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The well-being of the employees has in many studies shown to be crucial for the productivity of an organization. According to a rapport from Eurostat from 2010, the most serious and common health problems in the working population in the EU are problems related to the neck, back, hands and arms, stress and depression.
How we feel at work affects how we feel at home and vice versa. Problems at home affect the work performance and presenteeism and if someone is under a lot of stress this can cause sleeping problems and/or irritability at home. Therefore it is hard to distinguish what can be defined as work health and what is just health in general. Some studies also show that people in good shape also seem to enjoy their work more. So well-being in general affects your well-being at work positively, but this also works the other way around. How to get people to enjoy their work more is therefore what investments in well-being at work are trying to affect and hopefully these investments and improvements will also have positive effects on the life outside work. In other words when the aim is to improve well-being at work usually the means taken focus on what happs at the work place.
It is important to take into account all the different components of well-being at work; the mental, physical, social and emotional well-being. These different components of well-being at work also affect each other. For example stomach-ache, backache, obesity etc. can affect the mental well-being negatively, but also bee somatic symptoms of or caused by depression or other mental problems. In the chart below one view of the different components of well-being and what they can include are visualized.
Well-being at work: Developed based on Otala, L. & Ahonen, G. (2005) Työhyvinvointi tuloksentekijänä (2:nd ed.).
First of all it is important to consider what the most important issues in the target organization or work unit are. This can be done in many different ways. Traditionally consultants or other experts have been, and still often are hired to evaluate which the most important issues are and suggest solutions. But in recent years more participatory ways of finding the main issues and solutions are being used. Consultants or leaders can for example use interviews to find out what the employers think are the main issues and how these could be resolved. In the Metal Age program used in WASI the issues are first discussed in pairs. Then all issues are grouped to bigger units and prioritized by the whole work unit together. After that the group will plan concrete solutions for the most important issues.
Engaging the whole work unit into discussing the issues and finding solution usually decreases resistance to change. If an outside consultant or the managerial group/executives decide what is going to be done there is always a risk that the employees do not perceive the measures as meaningful. This can then create resistance to change even though the plan has been to improve everyone’s well-being. But resistance to change can also arise and the intervention can fail even though a participatory intervention is used. This can for example happ if participation is promised, but the employees do not experience that they really can influence the decision making and that their suggestions are taken seriously.
There is no universal method for improving well-being at work and therefore it is hard to give some universal advice for how to improve well-being at work. First of all issues are different in all organizations and work units and second solutions that work in one work unit or organization, might not work in another. And then there are also individual differences. Some employees might e.g. prefer great autonomy while there can be others that wish to have more specific guidelines about how to do a specific task. All of these things should therefore be considered when actions for improving well-being at work are planned and realized.
Lindström, K., Leppänen, A. (2002). Työyhteisön terveys ja hyvinvointi. Helsinki: Työterveyslaitos.
Näsman, O. (2011). Metal Age och Kiva-enkät. Assisterar vid navigering mot arbetsvälbefinnande. Mediona OyAb: Dalsbruk.
Maciocha, A. Surakka, J. & Näsman, O. (2012). Work Ability and Social Inclusion project -enhancing collective knowledge through leadership and stress management. Will be presented at the European Conference on Intellectual Capital 23-24.4.2012 at Helsinki.