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Many Danish municipalities seek help to improve psychological working environments

Many Danish municipalities seek help to improve psychological working environments

| Text: Marie Preisler, photo: Tom Bagger

A newly formed group of consultants will be helping municipalities improve employees’ psychological working environments. There is great interest in getting support.

The psychological working environment is under pressure in municipalities, which include some of Denmark’s largest employers with responsibility for welfare services like nurseries, schools and care for the elderly. In recent years, municipalities have seen many changes and reforms which have been demanding on management and staff. All this challenges the psychological working environment.  

That is why the main organisations for municipal workplaces, the Danish Association of Local Government Employees Organisations (Forhandlingsfællesskabet) and Local Government Denmark (KL) have jointly established a group of consultants who will go out and provide support for leaders and workers’ representatives in municipal workplaces in order to secure a good psychological working environment. 

Both KL and Forhandlingsfællesskabet believe a good psychological working environment is a prerequisite for solving municipal welfare tasks. The setting up of the consultant group, called SPARK, was agreed during the 2015 collective bargaining process, and it has now started work. The group consists of five consultants who are now operative. The first visit to a municipality was carried out in May 2016, and other municipalities show great interest in getting the consultants’ help, says Rikke Bruun, head of the secretariat at SPARK.

“So far we have received 80 applications from municipalities which would like help from SPARK. This shows that there is both a need for our services in the municipalities and a demand for what our consultants can offer,” says Rikke Bruun.

Empowering the trio

SPARK is made up of five consultants who are all experienced facilitators in processes dealing with psychological working environments. Their job is defined by the social partners: to provide knowledge and tools for management, working environment representatives and workers’ representatives – known as the trio – which will allow them to move forward with following up the workplaces’ psychological working environments. 

A workplace trio can be given one or several sparring sessions together with a SPARK consultant. Using their own situation, they will explore how they can work with employees in order to improve the psychological working environment. The SPARK consultant does not meet the employees’ group.

“We empower the trio to act in relation to the psychological working environment, allowing it to bring about a better psychological working environment in their workplace in the long term. Hopefully this initiative will also make all workplaces focus more on the psychological working environment – not just the ones the SPARK consultants work with,” says Rikke Bruun.

Municipalities can seek help from SPARK for four fairly broad categories of challenges related to the psychological working environment:

  • Uncertainty and insecurity resulting from changes and transitions.
  • Problems in cooperation between employees and/or leaders in the workplace, including conflicts and in extreme cases harassment and bullying.
  • Risk of violence and threat from citizens, users or tenants.
  • Problems in relation to the content, size or execution of work

Sudden changes

So far SPARK has received applications in all four categories, but most want help to handle changes. This does not come as a surprise to Rikke Bruun.

“Many municipalities have a tight economy and must make further cuts while developing and redefining many municipal services. That has an impact on both municipal employees’ working tasks and the psychological working environment. As a result, many of the municipal workplaces seek help to handle sudden processes of change without damaging the psychological working environment.”

SPARK is the Danish acronym for ‘Cooperation for Psychological Working environments in the Municipalities - the parties’ support for local dialogue and action’. SPARK consultants are expected to visit 250 to 300 municipal workplaces a year. So far a budget has been provided until 2018, and the system will be evaluated in 2017. After that, KL and Forhandlingsfællesskabet will decide whether it will continue.

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From left: Ole Henning Sørensen, Mille Trøst Simonsen, Louise Worm and Rikke Bruun in SPARK


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