Open Journal of Safety Science and Technology, 2012, 2, 25-31 Published Online March 2012 (
Managing Well-Being at Work during 2010s
—Expert Viewpoints
Janne Sinisammal, Pekka Belt, Janne Härkönen, Matti Möttönen, Seppo Väyrynen
Department of Industrial Engineering and Management, University of Oulu, Oulu, Finland
Email: {janne.sinisammal, pekka.belt, janne.harkonen, matti.mottonen, seppo.vayrynen}
Received November 8, 2011; revised January 4, 2012; accepted January 12, 2012
Current working life is turbulent making maintaining well-being at work challenging. This turbulence necessitates
working organisations and their managers to be more sensitive and agile. Managers must understand the human role in
technical and organisational systems. The aim of this research is to come up with a description of aspects that influence
well-being at work that will be applicable for different types of work places. The research is conducted by interviewing
experts, currently working as researchers, consultants and managers, both in private and public organisations. Accord-
ing to the results of this research, well-being at work can be divided into five different aspects: employee, work, work
community, management, and external factors. The emphasis on these aspects varies due to changes in external busi-
ness environment and internal working community. Hence, there is a need for managers to react accordingly.
Keywords: Well-Being at Work; Management; Employee; Working Community; Work
1. Introduction
Well-being at work benefits primarily employees and em-
ployers but it also has favourable influence on national
economies [1-3]. Personnel that are in good form con-
sider their job meaningful and inspiring. At company
level this shows as increased quality and productivity and
as decreased sick-days [4-9]. Employee health and well-
being is truly becoming a business value of strategic im-
portance [10]. Ageing population, especially in the west-
ern countries, causes a reduction in potential workforce
[11,12]. One way of preparing for the weakening ratio
between working and non-working population is extend-
ing careers via improved well-being at work [13].
Current transition in work-life includes continuous changes,
incompleteness of different matters, uncertainty over future,
rapid shifts in the direction and rhythm of work, simul-
taneous change processes and even changes in the basic
work tasks [14-16]. At work places this transition empha-
sises the significance of foreseeing, vigilance and rapid
reactions. The current, sometimes chaotic working envi-
ronment is considered as one of the central challenges for
well-being at work [17]. Continuous uncertainty at work
causes stress and weakens the physical and psychic
well-being of employees [18,19]. At the same time, work
community that is in good form, has become an increas-
ingly important means for competing for the best work-
force [20,21].
Well-being at work is a concept that can be considered
to be a result of long development. Before the Second
World War, comfortability was discussed in relation to
work, referring to how the employees felt. During the 1950s
and 1960s, attitude questionnaires were conducted, which
eventually converted into job satisfaction questionnaires
in the 1960s. Job satisfaction was seen to constitute of
good work performance, success at work, and workplace
atmosphere [22]. In the 1970s, job satisfaction was intro-
duced as an indicator into labour economics [23,24]. To-
wards the end of 1980s, ability to work was used as a con-
cept, which was expanded to cover from medical aspects
of health and operational aspect to how demanding work
was and whether there was a balance with individual capa-
bilities and resources [25,26]. Later on, the concept of
integrated ability to work as brought up while comple-
menting the concept of ability to work with the impacts
of working community, culture and work tools [27].
More generally, the concept of ability to work is com-
monly used to cover a narrower field, emphasising as-
pects relevant to an individual. Hence, ability to work
can be seen as a historical predecessor of the concept of
well-being at work [25]. Today, these issues are still focal
topics globally with numerous international initiatives,
promoted by different organisations, such as The Euro-
pean Network for Workplace Health Promotion, European
Agency for Safety and Health at Work, and the Occupa-
tional Safety & Health Administration in the USA.
This study aims to create such a description for man-
agement of well-being at work that would be suitable for
opyright © 2012 SciRes. OJSST
work places of different size, operating at different fields.
The aim is to clarify what type of management approach
would suit the modern working environment with multi-
ple and changing pressures. This study identifies factors
that influence well-being at work, ones that have previously
been ignored by other researchers, or that would deserve
more attention. The research was conducted by interviewing
experts from different fields. All the interviewees have
extensive experience relating to well-being at work.
