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Project 8.2. Secure and Precarious Employment and Cooperative Tendencies in Workplaces


Aim of the project

To study how the use of secure and precarious forms of employment impacts the sustainability of cooperation between employees, and between employees and management at workplaces in a long-term and cross-country perspective. 

Theoretical background

Sustainable cooperation in workplaces is essential for the flourishing of individuals and organizations. It can come in many forms and shapes, ranging from workers complying to safety regulations, to constructive strategies of managing labor conflicts. In the post-WWII period of economic growth, organizations in the West typically offered life-long employment, thereby creating favorable conditions for sustaining both employee-employer (´vertical´) and employee-employee (´horizontal´) cooperation (Kalleberg, 2011). Since the 1980s, pressures from global competition and technology development led many organizations to adapt a more flexible and diversified approach to employment relations. An important part of this strategy consists in providing precarious (temporary and externalized) forms of employment for workers whose labor is considered to be not essential for organizational success, while maintaining secure (long-term and internalized) employment relations for their core workforce. Management narratives emphasize the labor costs and productivity aspects of combining precarious and secure employment (Lepak & Snell 2002).

However, little is known about how the use of precarious employment impacts sustainable cooperation in work organizations. Existing studies focus predominantly on compliance and commitment, of contingent workers, neglecting three important dimensions: (1) the vertical cooperation of the core workforce, 2) horizontal forms of cooperation (such as pro-social behaviors and co-worker solidarity), and 3) the interplay and co-evaluation of horizontal and vertical cooperation in workplaces using contingent employment. In addition, research on employment forms and cooperation outside the US is very scarce, leaving it open whether similar processes play out in institutional environments regulating employment relations and labor protection differently. In this project, we aim to address these important omissions. 

There are contradicting observations in the literature regarding the relation between employment and cooperation. According to the organizational literature on identity and conflict, employment uncertainties alienate workers, generate competition, and antagonize different groups of workers, which diminish sustainable horizontal and vertical cooperation (David-Blake et al 2003; Smith 2010). Social historical studies on class formation, however, argue that employment uncertainties have the capacity to foster horizontal cooperative tendencies among workers in precarious positions such as organized industrial action (Thompson, 1963). Employment uncertainties may also increase the importance of identities based on occupational group and profession, leading to new forms of cooperation beyond organizational boundaries (Barley and Kunda, 2006). The project will bring together the organizational and social historical literatures to study how precarious employment impacts sustainable cooperation.

Research design

A multi-method research design will be used. Firstly, the project will use the European Sustainable Workforce Survey (ESWS). The ESWS is unique because (a) it is a recent, large-scale survey among 11,011 employees (wave 1/2016 and wave 2/2018) nested in 869 teams in 259 organisations in 9 European countries (UK, Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands, Finland, Spain, Portugal, Hungary and Bulgaria), (b) contains longitudinal information about horizontal cooperation (individual worker´s commitment to the organization, and extra-role behaviour) and vertical cooperation (helping behaviour among co-workers), (c) includes newly developed items measuring workers’ and managers’ perceptions of collaboration and conflict between workers in precarious position (e.g. temporary contract) and core employees , also (d) social network data of informal ties between co-workers within the work team. It(e) allows cross-country and cross-industry comparisons. Second, using linked-employer employee data on the Netherlands (CBS SSB) we can assess the economy-broad implications of the use of precarious employment in organizations to vertical cooperation (voluntary turnover) and horizontal cooperation (strike participation). Finally, to better understand the co-evolution of horizontal and vertical cooperation, we also undertake a workplace ethnography in one or two firms. Historical sources may include harmonized censuses and other register data (https://international.ipums.org) and in depth factory data (e.g. Penn 1984).


Barley, S. R., & Kunda, G. (2006). Gurus, hired guns, and warm bodies: Itinerant experts in a knowledge economy. Princeton University Press.

Davis-Blake, A., Broschak, J. P., & George, E. (2003). Happy together? How using nonstandard workers affects exit, voice, and loyalty among standard employees. Academy of Management Journal, 46(4), 475-485.

Inkson, K., Gunz, H., Ganesh, S., & Roper, J. (2012). Boundaryless careers: Bringing back boundaries. Organization Studies, 33(3), 323-340.

Kalleberg, A. (2011). Good jobs, bad jobs. New York: Sage

Lepak, D. P., & Snell, S. A. (2002). Examining the human resource architecture: The relationships among human capital, employment, and human resource configurations. Journal of Management, 28(4), 517-543.

Penn, R. (1984), Skilled workers in the class structure. CUP.

Smith, V. (2010). Enhancing employability: Human, cultural, and social capital in an era of turbulent unpredictability. Human Relations, 63(2), 279-300.

Thompson, E. (1963). The making of the English Working Class. London: Victor Gollanz.

Project initiators

Zoltán Lippényi, Rafael Wittek, Marco van Leeuwen


University of Groningen, Department of Sociology


Sociology, Social and Economic History

How to Apply

For background information on this vacancy and further instructions, click here (portal opens June 1).

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