Giving Employees More Say Can Improve Their Health
posted on: Oct 19, 2007
A report has found that health benefits can follow workplace organisational changes that improve employee control and participation in workplace decision-making. Interventions that achieve such changes are potentially health improving, although they are unlikely to protect employees from the harmful effects of generally poor working conditions.
The findings come from a systematic review of research evidence from experimental and quasi-experimental studies (from OECD countries, in any language) of the effects of workplace participation interventions.
According to author, Matt Egan, "we wanted to explore the links between employee participation, working conditions and health. We attempted to identify every study that examined how increasing employee control and participation could affect health by improving people's working environments."
He continued: "We used a theory called the ‘demand control support model' to examine changes to the working environment. At its simplest, this model suggests that workers' health is directly associated with the amount of control and social support they experience at work, and inversely associated with how demanding their job is. Many researchers consider control, demand and support to be important determinants of workplace health."
The authors identified 18 relevant studies from a search of over 60000. Twelve of these had designs that included control/comparison groups (there were no randomised controlled trials). Most of the workplace changes that were studied took the form of employee representative committees, established to give employees a voice in improving working conditions and contributing to management decision-making processes.
Eight controlled and three uncontrolled studies found some evidence of health benefits (especially beneficial effects on mental health, including reduction in anxiety and depression) when employee control improved. They also found less consistent evidence that health improvements could result from interventions that decreased employee demands or increased support in the workplace.
However the review also identified two studies that found employee health worsened when participation interventions were implemented in organizations undergoing downsizing. The authors suggest that attempts to increase employee control were likely to have been undermined by the stressful effects of large scale redundancies.
The authors conclude that some organisational-level participation interventions may benefit employee health, as predicted by the demand-control-support model. However, the interventions may be undermined by unfavourable contextual factors such as downsizing and redundancies.
Matt Egan, Clare Bambra, Sian Thomas, Mark Petticrew, Margaret Whitehead, Hilary Thomson. The psychosocial and health effects of workplace reorganisation. 1. A systematic review of organisational-level interventions that aim to increase employee control. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 2007;61:945-954.