2. Research Process
The research was realised as a qualitative interview study.
The interviewees included seven high-level experts who
have extensive experience in the field of well-being at
work. The interviewees currently hold positions as con-
sultants, researchers and managers, both in private and
public organisations.
The interview sessions were arranged as open discus-
sions, with no pre-set questions. The interviewees were asked
to discuss well-being at work from their own perspectives.
The researchers commented interviewees’ messages and
presented further more detailed questions. The researchers
also sketched illustrations on interviewees’ views over well-
being at work. The interview sessions were continued
until there were no new viewpoints emerging. The inter-
view sessions were recorded and transcribed to enable
thorough analyses. The interview material was analysed
following principles set for quality content analyses [28,
29]. The balanced work system framework [30,31] was
also utilised to support analyses.
Focus during analyses was especially on those issues that
were commonly emphasised by the interviewees. These
issues were searched for by using two different methods.
First, those seemingly significant issues were taken from
the transcriptions and converted into standard language
(see Appendix). Secondly, sketches drawn based on the
interviews were used for simultaneous analysis to recog-
nise core categories relevant for well-being at work.
3. Results and Discussion
The interviewed experts emphasised different matters and
analysed well-being at work in diverse frameworks, making
the identified significant issues even controversial to a
degree. One of the interviewees stressed the significance
of current transition in work-life and changing of work.
Other one saw well-being at work as a multi-fold system,
while another interviewee emphasised the importance of
management and leadership, etc. By combining all the
interviews and drawn sketches, it was, however, possible
to form synthesis over the core views on well-being at
work. There were five different themes that were high-
lighted by the interviews: employee, work, work commu-
nity, management, and external factors. Appendix ex-
cerpts from the interviews.
3.1. Employee
Employee skills in work community were emphasised in
the interviews. It was seen important to understand one’s
rights and obligations, understand the significance of
one’s personality from the perspective of work commu-
nity’s functioning. Once understanding and accepting one’s
own role, motivation to operate in this environment is
required. It was also pointed out how committing to the
values of work place and keeping up with common rules
are vital. The interviewees saw room for improvement in
employee interaction skills, especially those of young em-
ployees. Open interaction, good manners, respect for others,
and giving and receiving feedback were brought up
several times during the interviews.
Need for self-fulfilment was brought forward as one of
the central aspects of well-being at work. The signifi-
cance of self-fulfilment was believed to be increasingly
emphasised in the future. Opposed to the older generation,
young employees are believed to commit more to an
occupation than committing to an employer. Should there
be no self-fulfilment, the young employees are seen to
easily start considering changing the employer.
Balance between work and private life was pointed as
an important factor for well-being at work. The interviewees
stressed how neither side, private nor work should dominate
the daily life. However, where the balance lies varies among
Promoting the health of individuals was seen to pro-
vide great opportunities for improving well-being at work.
Reducing the problems caused by alcohol consumption,
smoking and obesity were seen to improve well-being at
work while the quality of life would be simultaneously
The interviewed experts brought forward three aspects
that are relevant to the current changes in the working
life. Firstly, the differences in employee performance are
increasing. Secondly, there is a strong trend towards con-
tinuous development of employee know-how and for
supporting individuals to renew their skills. Thirdly, role
of creativity and employee initiatives are seen to become
more important as the employees are increasingly ex-
pected to take part in developing the work. For the
well-being of an individual, it was seen important that an
individual accepts that work related change is constant. It
may not be healthy to wait for stability that will never be
3.2. Work
Experiencing success and possibilities for self-develop-
ment were seen to support well-being at work. A prereq-
uisite for experiencing success was seen to lie in the set
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. OJSST
goals being in balance with the professional capabilities
of an employee. It is important for employees to have
possibilities to influence their own work. Also, work tools
and equipment being reliable, purposeful and safe, was
experienced to improve well-being at work, and different
types of disturbances and deviations to weaken it.
