The “Work Design for Health” framework, developed by researchers at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health and MIT Sloan School of Management, shows how to create work environments that promote the health and well-being of workers.

The framework offers new and viable directions for improving the health and well-being of workers while maintaining or improving employee engagement and productivity, according to the researchers. It explains why employers should move from offering wellness programs, which aim to change individual behaviors, to creating working conditions that lighten the burden and support the health and well-being of employees.

The Work Design for Health framework is described in an article published online in the American Journal of Public Health on September 9, 2021. Additionally, the team has created a toolkit and website to guide employers through of the process of assessing whether their workplace could benefit from the Work Design for Health approach, as well as how to implement it and explain the research behind the framework.

Many employers are looking for ways to support the health and well-being of their employees, especially after a year of high stress and unusual challenges at work and in the world. We hope that the Work Design Framework will inspire more organizations to consider the different ways that work affects the health and well-being of employees. “

Erin L. Kelly, Sloan Distinguished Professor of Work and Organizational Studies at MIT Sloan and co-author of the article

Lisa Berkman, Thomas D. Cabot professor of public policy and epidemiology at Harvard Chan School and principal investigator of the article, explained: also maintain their productivity. The companion website provides real-world, research-tested examples of practical changes that can improve health and well-being. “

In recent years, discussions of improving worker health have focused on health promotion or wellness programs focused on individual behaviors, such as increasing exercise, practicing mindfulness or eating healthy foods. Recent rigorous research by others indicates that these programs do not substantially alter these behaviors or practices to impact a wide range of employee health outcomes, suggesting that a new perspective on working conditions and the working environment is necessary. The Harvard Chan School and MIT Sloan team stress that these social conditions are major determinants of poor health, and therefore, changing them leads to disease and disability prevention in the first place.

Building on decades of research and previous work redesign frameworks, the team offers an updated work redesign model for the realities of working in the 21st century. This framework identifies three strategies for reshaping working conditions that not only improve the well-being of workers, but can also benefit the organization:

  • Increase workers’ control over their schedules and give them a greater voice over working conditions;
  • Moderate work demands; and
  • Provide training and support for employers aimed at improving social relations at work.

The toolkit provides many examples and case studies of how these strategies have been tested and implemented in various workplaces. For example, one study found that giving high-tech professionals more control over their work schedules resulted in workers who were more productive, less stressed, and less likely to quit.

In addition to being more effective at increasing employee well-being, an overhaul based on the Work Design for Health framework could save employers money, the researchers say. Wellness programs now cost, on average, more than $ 700 per employee, while a large overhaul initiative reviewed by the authors costs about half that price.

“Changes in the workplace during the COVID-19 pandemic have shown employers that giving workers more flexibility about where, when and how they work can benefit employees and their workers. organizations, ”said Meg Lovejoy, co-author of the article and research. program director of the Work and Well-being Initiative at the Center for Population and Development Studies at Harvard Chan School. “The return to more familiar work practices and environments offers employers a key moment to reflect on how they can reshape the work environment to better promote worker well-being, engagement and retention. . The Work Design for Health approach offers advice and evidence-based strategies to employers on how they might achieve this.

Laura Kubzansky, co-author of the article and Lee Kum Kee professor of social and behavioral sciences at Harvard Chan School, puts more emphasis on the importance of working conditions as key determinants of happiness and well-being, too. important as socio-economic position, family and community ties, or other aspects of the social environment.


Journal reference:

Lovejoy, M., et al. (2021) Work Redesign for the 21st Century: Promising Strategies to Improve Worker Well-Being. American Journal of Public Health.

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