Organisational and social work environment

The Swedish Work Environment Authority’s regulations on organisational and social work environment (AFS 2015:4) aim to promote a good work environment and prevent ill health caused by organisational and social conditions in the work environment.

The organisational work environment consists of the conditions and prerequisites for work that are influenced by management and control, communication, participation, scope for action, requirements, resources and responsibility.

The social work environment refers to the terms and conditions of work that include social interaction, collaboration and social support from managers and colleagues.

Research shows that deficiencies in the organisational and social work environment increase the risk of ill health in the form of sleep disorders, cardiovascular diseases, back problems and depression. The risk of stress reactions also increases, which negatively affects employees’ concentration, memory, problem solving and decision making. This can lead to a lack of efficiency in the work performed. Shortcomings in the working environment are therefore not only negative for the individuals affected, but also for the business and society as a whole.

The Swedish Work Environment Authority’s provisions contain rules on:

  • knowledge and skills requirements for managers
  • requirements for organisational and social work environment objectives
  • unhealthy workload
  • working hours
  • workplace bullying

The provisions supplement AFS 2001:1 on systematic work environment management and regulate how systematic work environment management should be conducted within the organisational and social work environment in order to prevent ill health and accidents.

Knowledge requirements

Your employer should ensure that you, as a manager or supervisor, have knowledge about how to prevent and manage unhealthy workloads and workplace bullying in your work group.

The employer must also ensure that the conditions are in place for you to put your knowledge into practice, for example by means of:

  • clear-cut areas of responsibility
  • mandates and authority
  • resources
  • support in your role as a manager
  • a reasonable workload
  • time and opportunity to exercise your leadership
  • opportunity for recovery

In order to prevent unhealthy workloads and workplace bullying, the size of the team you are responsible for needs to be reasonable. You should be able to have a discussion with all of your co-workers as part of everyday working life.

Organisational and social work environment objectives

The objectives are to promote health in the workplace and increase the ability to prevent ill health. They can aim to improve communication, learning, leadership, collaboration, influence and participation.

The employer should give employees the opportunity to participate in the development of those objectives and also ensure that employees are aware of the objectives.

If there are ten or more employees in the business, the objectives must be documented in writing.

Examples of objectives:

  • X per cent or more of employees should feel that they have the right skills to do their job well.
  • X per cent or more should feel well as regards self-rated health.
  • All employees should have annual performance reviews and individual objectives that are monitored on an ongoing basis.
  • All new employees should undergo an induction programme.
  • All units should conduct a monthly discussion on workload.

There must also be a work environment policy that operates in accordance with the Swedish Work Environment Authority’s provisions on systematic work environment management. Objectives must be based on the policy and be consistent with it. It is important for the policy to be well established among both senior management and employees.

Unhealthy workload

Employers must ensure that employees’ duties and responsibilities do not lead to an unhealthy workload. Resources must be adapted to the demands of the work.

If there is an imbalance between demands and resources over a prolonged period of time, and there are insufficient opportunities for recovery, the workload will reach unhealthy levels. The risk of ill health is particularly high if there is not enough support from the manager or colleagues.

Demanding areas

Demanding areas are those parts of a job that require repeated effort. These may include, for example:

  • volume of work
  • degree of difficulty
  • deadlines
  • physical and social conditions

The demands may be cognitive, emotional and physical.


Resources are the conditions that contribute to achieving the objectives or managing the demands of a job, such as:

  • working methods
  • tools for work
  • skills
  • staffing
  • reasonable and clear objectives
  • feedback on work performed
  • opportunities for autonomy at work
  • social support from managers and colleagues
  • opportunity for recovery

Discovering imbalance through discussion

If you are a manager, it is important for you to be alert to signs of an unhealthy work environment. This requires you to be present in workplace operations so that you can react and take action. This may involve, for instance, reducing the amount of work, changing the order of priorities, varying the tasks, providing opportunities for recovery, applying different ways of working, increasing staffing levels or adding knowledge and skills. It is also important that the technology used is designed for and adapted to the work to be performed.

In the material available from the Prevent organisation (Swedish) you can read about Theorell’s job demands, control and support model, which provides useful guidance on how the balance between these elements affects health.

Examples of warning signs:

  • repeated short-term absences
  • high attendance despite sickness
  • concentration difficulties
  • carelessness and defective work
  • diminished efficiency
  • diminished commitment
  • negative attitude – cynicism
  • dejection and resignation
  • conflicts

Employees should be in a position to draw the employer’s attention to the imbalance between highly demanding requirements and a lack of resources.

Regular discussions with your employees will enable you to identify signs of unhealthy workloads and correct imbalances. This is the key to a healthy work environment. Create space for discussion with your employees through workplace meetings, unit meetings, performance reviews, review agreements, salary reviews, collaboration and continuous feedback as part of everyday working life.

In our checklist Work environment management in action (Swedish) we have collected concrete tips on how you can keep the discussion alive and work systematically with the work environment in your team of employees.

Clear organisational structure

A clear organisational structure with known decision paths and well-defined areas of responsibility is an important basis for a healthy work environment. The overall objectives also need to be clear and consistent with employees’ individual objectives. This creates the right conditions for a good work environment.

One of the main risks in terms of the work environment is that of unclear tasks that are also linked to results. This is why the Swedish Work Environment Authority has a provision that makes employers responsible for ensuring that employees are aware of:

  • what work tasks they are to perform
  • what results are to be achieved from doing the work
  • whether there are specific ways in which the work is to be performed and, if so, how
  • which work tasks are to be prioritised when there is insufficient time available for all work tasks that are to be performed, and
  • to whom they are to turn for help and support in order to perform their work

Moreover, the employer should ensure that employees know what powers they have in line with items 1–5.

By reviewing the five items on an ongoing basis, you can prevent imposing unnecessary demands and burdens on employees.

Stressful tasks and work situations

The employer must also have measures in place to prevent workers’ ill health caused by work situations that are highly stressful psychologically.

Examples of tasks and work situations that are highly stressful psychologically are dealing with people in difficult situations, being exposed to trauma, resolving conflicts and making tough decisions under pressure that also include ethical dilemmas.

The employer can prevent this type of work from leading to ill health by ensuring the existence of:

  • regular support from a supervisor or access to another expert in the field
  • specific information and training activities
  • help and support from other employees
  • procedures for dealing with demanding situations in dealing with clients, customers and others

The employer must also ensure that employees are in a position to draw the employer’s attention to particularly stressful working conditions.