Introduction: Perspectives on Organizational Health
Abstract and Keywords
The success of an organization is invariably judged on the basis of its financial performance and its ability to provide high-quality goods and services over time. In a changing internal and external environment, the financial health of an organization is increasingly dependent on the extent to which an organization and its members are able to transform and adapt to these changing circumstances more effectively than their competitors. Physical health and well-being are determined by a range of social, psychological, and biological factors and are conceptualized as resources that allow people to lead individually, socially, and economically productive lives. The aim of this book, in focusing on organizational well-being, in its widest sense, is to review the factors which are associated with ill-health as well as those which promote positive health and well-being.
The success of an organization is invariably judged on the basis of its financial performance and its ability to provide high‐quality goods and services over time. In a changing internal and external environment, the financial health of an organization is increasingly dependent on the extent to which an organization and its members are able to transform and adapt to these changing circumstances more effectively than their competitors.
Physical health and well‐being is determined by a range of social, psychological, and biological factors and is conceptualized as a resource that allows people to lead individually, socially, and economically productive lives (MacIntosh, MacLean, and Burns 2007). As such, the World Health Organization identifies health as a key driver of socio‐economic progress internationally (Houtman and Jettinghoff 2007) and in doing so highlights the link between the health of individual workers and the overall performance of an organization. Decades of research evidence has reinforced the major role that work plays in determining physical health and psychological well‐being. According to the UK Labour Force Survey (2007) in 2005/6 an estimated 2 million people suffered from ill‐health which they (p. 2) thought was work related. Evidence from Europe, North America, and Australia also confirms that high and rising costs of sickness absence due to work‐related ill‐health, particularly workplace stress, are a problem internationally (Houtman and Jettinghoff 2007).
Traditionally, the definition of health has been negatively conceptualized as the absence of disease, illness, and sickness. Consequently, the measurement of health status has taken health as a baseline and measured deviations from this as ill‐health (Bowling 1997), rather than adopting a broader, more aspirational, and positive concept of health as reflecting “a state of complete physical, mental and social well‐being” (WHO 1958). According to Quick, Macik‐Frey, and Cooper (2007), the attributes of health individuals extend beyond the disease‐based model and are characterized by a sense of purpose, positive self‐regard, and quality relationships with others.
Organizations have a broad duty in law to ensure that employees are not at risk of injury or made ill by their work which is reflected in the growth in Health and Safety legislation across the industrialized countries. Increasingly, organizations are being encouraged to regularly assess the physical and psychosocial hazards that present a potential risk to employee health and to take steps to ensure that individuals are not injured or made ill by their work. However, in adopting a wider more encompassing concept of health, there is much that organizations can do to enhance the meaning of work and improve the well‐being of their employees.
The aim of this volume, in focusing on organizational well‐being, in its widest sense, is to review the factors which are associated with ill‐health as well as those which promote positive health and well‐being. The contributors, from eight industrialized countries, are recognized international scholars in their field. The twenty‐two chapters are organized into six parts.
Part I addresses the issues of absenteeism and presenteeism (Johns) and health and safety (Clarke). Chapters 2 and 3 are concerned with the costs and the traditional indicators of organizational ill‐health.
Part II focuses on the models, measures, and methodologies for assessing well‐being. Chapter 4 presents and reviews developments in the “Vitamin” model which highlights the importance of the absence or presence of certain environmental features to happiness and well‐being (Warr). This is followed by Chapter 5 which discusses the concept of employee burnout and its measurement (Maslach, Leiter, and Schaufeli). Chapter 6 considers the contribution of the job control/reward model in influencing well‐being (Siegrist). The final chapter in this part (Johnson) presents a contemporary and generic measurement tool for assessing workplace health risks.
Individual well‐being is the outcome of a complex interaction between personal variables, job characteristics, and wider organizational factors. Hence the structure of the following parts reflects the contribution of these factors.
The focus of Part III is on the individual factors associated with well‐being. This section includes chapters addressing a range of issues such as leadership (Robertson and Flint‐Taylor), work–life balance (Poelmans, Odle‐Dusseau, and Behan), positive emotions (Quick, Little, and Nelson), the way in which individuals cope with stress (O'Driscoll, Brough, and Kalliath) and the risks and rewards to individuals who are excessively driven in terms of their behaviors and attitudes towards work (Burke and Fiksenbaum).
Part IV discusses the link between a range of job/organizational factors and well‐being. Chapter 13 reviews the evidence relating to working hours and working patterns on both physical and psychological health (Kirkcaldy, Furnham, and Shephard). Whereas, this issue has been a traditional focus of health research, the following chapter (Holman, Martinez‐Iñigo, and Totterdell) addresses the more recent and emergent issue of emotional labor, a work demand that has become a growing feature of service sector jobs. The link between technology and health is comprehensively reviewed in Chapter 15 (Coovert, Gray, Stilson, and Prewett). The subsequent chapter tackles the important subject of job insecurity and unemployment and its effects on well‐being (Probst). Finally, the part closes with a chapter on the positive role of employee engagement on job satisfaction, health, and retention (Callan and Lawrence).
Having reviewed a range of salient factors associated with well‐being, the contributions within Part V consider the implications for practice and the way in which organizations can intervene to promote health and well‐being. In Chapter 18, the authors review the effectiveness of organizational interventions to prevent organizational stress (Biron, Cooper, and Bond). This is followed by Chapter 19, which discusses the practical challenges and difficulties in introducing and evaluating such types of intervention (Noblet and LaMontagne). Chapter 20 focuses on the extent to which personal development activities, such as mentoring and coaching, can enhance well‐being, individual performance, and lead to positive organizational outcomes.
The final part of the book, Part VI, contains two chapters which reflect new perspectives. The first provides an interesting argument, drawing on empirical data, that well‐being is linked to geography and climate (Van de Vliert). Whereas the second, and closing chapter emphasizes the importance of corporate social responsibility in creating a sustainable and healthy work environment.
In compiling this volume we are extremely grateful to our contributors for the scholarly quality and diversity of the chapters they have produced. Our thanks also extend to the practical help and support provided by Cath Hearne at MBS and Gerry Wood at Lancaster as well as the editorial team at OUP.
Good health is arguably the most valuable of personal assets. Hopefully, this book has highlighted that a healthy and positively engaged workforce is also a valuable organizational asset.
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Labor Force Survey (2007). Available at <http://www.statistics.gov.uk>.
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