Aiming for a systematic approach
6th of March 2019
Article related to the NIVA course on Designing, implementing and evaluating organizational interventions, 13th – 15th of May 2019, Hotel Copenhagen Island, Copenhagen, Denmark
Karina Nielsen, Professor, Director of the Institute for Work Psychology, University of Sheffield, UK
Participatory interventions are ways of increasing organizational resilience. It also helps to manage problematic working conditions that lead to poor mental well-being.
International Labour Organization (ILO), World Health Organization (WHO) and the European Agency for Occupational Safety and health generally recommend preventive actions to ensure and promote mental wellbeing in the workplace. One example of such action is participatory, organizational interventions.
The interventions are characterised by making changes to work practices and procedures in order to improve working conditions and employees’ mental wellbeing.
As poor working practices and procedures have implications for performance and productivity, such interventions have great potential for also improving performance. Making changes to work practices and procedures can be challenging and it is therefore important that the intervention is planned and implemented carefully.
There are three underlying principles of participatory, organizational interventions:
Management support: Managers at all levels need to support the process. Senior management play an important task as role models, as providers of resource while line managers are often responsible for implementing day to day changes and prioritising working with improving employee wellbeing.
Participation: It is crucial that managers and employees jointly decide on what needs to happen and how. It is important that managers and employees together decide on how the intervention is run; this includes who is responsible for progress and who should be the “face” of the intervention. It may be useful to have a consultant run the process.
Intervention fit: Organizations are different; they have different objectives and different cultures. It is important to fit the intervention to the organizational context and the members of the organization. It is important in different ways.
The process must be feasible and realistic, for example having a survey in a company with 10 employees violates principles of confidentiality, in small organizations, and focus groups may be the best way to find out about the positive and negative aspects of work.
Crucial to participatory, organizational interventions is that they adopt a systematic, problem solving approach. First, the project is set up and a steering group is identified who will guide the process. Second, a thorough assessment is conducted of the good and negative working conditions.
This can be done through interview or surveys in larger organizations. It is important not to start developing activities to change the working environment before there is a good understanding of what needs to change. Not everything can be changed in one day so employees and managers need to decide should be prioritised.
In the third phase, actions and activities are developed that address the issues identified in the previous phase. It is particularly important to choose activities that fit with the nature of the job and are feasible. For example, poor social support may be a problem among postmen as delivering mail is a solitary task. Social support among them may be improved by providing mobile phones so that they can call each other if they are running behind.
Providing workers in an open office environment with mobile phones is unlikely to increase support. It is important to develop detailed action plans that specify who does what and when. Vague plans without concrete action or activities being described are unlikely to have an effect.
It is also imperative to set the stage for what is realistic: building a new factory is unlikely to be feasible and realistic. Fourth, the actions planned need to be implemented. It is important to monitor whether progress is being made.
Have postmen received the mobile phones, and are they working? Do they have colleagues’ mobile numbers so they can call them? Discussions of whether actions and activities are implemented according to plan can take place at already existing staff meetings.
Finally, in the fifth phase it is important to evaluate whether the actions implemented had the intended effects and how they worked. For example, in case of the postmen, have they started suing the mobile phones? Is it possible to get hold of colleagues?
In rural areas, phone reception may be poor. Do postmen feel better supported after the introduction of mobile phones? It is also important to evaluate the process itself. How has the collaboration between managers and employees been? Have employees had a real chance to influence the content of actions and activities? Were the action plans sufficiently detailed? If they weren’t implemented according to plan what went wrong? Were they too time-consuming or were they not appropriate for the problems identified?
Resilience is a popular term in today’s wellbeing debate; however, the term is often used to imply that employees need to become resilient to the pressures of the job. Preventive actions such as the participatory and organizational interventions are ways of increasing organizational resilience. By going through these phases, organizations and their members learn how to manage problematic working conditions that lead to poor mental wellbeing.