The holistic work ability model developed by the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health in Helsinki is primarily based on several studies and development projects conducted in the 1990s on occupational well-being in different industrial sectors and among different age groups.
The holistic image of work ability consists of both the resources of the individual and factors related to work and working and the environment outside of work (Ilmarinen and Tuomi 2004; Ilmarinen 2006). The dimensions of work ability can be depicted in the form of a work ability house, its floors, and the surrounding environment.
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In the core structure of work ability, the resources of the individual form the first three floors. The first floor of the work ability house
is comprised of human resources such as health and physical, mental, and social functioning. The sounder the foundation, the stronger work ability will be throughout a person’s work life.
The second floor of the house
is constructed from knowledge and skill and their continual updating through, for example, life-long learning.
The third floor
depicts the inner values and attitudes of persons as well as factors that motivate them in the work life. Attitudes and values are close to the work (fourth) floor. Experiences from work first affect workers’ values and attitudes. Good experiences strengthen positive values and attitudes towards work, and bad ones weaken them.
The fourth floor
(i.e., work and all of its dimensions) is the largest and heaviest floor of the work ability house. It actually sets the standards for the other floors. If the resources of the individual are in balance with this floor, work ability will remain good. If workers’ resources are not in proportion with the size or functionality of the work floor, work ability will deteriorate.
Managers can play a key role in influencing this balance by developing and organizing the fourth floor according to the prerequisites of the workers. The importance of managers in supporting individual workers’ work ability has been shown in longitudinal studies (Tuomi 1997).
In the immediate surroundings of the work ability house
are the organizations that support work (e.g., occupational health care and safety), as well as the family and the close community (relatives, friends, acquaintances), for example. The outermost layer is society, whose infrastructure and social, health, and occupational policies and services form the macro environment of work ability.
The core structures of work ability change considerably during a person’s career. Ageing changes workers’ resources and work life is changed, for example, by the introduction of new technologies and the influence of the global economy. From the point of view of preserving work ability, it is vital to strive for a healthy and safe balance between work and human resources.
The core structures of work ability are, however, in constant interaction during which positive and negative processes influence the level of work ability. Therefore, nurturing work ability requires simultaneous knowledge of many processes. The diversity of work ability and the limited possibilities for people to control their work ability call for the active support of occupational health care and safety.
The need for health and work ability services grows along with ageing, and the role of supportive organizations in the workplace becomes more important as the workforce grows older. The family and immediate community can also support the work ability of the individual. Reconciliation between family life and work is essential for work ability.
At the society level, the labour market parties create the rules for working. Work, health, and educational policies play their part in creating significant prerequisites for work ability, but they also create challenges for it by, for example, demanding a higher employment rate.
Gould R, Ilmarinen J, Järvisalo J, Koskinen S (editors). Dimensions of Work Ability, Finnish Centre for Pensions, Helsinki 2008.
Tuomi K, Ilmarinen J, Jahkola A, Katajarinne L, Tulkki A. Work Ability Index. 2nd revised edn. Helsinki: Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, 1998.