EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life
Positive work factors can improve health and productivity
Most research on the work environment has, to date, focused on negative work factors, such as those leading to problems with stress and health. A new report by the National Research Centre for the Working Environment focuses on positive work factors, which can improve employees’ health and productivity. Significant factors include having a high degree of influence in the job, and receiving appreciation and social support, all of which are found to contribute to healthy employees and increased productivity.
In Denmark, much of the research on the work environment has focused on sickness absence and stress (DK0704019I, DK0706019I, DK0708019I). The modern working world encompasses new products and changes in the organisation of work, along with increasing international competition, all of which are forcing companies to become more efficient with fewer employees. To remain competitive, companies must be prepared to make changes, such as restructuring, mergers and workforce reductions. This often leads to increased workloads, higher work pressure for employees and lower job security; the latter can either relate to the insecurity of losing one’s job or of being exposed to unwanted changes in the workplace. Such changes and demands often lead to physical and psychosocial health problems among employees, which in turn result in high costs for the individual, the company and society as a whole.
Details of study
A new report entitled Healthy at work – positive factors in working (in Danish, 1.9Mb PDF), published by the National Research Centre for the Working Environment (Det Nationale Forskningscenter for Arbejdsmiljø, NFA), indicates that the tendency towards increased workloads and job uncertainty is unlikely to change. Therefore, it highlights the need to focus on aspects of the work environment that can contribute to maintaining and enhancing employees’ health, while ensuring that productivity is sustained and improved.
The report is the result of an analysis of relevant scientific literature on the subject. Over 100 scientific articles were reviewed in order to determine which work factors are associated with improved health and increased productivity. The report focuses on how certain factors – namely, the work environment, leadership style, teamwork, motivation, personal resources and job satisfaction – influence employees’ health and productivity.
Favourable work factors
The study highlights the most important work environment factors which lead to better health among employees and, consequently, to better labour productivity and company results. These are:
- maintaining a high degree of influence in the work performed;
- having an active job – this means having a combination of high demands and a large degree of influence, reward and recognition for the work performed;
- receiving adequate social support from colleagues and executives.
Furthermore, the study found that the following factors also have a positive impact on workers’ health and productivity:
- good resources such as influence, social support and acknowledgement in their work – this leads to increased motivation and commitment among employees, in turn resulting in better health, well-being and results for the organisation;
- team spirit and trust in the competencies of the team – especially when there is a high degree of mutual dependence in performing tasks or carrying out projects within the team;
- fairness, trust and employees’ perception of support in the workplace – these can contribute to better health and improved job performance;
- leadership style – in particular, transformational leadership, where the manager expresses a common vision for the future; this stimulates employees intellectually, presents a role model for employees, and has a positive impact on their well-being and work results;
- personal resources such as self-confidence and self-respect – these factors correlate positively with health and well-being. However, the study shows that high self-confidence can sometimes be unhealthy if the employee has a low degree of influence, as the person will continue trying to obtain something which is not possible.
The conclusions of this report have much relevance for Denmark, given the shortage of labour, on the one hand, and the high rates of sickness absence among employees on the other. Further studies have revealed that increased demands in the workplace and negative perceptions of the workplace lead to increased sickness absence and low satisfaction with work performance. In this context, the study can contribute to finding new solutions for companies, enabling them to maintain and even improve their employees’ health and productivity.
Mette Ballebye and Helle Ourø Nielsen, Oxford Research