A Study on Aspects of Working Life in Norway

Author: Kristin Thorvaldsen.

This Master Thesis Project received support from ESOP in 2010.


Employment practices in the Nordic countries have been described as unique in Europe. Special traits such as high work discretion, few work foremen and a widespread employee involvement in managerial desicions contribute to this particular structure. When we consider cooperation, we often focus on representation and influence on decicion making. Both local and more collective, centralized bargaining are key factors. Other interesting potential indicators of cooperation are the levels of worker turnover in the industry or firm which may be related to the level of cooperation and employment quality, and indicators such as educational levels, work-related training and possibilities for career development within the firm.

I look at how does the institutional structure in Norway influences working life. I found that collective bargaining and representative participation influences work practices. Wage compression following collective wage agreements reduces inequality in income and wages both for men and women, in addition to special agreements regarding gender equality. The cooperation agreement states that the enterprises are responsible for supplying work related training and education if necessary. This implies that the institutional structure in the labour relations have has a positive effect on employment quality, and facilitates production with great autonomy and with highly skilled workers.

Autonomy in the workplace decreases stress and increases skill development, which contributes to higher employment quality. When looking at data, I find that Norway has similar characteristics as the other Nordic countries on differen employment quality indicators. In general,Norway is characterized by high-quality jobs and high employment satisfaction, and is similar to the other Nordic countries with similar institutional structures.

Meta-studies looking at the correlation between job satisfaction and job performance find a positive relationship between the two variables. However, the impact of job satisfaction and the views on how reliabile the different studies are, vary. Because the studies are cross- sectional, it limits the possibilities of saying anything about the causal relationships between these two variables. Participation and cooperation have a positive effect on the quality of employment in the economy. However, the success of a single institution may depend on the existence of other institutions in the economy. Existence of institutional complementarities increases the sustainability of successful institutions when facing challenges such as globalization and demographic changes, but it may also limit the benfits of introducing successful work practices or institutions in countries with different institutional structures due to the lack of possible institutional complementaries.

When considering the possibility of institutional convergence due to globalization, the evidence for a convergence in work practices is weak. When considering the qualitative comparison between ERAMET Norway and ERAMET France, I found considerable differences in how the production process was organized, even though the end product from both factories was very similar. Because of differences in both cooperation opportunities with unions and the human capital available for the management, two similar factories have chosen very different models with went in very different directions in regards to work practices.

This illustrates how Norwegian (and Nordic) work life is often characteristically different from other work life with regards to cooperation, participation and employment quality.

Read the full thesis in DUO.

Published Mar. 23, 2015 11:20 AM