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New tendencies in Nordic work environments

| By Björn Lindahl, deputy editor

Work environments can be many things. In this issue of the Nordic Labour Journal we investigate some of them. Oslo recently hosted the largest Nordic conference so far on Supported Employment. One of the questions asked there was who gets to partake in the labour market in the first place?

Not many years ago the view was that people with a psychiatric diagnosis were too weak to ever get a job. If you ask people who are in that situation, between half and three quarters say they want to work. They want to create a personality beyond their diagnosis; they also want the satisfaction of doing a job and getting paid for it. And not least, they want to be part of a work environment.

Supported Employment is about getting the best result from job training by making it happen in the actual workplace. To succeed you must do more than involve the boss, the jobseeker and their mentor. All the employees must be onboard. The director of Norway’s welfare administration Sigrun Vågeng told the conference that it is easy to learn something new, but hard to stop doing what does not work. That also applies to Denmark, which is facing work environment reforms. 

Things have been moving in the wrong direction. Despite the fact that most companies say they prioritise work environment issues, there are 17% more employees experienced psychological strain and symptoms of stress and depression in 2016 compared to 2012. 

One report has come up with 18 proposals which all conclude that work environment measures should use the conditions in the workplaces as a starting point to an even larger degree. Inspiration comes from Sweden, which has a stronger culture of cooperation in workplaces than in Denmark when it comes to work environments. 

There is always a need for new knowledge, since working conditions change all the time. A new Swedish survey will look at how the Swedish Work Environment Authority can improve their inspections and promote satisfactory work environments for the self-employed and for people working on digital platforms.

Nader Ahmadi is the head of the newly established public body for work environment knowledge, Mynac, in Swedish Gävle. In 2007 the centre-right Alliance government closed down the National Institute for Working Life. Since then, research has been fragmented between many different universities and university colleges. Ahmadi wants the new public body to be like the spider in the network that gathers information and makes sure it spreads. One of his first meetings was with Nordic colleagues in the Faroe Islands. 

In Finland there is mounting awareness that one of the biggest work environment issues is the threat particularly women working in the social and health sector are exposed to. One concrete measure to improve their safety has been to install more than one door in rooms where client meetings take place. It makes it easier to flee if the client becomes too aggressive. 

Death threats are also part of Vidar Sagmyr’s working day. He is part of the construction industry’s “disruption patrol” in Trondheim, that gathers information on cowboy construction companies. At times he has carried an assault alarm. NLJ followed him through a normal working day. 

Less dramatic are the daily journeys in lift for those who work in multi-storey buildings. Finnish Kone is one of the world’s four leading lift producers. 

“Today there are probably 30 to 40% more people in a building that is older than ten years, than what it was planned to house,” points out CEO Henrik Ehrnrooth.

Lifts quickly turn into bottlenecks. But by gathering information from hundreds of thousands of lifts around the world, the company can predict when a lift needs a repair even before it stops. New technology can make lift traffic more efficient. Not being stuck in a lift is also part of a good work environment!


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