Flexible employment is a widespread phenomenon and growing. Within Europe there are many deviating labour patterns, though each country has its own specific patterns. European authorities are very frequent users of temporary contracts. Shift work seems far more common in the UK, Belgium and Italy than in Holland and Germany. In the UK, overtime has been a tradition and is still very common. Part-time work is more frequent in Holland, the UK and the Scandinavian countries, whereas Italy, Greece, Portugal, Spain and Ireland have part-time employment far below the European average. In Sweden and Italy the growth of flexible working hours is lagging.
The OECD establishes a link between the occurrence of deviating labour patterns and sectoral developments. Flexible labour seems to occur in growth sectors in which the (structural) employment is shrinking. More jobs means a lot of temporary contracts. The extension of working hours is playing an important role in the private services sector, with which flexible labour goes hand in hand. Other developments pushing organizational changes and flexibility are changing demand patterns, for example from quantity to quality, and the increasing use of sophisticated marketing strategies.
Technological innovations often underlie employer flexibilization and the increased offering of flexible employment. Enterprises are reorganized to attune technological changes to the social system. One of the results is that another kind of employee is in demand and that another kind of working conditions is pursued. Enterprises require higher-skilled staff (qualification), deployable moreover at more places in the production process (flexible specialization). Job descriptions grow broader (functional flexibility) and on-the-job training has to further this heightened versatility. It is also the case that enterprises cannot keep pace with developments, the more so if some parts of the organization cannot be made efficient. This results in contracting out of some tasks (external flexibilization), also because technological changes make it possible to create a larger distance between the human worker and the production process and, in addition, to produce at a larger distance from the market.