Working hours, health, well-being and participation in working life (WOW) – Creating new working time models and solutions for Nordic countries

The characteristics of working hours are changing rapidly in all Nordic countries and becoming increasingly flexible. In addition, every fifth employee, mostly in lower socioeconomic groups, still works in shifts, with limited possibilities for individual flexibility. In general, working hours are related to large socioeconomic differences; they are socially constructed and gendered.

Working hours are related to health, the work-life balance and welfare. Being able to influence one’s working hours is associated with better subsequent health and later retirement. The timely debate on the length of weekly working hours, and the retirement age thus have an economic aspect in addition to their individual-level psychosocial and health perspectives.

In this project, we hypothesize that chronic diseases, occupational and traffic accidents, and sickness absences can be reduced by implementing good working time models and individual coping mechanisms that support recovery and a better work-life balance.

We also assume that flexible working hours, part-time work, and other individual working time solutions can support work retention among ageing workers, workers with disabilities, and those (often women) with small children or other dependents.


The overall aim of the research project Working hours, health, well-being and participation in working life (WOW) – creating new working time models and solutions for Nordic countries is to develop evidence-based models and solutions related to working hours in order to support health, well-being and work participation among employees in the Nordic countries. The project will create working time-related solutions especially for women and ageing workers, who often have challenging working hours. Among these groups, the role of work-life balance and health, which are the key determinants of well-being at work, will be studied as horizontal key concepts.


The first part of the study (WP1) will investigate the societal trends and socioeconomic differences of Nordic working hour patterns, using representative national and European data to identify policy-relevant trends and vulnerable groups for targeted interventions. The second part (WP2) will study the effects of shift work and working time autonomy, using well-established prospective cohort studies, on health and chronic diseases, work-life balance and work participation among both the general population and subgroups with impaired health to investigate whether age and gender moderate the effects of working hours on well-being. In the third part, including nine intervention and two other studies (WP3), the project will create and test both individual- and organizational-level interventions related to working hours in shift work, boundaryless expert work and safety-critical 24/7 industries to promote health, work-life balance and work participation, with a focus on women and older workers.


In the last part of the project (WP4), the evidence-based solutions, models, tools and guidelines will be carefully implemented in the Nordic countries. On the basis of the initiated co-operation between the Nordic countries, we will create a new interdisciplinary Nordic platform for working hours, health and well-being research and thus strengthen Nordic collaboration.

WOW Report: Working hours, health, wellbeing and participation in working life. Current knowledge and recommendations for health and Safety

The Key WOW Recommendations


1 June 2015 to 31 May 2021


The research project is funded by NordForsk (28 million. NOK).


The project is managed by the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Finland. Professor Mikko Härmä is the leader of the project.


Coordination team

  Position in WOWName and affliatione-mail
Mikko HärmäWOW leader, work package leader, principal investigatorMikko Härmä,
Work package leaderAnne-Helene Garde,
Göran KecklundWork package leaderGöran Kecklund, Stress Research
 Jenny Anne LieWork package leaderJenny-Anne Lie,
Kati KarhulaCoordinator, principal investigatorKati Karhula,
  Position in WOWName and affliatione-mail
Johnni HansenResearch team leaderJohnni Hansen, Danish Cancer
Åse Marie HansenResearch team leaderÅse Marie Hansen, University of
Research team leaderHenrik Kolstad, Aarhus
Principal investigatorMarie Aarrebo Jensen,
Bjørn BjorvatnPrincipal investigatorBjørn Bjorvatn, University of
Principal investigatorAnn Dyreborg Larsen,
Heli JärnefeltPrincipal investigatorHeli Järnefelt,
Constanze LeineweberPrincipal investigatorConstanze Leineweber, Stress Research
Arne LowdenPrincipal investigatorArne Lowden, Stress Research
Jouko NättiPrincipal investigatorJouko Nätti, University of
Principal investigatorAnnina Ropponen,
Christin MellnerPrincipal investigatorChristin Mellner, Stockholm
Sampsa PuttonenPrincipal investigatorSampsa Puttonen,
Principal investigatorMikael Sallinen,
Torbjörn ÅkerstedtPrincipal investigatorTorbjörn Åkerstedt, Stockholm
Principal investigatorKirsi Yli-Kaitala,