The interviewees considered the meaningfulness of work
vital as it is important that the employees view their own
job as sensible, and when possible versatile. Also, feeling
success at work is important for well-being at work. They
also pointed out how there is a need to have well planned
actions for controlling and minimising any factors nega-
tively influencing health and safety. At the same time
any factors improving the health and safety at work were
seen important to be enhanced.
The interviewed experts emphasised the significance
of the fundamental purpose of an organisation as a reality
that underlies well-being at work. A clearly defined and
understood purpose eases decision making and reduces
unnecessary fuss at the workplace. On the other hand, the
versatility of work tasks was seen to influence different
individuals differently. Deep involvement in a specific work
task suits some employees, while others better cope if they
have more versatility in their work. Experts pointed out
that employees feeling that they have the possibility to
participate, both in developing work tasks and one’s own
organisation, promote well-being at work.
3.3. Work Community
According to the interviewees, companionship is typical
for work communities that are in good form. For exam-
ple, this can mean looking after others, cooperation, or
reciprocity. Well-being at work was seen to more afflu-
ent if the close work community, e.g. a team, has positive
attitudes towards diversity. These mentioned diversity as-
pects can be for example, employee age, education, situa-
tion in life, sex, and ethnic background. Also, mutual trust
and sense of safety were experiences as important as-
pects of well-being at work, and that support learning at
individual and work community levels.
The concept of work community is seen to be chang-
ing. A close work community may, as traditionally, still
be formed of the personnel of a single workplace. On the
other hand, organisations increasingly being of matrix type,
and different types of remote tools becoming more common,
work community may form also of people from partner
organisations, interest groups, or other organisation. All of
these organisations may have different values and ways
of working.
The current changes in the working culture were seen
to be partially connected to the collision between the values
of young employees and those of traditional ways of work-
ing. Young people have so much other interests in their
life, aside work, while the older generations have seen
work as a central duty of person’s life. Young people easily
assume that work is flexible around their own needs and
expect work to be fun. The collision of old and new ways
and attitudes were seen to create conflicts in work com-
The changes in working culture were believed to require
increasingly agile communal learning and change man-
agement. Courage to analyse matters honestly and un-
prejudiced in experimenting new ways were seen as pre-
requisites for the necessary regeneration.
3.4. Management
The importance of management, both the role of the closest
superior, but also that of top management, was highlighted
during the expert interviews. The interviewees empha-
sised how the management can act as the enabler for
well-being at work in many ways. The closest superior
was seen to have an important role is supporting success
in work through defining resources, tools and working time.
On the other hand, a superior was seen to have a role in
motivating personnel to work according to the goals of the
organisation, and in taking part in solving any conflicts.
The employees are seen to expect a superior to treat them
equally and fairly, and assertiveness and commitment on
accomplishing the organisation’s purpose.
It is seen as the duty of a superior to organise devel-
oping functional practices for the needs of the work place.
Clear practices and rules that have been formulated to-
gether with employees were seen to improve the wellbe-
ing in thee working community. It was seen vital for man-
agers to be solution oriented. The interviewees considered it
beneficial to develop common rules for bringing people
into the working community, inducing new employees,
acknowledging achievement and dealing with emotions
and arguments. Striving towards solutions was seen as a
good approach. This can mean pointing the focus towards
future and existing resources.
The interviewees stressed the importance of communica-
tion and transparency so that personnel would have ade-
quate knowledge required for them to be effective. It was
also viewed important to provide even more information
than is required for accomplishing the core tasks. This
was seen to have a significant impact on personnel moti-
vation. The information provided for the personnel may
include information current state of business. The com-
munication skills of managers are crucial and they need
to consider what and how to inform.
The changes in the working culture were believed to
emphasise the importance of superiors’ social and feedback
skills. Traditional measures for performance and success
at work were seen to be inadequate and that promoting
open discussion and confidential discussion with employees
would become a new lifeline of changing organisations.
Structuring the changes and guiding the impacts of
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. OJSST
change towards the organisation’s goals were seen to be
relevant for management. The interviewees highlighted
the importance of change management, as no modern
organisation is stable but changes constantly. The interview-
ees brought, supporting both individual and communal
learning, forward as one of the core management tasks.
Measuring and observing well-being at work is challeng-
ing as it relates to personal feelings and experiences.
