Article i 'Tidsskrift for arbejdsliv' no. 3 2003, page 9-22.
Hans Jørgen Limborg
The working life is currently undergoing extensive changes. More flexible forms of the execution of work and the organisation of work and a still more flexible labour market are influencing the working conditions. Strains and risks to health and well being are thus likewise changing. Flexible work forms are experienced to have an important effect on the psychosocial working conditions - positive as well as negative. The psychosocial working environment is attracting comprehensive attention from companies, institutions, authorities, and OHS - professionals.
The development of methodologies to perform research based surveys or to provide companies with evidence to develop improvements of the psychosocial working conditions is extensive. The article is based upon two research projects that emphasise the problems companies and public institutions are facing when attempting to improve the psychosocial working environment. Workplace internal development projects have been followed through surveys based upon accredited questionnaires and qualitative analyses. The research revealed that the psychosocial working environment during organisational changes in several cases was effected to a high extent because of an increase in social conflicts. The research projects further emphasised that the local perception of the psychosocial risks related to work was influenced by these changes. Scientific evidence presented by consultants seems to have played a minor role in relation to the concrete experience of how the changes had influenced the work.
The article argues - with the point of departure in the technical prevention strategies developed in the Danish Occupational Health Service - that methodology of prevention, in relation to psychosocial strains and stress, is at a premature level. Ability to reveal causal relations between ‘working conditions’ and the derived mental strain and social problems, prerequisites a theoretical framework that can be locally adapted and accepted, but so far there is a deficiency of such theoretical models and applicable ‘consultant tools’. To develop a background for prevention of negative health consequences, resulting from the current changes in the working life, there is a need to develop a theoretically based risk perception, which also comprises local experiences from work. A risk perception is a prerequisite to develop applicable terms and an ability to define the limits for strain, lack of support, excessive demands, etc. Development of new flexible work forms is not an unlimited road that automatically results in a combination of higher productivity and better working conditions. At each individual workplace it will be necessary to analyse the possible risks, in order to develop a more flexible production without increasing the psychosocial strains and thus create serious obstacles for further development.