How can working environment authorities intervene at workplace level to promote the well-being of employees? This issue is discussed in light of recent developments in the inspection strategies and methodologies of the Danish Working Environment Authority. Well-being at work – or the psychosocial working environment – is gaining ground as an area to be conceptualized and regulated by the authorities. New methods seeking to address this issue have been developed and sought integrated into the overall screening- and inspection programme. Authority interventions concerning the psychosocial working environment have so far received relatively scarce attention from researchers. This paper draws on insights from a literature review of research on working environment regulation, including attempts to regulate the psychosocial working environment, and on empirical research into the social processes concerning inspections at Danish workplaces. Document studies, several case-studies (based on interviews, chronicle workshops, and participant observations), and a survey has been carried out in order to understand the reception and effects of working environment authority interventions at Danish workplaces. The conducted case-studies illustrate a number of challenges for WEA in promoting an improved psychosocial working environment at inspected workplaces. The challenges relate partly to what we have labelled decision dependence – both in workplaces entangled in horizontal decision structures, and in workplaces embedded in vertical, hierarchic decision structures. Furthermore, the psychosocial working environment is per se a difficult object of intervention given the political considerations that demarcate the legitimate area of intervention by WEA, given that the area is not clearly defined and described, and that we still have limited knowledge of how effective improvement processes concerning the psychosocial working environment can actually be achieved. Some of the case-studies are examples of successful improvement processes, and here success seems to have been related to either clear management support for improvements, or a combination of the establishment of issue based working groups that cut across traditional workplace committees; to the direct involvement of employees in problem definitions and identification of solutions; and to the use of a concrete and everyday language in describing problems and solutions. Following these conclusions our analysis points to some key points for WEA strategy development and further research.
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29th International Labour Process Conference, 2011