Since the conference was initiated in 1990, it has explored
the changing nature of work and how those changes affect
workers’ health, safety and well-being. A few highlights from
this year’s conference follow.
Communication’s role in sustainable interventions
Many workplace interventions that aim to reduce employees’
stress, improve their health or boost their productivity don’t
have a lasting impact, says Christine Ipsen, PhD, an associate
professor in the department of management engineering at the
Technical University of Denmark in Lyngby. Often it’s a lack of
communication that causes interventions to be unsustainable,
says Ipsen, who presented her research at the conference as
part of a symposium she co-chaired on the importance of
knowledge sharing in developing organizational interventions
that have enduring results.
Employees themselves typically know what the problems are
in their workplaces, what’s causing those problems and what to
do about them, says Ipsen, but often that information is only
shared informally among colleagues. Finding ways to share that
in-house information in more systematic, structured ways can
increase employees’ commitment to interventions and save
money, she says.
“Instead of hiring an expensive outside consultant, you can
get access to in-house knowledge that employees have but never
get a chance to share,” she says.
A variety of techniques can help achieve that goal,
according to two studies of a stress prevention intervention
implemented in 10 companies, Ipsen and colleagues found.
The companies hosted workshops that encouraged employees
to share information about the factors that prompt stress as
well as enthusiasm at work. In-house facilitators interviewed
participants about causes of and solutions to the problems
employees identified, and departments then met to consolidate
that knowledge. Participants also developed ways to monitor
their progress in addressing those problems.
By making both employees and managers aware of problems
and potential solutions and keeping an eye on progress
afterward, says Ipsen, organizations can craft the most effective
interventions and adjust them if needed.
Understanding what communication strategies work best
when preparing and implementing interventions is also critical,
says Lotta K. Harju, a PhD candidate at Aalto University of
Science and researcher at the Finnish Institute of Occupational
Health, who also presented at the symposium.
Harju and her colleagues evaluated the communication
strategies used by facilitators and participants in four
organizations as they implemented “job crafting” — an
intervention in which employees are encouraged and helped to
come up with ways to align their work with their own values or
interests and thereby increase their engagement.
The researchers found that before an intervention,
organizations should inform participants of what the
intervention entails and foster realistic expectations about its
potential impact. They also found that during implementation,
participants’ communication among themselves can be more
important than the communication that comes from facilitators
or the organization. “Participants gave each other support, ideas
and feedback, and that was perceived as very motivating and
maintained participants’ engagement in the learning process,”
says Harju. In addition, frequent reminders via a mobile app
about the intervention’s goals — both during and after the
intervention — helped increase employees’ motivation and
sustain the intervention’s positive effects.
Other research presented in the symposium emphasized
the important role that facilitating two-way communication
between employees and supervisors can play in sustaining
workplace interventions. While top-down communication is
common, bottom-up communication is much rarer, especially
in hierarchical organizations with centralized decision-making,
says Andrew J. Noblet, PhD, a professor of management at
Deakin University in Australia. In police departments, for
Employees typically know what the problems are in their
workplaces, what’s causing those problems and what to do about
them, but often that information is only shared informally among
colleagues. Finding ways to share that in-house information
in more systematic, structured ways can increase employees’
commitment to interventions and save money.