Being Proactive About Work Conditions Matters

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Work conditions help determine how employees feel at work, how productive they are, and how innovative teams can be. Work conditions is a really broad way to talk about elements of the work environment that include things like job control, workload, social relationships, and having access to the right tools at work. New research looks at the impact of change in work conditions on well-being, highlighting the importance of being proactive.

Changing Work Conditions

Before we dive into how changing work conditions can impact well-being, let’s discuss what we mean by work conditions. Generally speaking, work conditions is a way to describe specific elements of the work environment that impact how well employees can do their jobs. In the research we are discussing today, the researchers look at 5 specific types of work conditions that influence employee well-being. They looked at how change in these conditions can differentially impact well-being outcomes, including depression symptoms, exhaustion, sleep, and job satisfaction.

Negative changes in work conditions lead to lower well-being for your employees!


Workload is exactly what you would expect – how much work you have to do and the pace of your work. We already know that having too high of a workload leads to negative impacts on employee well-being. But what happens when it changes? When your workload increases, well-being goes down. When your workload decreases, well-being goes up. There’s a pretty straightforward relationship here with workload and well-being. Simply, managing workload effectively is important for employee well-being!

Social Stressors

Social stressors are the negative social things that can happen at work. This includes things like being ignored, put down, or bullied at work. These types of stressors definitely have negative impacts on employee well-being. The interesting finding here is that a change in social stressors can be particularly bad. When employees see this get worse, their well-being really tanks. Unfortunately, a positive change doesn’t have the same impact. In other words, when social stressors start to decrease, employee well-being doesn’t improve as drastically.

Organizational Constraints

Organizational constraints are the lack of important resources to get work done. This can include things like not having access to the right documentation of a work process, having a broken computer, and not being able to access the right software for the job. As you can imagine, struggling with these types of issues make your job a lot harder. When your job is harder, or even impossible, your well-being is hurt. Employees will be unhappy and more exhausted when they struggle with the basics of their work. The findings on changes in organizational constraints is fairly mixed. To simplify, know that getting more constraints leads to lower well-being while reducing these constraints can help improve well-being.

Job Control

Job control refers to how much control an employee has in their work. Employees with job control are able to make more decisions at work and have control over how they do their work. We’ve talked about this concept and autonomy a lot because it is so important for well-being. Employees really do well when they feel a sense of control. Thus, a decrease in control is really negative. And, similar to social stressors, a decline is much worse than an improvement is good. In other words, when job control goes down, employee well-being drops considerably. But, when job control improves, the impact on well-being is less extreme. Well-being increases but not as much as it drops when things change for the worse.

Social aspects of work have a major impact on employee well-being.

Social Support

Finally, social support is all about the help and feelings of support you get from others at work – leaders, peers, stakeholders. Having support at work is critical for employee well-being. Similar to social stressors and job control, a decrease in social support is tied to big declines in employee well-being. When employees experience social support dropping, they are likely to struggle with exhaustion and sleep problems.

Avoiding Change and Being Proactive

Work conditions are going to fluctuate across projects, teams, and economic circumstances. Sometimes you can’t control work conditions from getting a little worse for a short period of time. Workloads might be super high for a short while when a big new project comes onboard. That’s not great but when workloads decrease again, employees’ well-being will bounce back.

For all of the work conditions we described, seeing a negative change causes well-being to go down. Interestingly, a few (social stressors, job control, and social support) have a much more dramatic impact on well-being when they get worse versus get better. In other words, it’s much harder to improve well-being when these conditions improve.

So what should leaders do? What can companies do? They need to be proactive! If leaders see any potential for those 3 areas to decline, they should do everything possible to mitigate that decline. Being proactive for social stress, job control, and social support is critical. Employees will not bounce back as quickly if those areas get worse. It’s much harder to recover from being treated poorly, having little control, or not having support at work. Let’s not be reactive and have to take a long time to fix the well-being issues caused by a negative change. Being proactive will help your employees feel good and, ultimately, be more productive!

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