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You are here: Home i Articles i Comments i Comments 2003 i Book in review: Managing Workplace Health

Book in review: Managing Workplace Health

| Text: Fredrik Winther

The EU takes the notion of the global network-society seriously and, it seems, finds a network to fit every good cause.

One of the issues of the network species is the European Network for Workplace Health Promotion. Its cause is to contribute to “A healthy, motivated and skilled workforce” and this aim is seen as “fundamental to the future social and economic well being of Europe”. 

No sober mind could disagree with that. In a globalised business world, the regulations and legislations of the national state are under pressure, and its traditional role as a guarantee for its citizens is changing.At the same time the network metaphor seems to be the policy buzzword of our time, both as a political aim and as an instrument. So what then is prescribed as this networks contribution? 

The aim of this particular Network is to discuss and analyse issues related to workplace health promotion, and to identify and distribute good examples. One of the means of accomplishing these important aims was a project called “Models of Good Practice” (MOGP). 

In short, each participating country identified some organizations that could serve as good examples for health prmotion. A total of 66 so-called MOGPs were identified.The issues derived from these examples are the themes for the book in question. As a researcher working with the development of organizations I am in the books defined “target group”. So the important question arises: Is the kind of knowledge derived from the Network useful for practice? I am afraid, with a few exceptions, the answer is no. 

Overall, the results from the MOGP coincide with Emery and Thorsruds requirements for a good work environment established in the sixties.The Authors also admit this, so what are we waiting for? The results, however, when presented as generalized examples, basically become oversimplifications that in practice are difficult to apply. The book is filled with “bullet points” from healthy organizations that we have all seen before. Points such as influence, meaningful work, and responsibility don’t give anyone practical knowledge about the necessary processes that have to be organized to achieve a healthy organization. 

It also seems to be a neverending procedure for this kind of knowledge production to falsely believe that as soon as the knowledge is established (again), the task is merely to spread the word, or sell the message. But as we know, theoretical understanding does not lead to change in practice.Almost any organization possesses or has the theoretical knowledge available, but still faces the challenge of using it. Statements such as,“our most important resource are the employees, and health is an investment for our future”, and “our human capital can be sick, depressed, enthusiastic, go crazy, fall in love, or become inspired or tired in other ways”, seem today, to be an obligatory part of any organizations value documents or principal speech. So what are we waiting for? 

We are waiting for the research community, the Network, and other relevant knowledge producers to change their methodology into a more useful one. To change perspective and be able to answer the real research question: How can we contribute to practical change? 

If so, the knowledge producers have to transcend the general knowledge trap: That we need to know more to be able to act. This trap overshadows the fact that meaningful knowledge lies within the change of action itself. So if one really wants to cope with the ambitious goals of the Network, more actionorientated methodologies are needed as part of the prescription


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