. While some traditional physical risks and demands are less common among workers who use computers at work, new risks specifically related to automation and prolonged use of personal computers are emerging in their place, raising the need for further scrutiny of these trends and appropriate regulatory responses. In contrast, a more optimistic picture emerges in terms of access to worker voice and representation, which increases as the intensity of computer influence on work increases. The direction of these relationships could not be determined using the available data, however. It remains to be seen, in other words, whether workplaces with more robust employee representation mechanisms are more likely to adopt new technologies, or whether access to new channels of communication in digitalised environments can foster a sense of shared identity and common interests among workers – as postulated by Vandaele and Piasna (2023) – and thus increase engagement and participation in formal channels of representation. Irrespective of the particular mechanisms in play, however, this shows that workers facing new challenges and risks associated with digitalisation may also have an opportunity to negotiate a more worker-centred path to digitalisation.



Piasna, Agnieszka: Job quality and digitalization. ETUI Working paper 2024.01.

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