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Job Control at Work

A key factor for human-centred work design

The job characteristic "job control" comprises the employee's possibilities to influence how they organize and perform their tasks. This is of central significance for mental health. Numerous studies have shown that too little job control is associated with several health impairments.

What is job control?

Job control incorporates degrees of freedom at work. For example, the freedom to determine how employees schedule their tasks, what approach they choose to fulfil their daily work, what work tools they use or what work-related goals they set and follow. The essential feature of job control is to have influence on how work is done and to make own decisions.

Why is job control important?

If a person is convinced that she or he is in charge or in control, and is able to manage a situation, this is a significant resource for mental health. If the opposite is the case, that is if someone has little or no possibility to determine how to tackle responsibilities and tasks, overload, stress and, in the long run, depression or anxiety can be the consequences.

These associations also apply in the working context. Job control therefore is one of the key factors in work design when it comes to mental health at work. It is therefore anchored in both international and European standards (DIN EN ISO 6385:2004, DIN EN ISO 9241-210, and DIN EN 614-2), as well as being addressed in the "Recommendations for implementing psychosocial risk assessment" (Empfehlungen zur Umsetzung der Gefährdungsbeurteilung psychischer Belastung) adopted under the umbrella of the Joint German Occupational Safety and Health Strategy (Gemeinsame Deutsche Arbeitsschutzstrategie, GDA).

What does research say?

  • Numerous national and international studies have demonstrated that low levels of job control are associated with health impairments and diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer, depression, and anxiety.
  • One frequently recommended approach to human-centred work design that is inspired by the findings discussed above involves workplace interventions to expand job control.
  • In the recent past there has been increased discussion about whether this one-size-fits-all recommendation can continue to be followed in a post-industrial society where work is evolving in new directions. For example, greater attention has to be paid to the complex interactions between the different attributes of the work employees do. At the same time the interplay between the attributes of the work, the attributes of the organisation and the attributes of the individual also need to be looked at more closely.

What are the implications for work design in organisations?

As far as work design in organisations is concerned, it currently can be noted that

  • job control should be part of every risk assessment,
  • workplace interventions to optimise job control are important and should be organized as a change process in which employee participation is essential, and
  • it is necessary to observe the impacts these interventions have on employee health.

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