Employment Regimes and the Quality of Work

Timothy Bartram (La Trobe University, Victoria, Australia)

Management Research News

ISSN: 0140-9174

Article publication date: 18 July 2008



Bartram, T. (2008), "Employment Regimes and the Quality of Work", Management Research News, Vol. 31 No. 9, pp. 713-714. https://doi.org/10.1108/01409170810898590



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

The last two decades have witnessed an enormous growth in academic and practitioner interest in quality of work specifically in the areas such as work‐life balance, psychological empowerment and skill development. This book provides a rigorous and insightful comparative analysis of the quality of work in five European countries including France, Germany, Great Britain, Spain and Sweden. According to Gallie, there are five core dimensions of quality work: “skill level, the degree of autonomy, the opportunities for skill development, job security and the extent to which jobs are compatible with work‐family balance” (p. 6). The book examines national and cross‐national evidence for influential European countries to explore the major determinants of quality of work. The authors set out to examine how institutional differences within each of these countries contributes to variations in the quality of work. The text provides “for the first time rigorous comparative evidence on the experience of different types of employee and an assessment of whether there has been a trend over time to greater polarization between a core workforce of relatively privileged employees and a peripheral workforce suffering from cumulative disadvantage” (back cover). This is a timely book, as recently, there has been a dearth of books on comparative employment relations, particularly, how examining institutional regimes and systems of employment regulation impact on employment relations and human resource management (HRM) practices. Comparative employment relations approaches have much offer employment relations and HR scholars and practitioners, particularly in explaining how national institutional context influences the character of HRM – in this case the quality of work.

Employment regimes and the quality of work are directed to management, industrial relations and HR scholars and postgraduate students and unionists. For the scholar and postgraduate student, the text will give them a penetrative and critical examination of production systems, employment regulation and regimes and the subsequent impact of the quality of work in the aforementioned national contexts. In my view, it is impossible to understand the character of HRM and employment relations practices within industries and national contexts without previously understanding the nature and influence of production systems and employment regulation.

Employment regimes and the quality of work contain seven chapters. Chapter 1 of the book, production regimes, employment regimes and the quality of work by Gallie outlines the key concepts in the book as well as providing an overview the countries used in the analysis. Chapter 2, skills and wages in European labout markets: structure and change by Tahlin provides a comparative analysis of the structure and change of skill levels and wages in five European countries in recent years. This chapter is important since very little is known about contemporary developments changes in skills across national labour markets and the impact on social inequality. Chapter 3 by Dieckhoff, Jungblut and O'Connell, job‐related training in Europe: do institutions matter? explores the determinants and impact of vocational training among employed workers. Interestingly, the authors find that employees in sectors with higher levels of union density and lower wage dispersion were more likely to participate in training. Chapter 4 by Gallie, task discretion and job quality investigates the relationship between task discretion and quality of working life in EU countries. The author explores whether institutional conditions impact on the scope of employee discretion. Chapter 5 by Scherer and Steiber, work and family conflict? examines work‐family conflict in different sectors of the workforce, different family types and household patterns as well as the effects of institutional variations on work and family demands across six European countries. Chapter 6 by Paugam and Zhou, job insecurity asks the question: is job security similar across the workforce or is there evidence of polarization between core and peripheral works? Moreover, the chapter also examines whether there is a link between job quality and security across a number of European countries. Chapter 7 by Gallie, the quality of work life in comparative perspective is the final chapter in the book. This chapter discuss the major findings in terms of the quality of work in a range of European countries with respect to the five key dimensions.

This is a useful book with up‐to‐date data and innovative empirical studies on many of the pressing issues for not only Europe but for many other developed countries. Issues of quality of work in relation to skill level, the degree of autonomy, the opportunities for skill development, job security and the extent to which jobs are compatible with work–family balance are hotly contested by governments, managers, employees and trade unions. The book offers a balanced and data driven perspective of these issues. The authors report that there were some institutional variations and subsequent effects on the quality of work, particularly in relation to work–life balance and the volume of training and job security. The authors summarise the key variations across the five European societies. However, variations are extremely complex and as the editor points out that regime categorisation is a best a “very broad brush” (p. 231). Regime analysis may provide important insights but is not a substitute for “societal” level of analysis. The main contribution of the book is to provide a comparative and contemporary analysis of the quality of work across the major European countries. The book is successful on doing so. To the authors' credit the book establishes a strong link between institutions and the quality of work. In my view, this is a valuable contribution to the management and employment relations literature. A criticism of some of the HRM literature on the quality of work and its related areas is that it often removes these issues from a societal and institutional perspective. This book provides a fruitful approach for researchers and students alike in understanding the phenomenon of the quality of work grounded within an institutional and societal perspective.

Overall, employment regimes and the quality of work are a great read, its format is easy to read and the information easily digestible. I think the book is great value for money and would greatly recommend its purchase for postgraduate students, academics specialising in HRM and employment relations and unionists.

Related articles