Work ability

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[edit] Introduction

Work ability is the degree to which employees are capable of work, given their individual physical, mental and social resources on the one hand and the demands of the job on the other. Thus work ability should be understood as the interplay between personal resources such as competences, capabilities and characteristics and the demands of the task. Employee work ability is of fundamental importance for companies and organisations. It has a decisive influence on performance, productivity, innovativeness and ultimately the value created by a company.

[edit] Facts

The concept of “work ability” has undergone a paradigm shift. Initially considered in isolation from the work context, modern definitions of work ability principally refer to performance relative to the concrete demands of a job. “Thus work ability is always a pair, characterised by a person and a situation.”

Work ability is good when there is the maximum possible fit between the work offered by an employee on the one hand and the requirements of a company on the other. This fit can be supported by targeted measures and is the joint responsibility of management and workforce. In the context of demographic change, maintenance of employees’ work ability by organising work in an age- and ageing-friendly fashion is becoming increasingly important. Finnish human factors scientist Juhani Ilmarinen has shown how work ability and age mutually influence each other: work ability can decline, remain unchanged, or even improve with advancing age. Targeted measures can help maintain work ability for longer, improve it, or at least reduce its decline. Thus work ability is a resource that can be improved, even in old age.


The “work ability house”

work ability house


Ilmarinen summarises the essential factors for maintaining work ability in his “work ability house” model. In it, he names four essential factors for work ability: on the individual resources side, the most important factors are health, competence and values, in the sense of attitudes and motivation. Work demands concern work content, work organisation, working time, working environment and management/leadership. Individual, company and social aspects are closely related. The four-storey house comprises the following individual floors. All the floors should be in balance with each other:

  • The foundation of the house is health. This encompasses physical, psychological and social health. All three together are an essential prerequisite for an individual’s general effectiveness.
  • One floor up is occupational education, the professional and social competences needed to exercise a profession.
  • On the third floor are the employee’s social and moral values, including the contribution he or she wishes to bring to work.
  • Finally, on the fourth floor is work, with the work itself and the organisational and physical environment. The management of a company can have a fundamental influence on this floor.

[edit] Work

Finally, the term “work” covers all the factors that an employee must deal with in his or her workplace. These include physical factors such as light, ergonomic workplace design and physical workload, organisational factors such as work sequences and work organisation, and human aspects, for example relationships with colleagues or line managers. Management has a special role in shaping the “work” factor, because its decisions can have a direct influence on many of the aspects mentioned. It is management staff who have the authority to make rapid changes to factors and remedy grievances very quickly when they become apparent. The Work Ability Index (WAI) is a tool for measuring work ability. The measures taken to maintain and promote work ability fall under the concept of age management.

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