However, the turnover of employees was seen as a rough
measure of well-being at work. The expert interviews em-
phasised that there is a need for company originated prac-
Interviewed experts brought up the importance of man-
agement culture. Management skills and management proc-
esses were seen important to be timely and in-line with
the field in question. Organisational values and rules must
be acceptable for all individuals working in the organisa-
tion. Individual values must adapt to organisation’s values
and rules, not vice versa.
3.5. External Factors
The possibilities of a single company, or a working com-
munity, influencing legislation, labour or financial mar-
kets, technology, competition, and other external factors
are fairly limited. However, the influences of external
factors were seen important to acknowledge and foresee
to a degree. The expert interviewees highlighted the need
to continuously assess external aspects that influence well-
being at work. These continuous assessments and restruc-
turings were seen as management’s core tasks. The inter-
viewees also emphasises that work needs to be well planned,
even if continuous change was present.
The interviewees pointed how the emphasis on different
factors influencing well-being at work differs according
to company size, field, and surrounding culture. For ex-
ample, construction sector and engineering work-shops
emphasise safety issues, while welfare and health sector
emphasise social interaction and group dynamics. The
values and ways of working of working life are also seen
to be different in different countries.
The interviewees raised both macro and micro issues
as external factors. The macro issues brought up included;
local and global economics, laws and regulations, and busi-
ness field and business communities. These macro aspects
influence the company directly. The raised micro issues
included; family and friends, personal human relations,
and leisure time and hobbies. The micro issues influence
the company employees, hence influencing their work.
4. Conclusions
Well-being at work benefits employees, employers and
the national economies. Current changes in the working
life cause pressures on working communities and are seen
important to be reacted upon. The aim of this research was
to come up with such a description of aspects influencing
well-being at work that would be applicable for different
types of work places, in different fields. The research was
conducted by interviewing experts in the field, currently
working as researchers, consultants and managers, both
in private and public organisations.
According to the results of this research, well-being at
work can be divided into five different themes; employee,
work, work community, management, and external fac-
tors. The results highlighted self-fulfilment as one of the
central factors influencing well-being at work. Also, the
significance of self-fulfilment was seen to be increasingly
emphasised in the near future. Changing working culture,
and related incompleteness of work, simultaneous changes
and surprising changes of direction are seen to require
working organisations to be more agile in communal learn-
ing and in managing change. Changes in working culture
are seen to emphasise the social and communication skills
of managers. In addition, the traditional measures for per-
formance are seen inadequate and that more open discus-
sion is required with employees. It was emphasised how
more reactive management is required for responding to
internal and external changes.
The results of this study can be illustrated as presented
in Figure 1. The figure highlights the influence of insta-
bility, caused by changes in the working life, on well-
being at work. The significance of each element of well-
being at work varies across business sectors, organisations
size, culture, and other factors. Managers need to react to
changes in the relations of employee, work community
and work itself, as well as changes in the external factors.
Factors that are included in work community include
organising of work, workplace rules, values, trust, work-
ing environment, and working relationships. Factors rele-
vant for work, aside normal duties, include tools and
working environment. Factors relevant for employee in-
clude professional know-how, experienced health, work
community skills, values and attitudes. The role of man-
agement is seen as guiding continuous change processes
influencing work, employees, and work community. This
External factors
Figure 1. Reactive management for well-being at work.
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. OJSST
guidance is to be done so that the positive influences of
external factors are utilised and negative ones are kept
under control. External factors include legislation, com-
petition, economic fluctuations, technology, family and
life outside work.
Managers of both private and public organisations can
utilise the results of this study when considering developing
well-being at work. Managers ought to perceive the change,
both internal and external, and consider their impact on
well-being at work, and convey changes accordingly.
Based on this research, it seems that the traditional
balanced work system framework does not adequately
acknowledge all aspects, e.g. external factors, relevant
for well-being at work.
This research is based on interviewing a limited num-
ber of experts in the field of well-being at work. In order
to obtain a wider generalisability, a higher number of
organisations and interviewees could be included. The five
aspects identified to influence well-being at work could
be analysed in more detail in future studies. Also, process-
ing the presented model into tangible tools could be an-
other topic for future work. The five identified aspects
could also be analysed quantitatively.
