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The power of workers: Knowledge work and the power balance in Scandinavian countries

Karen Modesta Olsen (Department of Strategy and Management, Norwegian School of Economics (NHH), Bergen, Norway)

Employee Relations

ISSN: 0142-5455

Article publication date: 4 April 2016



The purpose of this paper is to examine how occupations and the institutional setting shape the power balance (individual bargaining power) between employees and employers. It builds on theoretical approaches on knowledge work and institutional theory.


The paper uses the European Social Survey data in 2010/2011 to compare the power balance between employees and employers in three countries: Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. Multinomial logit regression was employed.


The results show that occupation and the institutional setting shape the power balance between employees and employers. Employees in highly skilled occupations perceive greater power vis-à-vis their employer, and employees in Denmark, characterized by greater flexibility for employers, perceive less power than in Sweden and Norway. In addition, age and gender are important demographic factors determining employees’ perceived power towards their employers.


The literature makes a number of assumptions with regard to the attitudes and behaviour of knowledge workers. However, research that compares employees in knowledge work with other occupational groups is scarce. This paper adds to the literature by comparing employees in highly skilled knowledge work with employees in lower skilled occupations. It also empirically shows how different approaches to definitions of knowledge work correspond.



This research was funded by the research programme Future-oriented Corporate Solutions (FOCUS) at Norwegian School of Economics (NHH). Norwegian Social Science Data Services (NSD) made the European Social Survey data available. The NSD is not responsible for the analyses. The author thanks Arne L. Kalleberg and Ingrid Esser for very constructive comments to a previous version of the paper. The author also thanks seminar participants for valuable comments at NEON, Bergen, and NHH.


Olsen, K.M. (2016), "The power of workers: Knowledge work and the power balance in Scandinavian countries", Employee Relations, Vol. 38 No. 3, pp. 390-405.



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