How was work today? A major study begins into work-related health and well being

In 2006 and 2007 more than half a million individuals in Britain reported experiencing work-related stress at a level that was making them ill.

Dr Maria Karanika-Murray, a Research Fellow in Occupational Health Psychology, has received funding from the Economic and Social Research Council to spend the next two and a half years researching the impact of organisational level factors on employee health and well-being.

Until now most investigations into the impact of work on health have been limited to the person in the context of their immediate job. This study will take a different perspective and could potentially have a major impact on theory and our knowledge, as well as on practice and how we manage work-related health. This research looks at the impact of the organisation itself: its structure and culture.

Maria Karanika-Murray and her research staff, will examine the organisation and work systems of some 40 companies — large, small, and medium sized enterprises. Information on hundreds of employees, their work and their organisations will be sampled over a period of 20 months.

Maria Karanika-Murray said: “A large body of academic research has been carried out on the subject. For example, we know that characteristics of the job such as the level of demands and job variety, relationships and support at work, the work-life balance, and so on, impact on job satisfaction, absence and productivity. But very few studies have considered what impact organisational factors such as culture, leadership, policies, strategies, change and development goals can have on such outcomes.”

Health and safety at work is one of the most concentrated and most important social policy sectors in Europe. Since the 1990’s the increasingly recognised importance of health at work has given rise to policy and national guidance on its management in the UK and in Europe.

Between 2006 and 2007 30 million working days were lost due to work-related ill health and six million working days were lost due to workplace injury. More than two million people suffer from an illness they believe was caused or made worse by work.

Maria Karanika-Murray, who is based at the Institute of Work, Health and Organisations (I-WHO), says the problem has been identified in research which shows many organisational interventions are not as successful as they might have been expected and that the wider organisational environment may affect the success or failure of an intervention.

She said: “Research into occupational health often neglects to look at the broader organisational system within which employees carry out their work. This may be due to shortcomings in research methodology and can have important implications for theory and what we know about the causes of work-related health. The importance of this study lies in its implications for the successful and sustainable management of work-related health.”

With a total cost of £320,000 the research will use a multilevel longitudinal approach, which is appropriate for estimating the cause and effect of relationships.

Tom Cox, Professor of Organisational Psychology & Head of I-WHO said: “This is an important development in occupational health psychology and for the health and well-being of working people. It is clear that the nature of their employing organisations, and their cultures, determine many aspects of their behaviour at work, the quality of their working lives and ultimately their well-being. As a result of this research, we can learn much more about these important relationships.”

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