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Appendix. Excerpts from Interviews
The following statements are excerpts from the inter-
views. There were five different themes that were high-
lighted by the interviewees: employee, work, work com-
munity, management, and external factors. The excerpts
below have been grouped according to these five themes.
“Learning of changes relevant to one’s own work is be-
coming more important. Systematic and agile learning
system is required for this. An individual must be sup-
ported in their regeneration.”
“Realisation, trust, courage and honesty are pre-req-
uisites for individual regeneration.”
“Young employees will be more loyal to their occupa-
tion than to their working community.”
“Young people have also other things in their life
aside work and they assume that work will be flexible
based on their hopes and wishes.”
“Well-being at work is an individual feeling that pri-
marily emerges from the target of work and the sur-
rounding environment.”
“The possibility of an employee to fulfil themselves is
essential for well-being at work.”
“It is sometimes difficult for an individual to become
conscious of their own role as a member of working com-
munity. In a work place of ten people, each individual is
1/10 responsible for well-being. It is a fact that one per-
son can make the entire working community ill. Seeking
for a guilty person has destructing consequences.”
“The differences between employees’ performance are
Working Community
“Trust and reciprocity are indicators of a fit working
community, and they also have health implications.”
“Tools, that would lure employees to document and
reflect how they get on, would need to be developed.
Traditional performance indicators are too slow. New,
communal development tools are required, those that
take change into account.”
“Entire working community must be prepared to take
actions when someone gets exhausted or shows signs of
breaking under the work burden.”
“Clear guidelines should be written down at work-
places, ones that concretise the values of the working
“Lately there have been needs to define even basics
through guidelines, on issues such as dealing with emo-
tions, greeting, and good manners in general. Vital is that
the guidelines have been prepared together and that eve-
ryone is committed.”
“Interaction among people is the most important issue
for well-being at work.”
“While remote work becomes more common, the con-
cept of working community becomes more vague.”
“Positive differences create well-being at work, nega-
tive differences are destructive.”
“Experiencing success and meaningfulness at work are
the most important sources of well-being at work. If not
performing in any way, even a functional working com-
munity is unable to save the situation.”
“In some countries badly organised, monotonous, ex-
plosive, and dangerous work are no longer an issue. Now
the challenge is managing changes.”
“Structuring the work related change enables under-
standing well-being at work, or the lack of it. Incom-
pleteness gives room. There are many things that can be
done better.”
“Some people think that fun must always be present at
work, if not then quit. There are many people over 30
years of age at workplaces who have never learned to
work. These cases are visible as constant sick leaves, diag-
nosed for example as depression.”
“The main question with regards to well-being at work
is to understand the basic tasks and one’s own role in the
whole. It is important to allow developing individual
work and to see the results.”
“At the basic level of well-being, the point is to re-
cognise and manage aspects promoting health, and to re-
cognise any harmful factors.”
“Changes in the working life now are different to changes
before. Traditional change management tools are likely
not to be useful. Management focus must be shifted from
results to work process.”
“Management’s task is to act as enabler, taking care of
resources and structures.”
“Inspiring personnel is one of the most important tasks
of management; it is a lot more than motivating.”
“Management style has a crucial influence on work-
place atmosphere. It either supports or prevents open com-
munication, having a great influence on well-being.”
“Continuous dialogue, and situation analysis, among
management and personnel are pre-requisites of change
“Management, and especially the idea of man mana-
gement has, has a strong impact on well-being at work.
“There is a clear need in SMEs for good practices de-
veloped by the employees themselves.”
External Factors
“The definition of well-being at work must always be
adjusted to the context.”
“There are constant changes occurring outside working
communities that have a great influence on well-being at
“External factors influencing well-being at work in-
clude for example legislation, governmental programmes,
business cycles, employee family matters, and free time
“Progressing health, for example via reducing alcohol
and tobacco consumption, and reducing obesity, pro-
motes well-being at work and in general. There is a vast
potential for progressing health, when considering de-
veloping well-being at work.”
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