Toward a Healthier Future of Work


Will 2022 be a year that companies take steps toward creating healthier working conditions for their employees?

Certainly, the idea is getting attention as the year gets underway. Four articles published in January 2022 highlight the Work Design for Health toolkit and framework launched in September 2021 by a team of researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (Lisa Berkman, Laura Kubzansky, and Meg Lovejoy) and MIT Sloan Professor Erin L. Kelly.

In Boston Globe article in early January 2022, Kelly mentioned the toolkit as she discussed how business education is changing.  “It’s an exciting moment, because we may be ready to look at how work can be more sane and sustainable across all kinds of occupations,” Kelly told The Boston Globe.

Then, in a Fast Company article published on January 13, Kelly, who is the Sloan Distinguished Professor of Work and Organization Studies at MIT Sloan as well as Co-Director of the MIT Institute for Work and Employment Research (IWER), wrote that “to truly build a healthier future of work, employers will need to address how their own management practices contribute to employee ill health—and focus on changing those. The good news is that such changes don’t need to be costly, and often benefit the organization as well as workers.”

Kelly went on to discuss three pillars of the Work Design for Health framework and toolkit: giving workers more control over how they do their work, reining in excessive work demands, and fostering positive social relationships at work.

In a post published the same day in the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s “Culture of Health” blog, Paul Tarini, a senior program officer with that foundation, also cited and described the Work Design for Health Toolkit and pointed out the significant impact that workplaces have on employees’ health. “Workplace conditions, the stress engendered by bias and discrimination, compensation that determines whether housing, education, healthcare, and childcare are affordable, and accommodations for personal and family illness all have an outsized influence on health,” Tarini wrote. “A mix of public policies and private sector action is essential for the workplace of the future to contribute to a Culture of Health.”

Also in January, the website Staffing.com published an article by Kelly explaining research about the potential health benefits associated with hybrid work arrangements that give workers more control over where they work. This article, too, mentions the Work Design for Health toolkit and discussed its core principles.

“The pandemic has pushed many companies to adopt more flexible work policies,” Kelly concluded in the Staffing.com article. “But what was initially a necessary response to difficult circumstances has now revealed its silver lining: If implemented well, these new ways of working can be healthier and more sustainable for workers. And that’s a good outcome for the businesses that employ them too.”