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She determines the value of job satisfaction

A poor work environment can easily become an expensive affair for employers. Malin Lohela Karlsson, economist and researcher at the Institute of Environmental Medicine, wants to find out just how expensive?

Main Lohela Karlsson. Foto Linda Forsell.You are researching the costs of having a poor work environment, especially a poor psychosocial work environment. How are you and your colleagues examining this?

“We ask employees at different work places to rate their health, their work environment and the extent to which any potential health problems or work environment issues have affected their ability to perform. This way, we hope to create a database which we can later use as a starting point. We also look at the cost of measures to improve the work environment at different work places, and what impact these measures have on occupational health. And together with researchers from the other Scandinavian countries we are trying to determine the cost of ill-health on a societal level.”

What have you found so far?

“In academic environments we examined, we found that 42 per cent of the employees had experienced problems with their work environment or health over the past week. The corresponding figure was 55 percent in the municipality we examined, and 51 percent in the county, so figures seem to be approximately at this level. People who experience these types of problems estimate that their work capacity decreases by an average of 30-40 per cent.”

Aha. That sounds like a huge loss of productivity.
“We are doing our best to validate these self-rated figures with objective figures. But it is important to know that an employee's self-rated performance level is, on average, always below 100 per cent – we don't excel every day.”

What more do we know about the cost of deficiencies in the work environment?

“It is well established that deficiencies in the work environment can lead to ill-health, but there is still not a lot of research on how this relates to the economy. This is what we are trying to find out. It is also well-known that a number of employers require financial incentives to invest in the work environment, so there is a great need to dress these issues in financial figures. “

What should employers do?

“There is no quick fix, no simple measure with a great impact. People need bosses who are on top of the psychosocial aspect.”

What is the environment like at your workplace?

“We have our challenges, just like everyone else. We work a lot with the preventative perspective and we know what a psychosocially inadequate work environment looks like, so we address problems at an early stage. A manager who has competence in these issues demands this be done, and I think we have that.”

Text: Annika Lund, first published in Swedish in the magazine Medicinsk Vetenskap, issue 4, 2015