The essay is a critical review of those studies and researches that in the last 20 years have analysed the change in organisation, management, and labour paradigms, together with the response (or lack thereof) from the industrial relations system. The resulting picture shows a long period of neglect, by both scholars and collective bargaining, recently interrupted due to the key role the productivity issue has started to play both with regard to the economic crisis and in the new lean organisation paradigms. The review especially highlights the emerging issue of employee direct participation, introduced at the managers' initiative and still poorly integrated into the industrial relations system. Employee participation could indeed be at the core of a "new paradigm of work" being able to meet companies' demand for flexibility, as well as workers' claim for a better working life. Still, a new framework of rules growing out of the 20th-century Fordist labour relations system appears to be necessary.