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Development and piloting of training tools for middle managers and employee representatives to support successful restructuring

Project number: F 2340 Institution: Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (BAuA) Status: Completed Project

Description:

Restructuring measures - defined as major change processes that affect companies' organisational structures and processes - happen in most companies and are being carried out at ever shorter intervals. It is consequently vital to companies' success and often their continued existence for them to cope successfully with the demands of change. The background to this situation is the increased pressure from the markets and of competition in a globalised economy. Apart from opening up opportunities to put in place better, more productive processes, however, restructuring also provokes resistance and causes losses due to organisational friction. The volume and intensity of the work to be done frequently increase during these phases - and with them the strains to which employees are subjected. The uncertainties associated with restructuring and the new working conditions that are created frequently entail changes in attitudes to work, greater stress and health problems among employees.

Alongside a company's executive management, the key actors in the implementation of reorganisation measures are leaders and employee representatives. On the one hand, it is their job to drive ahead change processes and make a success of them; on the other hand, they are also responsible for ensuring employees are not placed under excessive strain. There is, however, a lack of further training in the workplace that prepares these individuals for this important task.

Project F 2340 was intended to help close this gap: a training module for leaders and works council members was developed, piloted and evaluated as a means of supporting restructuring measures.

A two-day workplace training course was developed on the basis of a qualitative needs analysis, run as a pilot for a partner company that was going through restructuring itself and accompanied with an extensive evaluation process. The evaluation looked at the benefits to participants, the continuing implementation process and in particular the indirect effects the content had on the health of the participants themselves and the staff in their organisational units. The course and the content it covered were assessed very positively in the evaluation. As so often with workplace interventions, though, there was friction during the subsequent process that undermined the sustainability of the course’s impact. Nevertheless, it was possible for slight improvements to be detected thanks to the course's indirect effects on workers' health and well-being.

The results of the summative evaluation and further analyses based on the project data were consistent with other findings from the literature, as well as the "Mental health in the working world" project. It was shown that operational-level managers alone are not in a position to positively influence employees’ health and well-being. Rather, this requires concerted efforts at all levels of an organisation, especially the strategic level. The conclusions that have been reached and the recommendations derived from them take account of this insight. The strategic approach to the issue pursued by the Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (Bundesanstalt für Arbeitsschutz und Arbeitsmedizin, BAuA) in future and relevant follow-up projects will also be informed by the need to bear all organisational levels in mind.

The main features of the project were as follows:

  • It saw the creation of a health-related training course for (shop floor) leaders and works council members engaged in organisational change processes (the course's focus on health issues differentiated it from conventional training for middle managers).
  • A systematic approach was taken, involving an extensive needs analysis and consideration of the literature on health impacts during restructuring measures and the "Mental health in the working world" project.
  • The project was also concerned with workplace interventions and therefore touched upon another of BAuA's important strategic concerns (point 4.4 of its current Work and Research Programme [Arbeits- und Forschungsprogramm]). Recent findings from research into workplace interventions were incorporated into the project design (see section 1.4 of the project report).
  • Extensive evaluation activities were undertaken. As well as looking at participant satisfaction, the benefits to participants, the further implementation process and the course concept’s assessment by experts in the field, they included a summative evaluation of the course's effectiveness in improving well-being and health.

The following interesting aspects of the project confirmed and complemented the results from previous projects (HIRES, HIRES public, RENEWALS, F 2305, F 2353) about possible ways of influencing managers’ approach to employee well-being and health in change situations. The references in brackets refer to the relevant sections of the project report:

  • The formative and summative evaluations reached positive results: the course content was important and meaningful (see section 3), good learning methods were used, there were high levels of participant satisfaction, and evidence was found of positive effects on well-being and health.
  • The process evaluation identified sustainability as a problem on account of poor ongoing organisational communication, further restructuring measures and the diffusion of responsibility.
  • The results of the "Mental health in the working world" project (F 2353) on the necessity of multi-level analyses and the significance of both middle management AND senior executives were substantiated (see the sections on the summative evaluation and sections 5.2 and 5.3):

    • Leaders are able to offer resources and have a positive impact on the relationship between employees’ experiences of change and their well-being/health.
    • By contrast, they can only have a very limited impact on the stress situation (workload, pressure, responsibility and uncertainty). The crucial decisions that affect these issues are taken at the strategic level.
  • Research into workplace interventions has to reflect critically on their implementation phases and the sustainability of the measures taken. This also means addressing the question of how such research is to be meaningfully distinguished from consulting processes, which cannot and are not supposed to be provided by research institutions (see sections 4.1.3 and 6.1.2.). Furthermore, "disruption" within an organisation (due to new restructuring measures, the diffusion of responsibility or poor organisational communication structures) can only be influenced to a very limited extent. It is a variable that is always very difficult to control when the effectiveness of interventions is investigated.

Contact

Unit 1.3 "Structural Change and Work Organisation"

Phone: +49 231 9071-1971 Fax: +49 231 9071-2070

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