Unique study lays foundation for reduced sickness absence

Like many other municipalities, Sundsvall Municipality has grappled with the challenge of rising rates of sickness among staff. A unique work environment survey, focused on sustainability, highlights the problem from a broader perspective, and is now set to help the municipality to discern the trend and work out how to change it.

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Sickness abscence currently costs the municipality around 300 millon swedish kronor annually, and has an impact on many aspects of its activities. Under the cooperation agreement between Sundsvall Municipality and Mid Sweden University, a preliminary study has been carried out, based on an online work environment questionnaire. Developed and piloted in three of the municipality’s business sectors, the survey addresses a broader range of issues than those usually featured in similar surveys, and includes questions on business administration as well as political governance. With just over 400 respondents, the survey seeks to shift the focus of the problem from individuals to the organisation itself, as well as work environmental structures. “The survey provides an outline of operations from both a staff and management perspective, and enables comparisons between different units,” explains Edith Andresen, Project Manager and Senior Lecturer in Business Administration at the Department of Business, Economics and Law and the Centre for Research on Economic Relations (CER).

Developing new methods

The interdisciplinary project involves collaboration between researchers at CER, the Forum for Gender Studies (FGV) and the Risk and Crisis Research Centre (RCR). “This enables us to pool different perspectives and create a sound platform from which to study and analyse areas we would not look at otherwise,” explains Malin Bolin, Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the Department of Social Sciences (SHV) and FGV. “Our idea is to take a new approach, which can be perceived as both complex and far-reaching. It’s a difficult survey to complete, with several questions, but the results reveal a great deal about the organisation regarding both management and employeeship,” explains Andresen. Among other things, the analysis of the survey indicates these work environmental factors which are more beneficial to health than others. The results, which suggest that it is possible to cut sickness absence by means of organisational measures, will form the basis for further studies and development of effective methods for targeted measures in workplaces.

A further study, “Communication for sustainable organisations”, by Professor Catrin Johansson and Doctoral Student Christina Grandien at the Department of Media and Communication Science (MKV), and the Demicom research centre, is already under way. It aims to establish a range of communication factors which influence the extent of an organisation’s sustainability. “The research is fresh, unique, and will lead to proposals for implementing practical improvements in many organisations,” claims Catrin Johansson.

Text: Johanna Stenius