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Editorial: The psychosocial challenge

| By Berit Kvam

The story about Kristján from Iceland in this month’s theme illustrates how exposed young people often are in working life. When the Nordic Labour Journal shines a light on the psychosocial working environment, the story widens out. The theme shows how organisational changes are needed and how systematic efforts can turn sick leave figures on their heads.

Complicated phenomena rarely have simple explanations. The psychosocial working environment is a challenge which could be linked to the way work is organised, social relations and how the individual employee relates to his or her task. But some correlations are known. We know that high expectations combined with poor control rarely give good odds, and we know this also applies to Norwegian women in the health and care sector. They are at increased risk of having to take sick leave as a result of psychosocial factors, according to Norway’s National Institute of Occupational Health, STAMI.

Expectations and control are linked. When the Finnish researcher Lotta Harju talks about the consequences of workplace boredom, pointing out that a “boreout” can be as dangerous at a “burnout”, this could be a similar problem, yet there is little academic knowledge about boredom. It seems that the consequences of low expectations combined with a low degree of self determination leads to low job satisfaction. 

There is, however, more knowledge around increased job intensity, and this has fuelled the debate on the psychosocial working environment across Europe, with many worrying about the increases in sick leave. Innovative solutions to organisational, cultural and relational issues show that it is possible to address the challenges. The FAFO report ‘Together for a Better Municipality’ shows that “A focus on attendance has reduced sick leave by 40 percent” during the project in Songdalen municipality. 

‘SPARK’ is the name of a programme jointly launched by Danish municipalities and the main organisations in the municipal labour market in order to improve the psychological working environment. Lolland municipality is already well underway, and got an award for their work to improve the psychological working environment in 2015. This is the result of active efforts running over several years, says Peer Frederiksen in ‘A top psychological working environment’.

It is possible to create change if you build on knowledge and a conscious and systematic way of doing things. Research and our own examples show that leadership is invaluable in this respect. Sweden’s municipalities and county councils are promoting the importance of good leadership in the development of good working environments, including those for leaders in front line occupations who are often under pressure. 

“We need to learn how to organise work so that it lasts for an entire working life,” is the challenge from Professor Emeritus Annika Härenstam at the University of Gothenburg. In this month’s theme, she argues the costs of sick leave and the future staffing of jobs in the care sector seem to be the only arguments which count when you want to really get to grips with the psychosocial challenge.



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