The FairHealth project bridges and addresses two public health concerns:
- although psychosocial risks are of concern to a majority of companies, fewer than one-third of establishments have procedures in place to deal with such risks;
- MSDs are not sufficiently prioritized when deciding upon health and work priorities at the national level.
Thanks to its findings and diffusion, we hope FairHealth will bring about a change in attitude from decision-makers at all levels.
By combining theoretical knowledge and empirical evidence from several relevant disciplinary fields, the FairHealth project aims to develop an original and innovative understanding of the mechanisms through which justice perceptions are associated with MSDs. We expect our findings to have a significant scientific impact on an international scale, reinforcing the French research’s international position and taking on an important scientific challenge. We also expect significant social and economic impacts.
From a national perspective, it is essential to note that research efforts on this subject have been scarce in France. In particular, the French research effort directed into MSDs has been disproportionately weak compared to its societal importance. It is also weak compared to research funding in other countries such as the US, the Netherlands, or the UK.
The FairHealth project will reinforce French research’s international position and take on a significant scientific challenge.
MSDs are a major cause of suffering, disability, and social exclusion among working-age adults. MSDs then constituted 38% of total occupational diseases (European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, 2010). MSDs account for a higher proportion of sickness absence from work than any other health condition. It is estimated that up to 2 percent of gross domestic product is accounted for by the direct costs of MSDs each year. MSDs are the most significant cause of total lost workdays in the United States as in most other OECD countries (Nelson et al., 2005; OECD, 2010). MSDs are also a matter of growing concern in developing countries as urbanization and rapid industrialization continue (e.g., Louw et al., 2007).
In sum, MSDs have high costs to employees and their families, employers, and the broader economy. This research proposal arises in an economical context where the interest of having managerial models that help reconcile employee well-being and organizational performance has been underlined in many countries. For example, an agreement was signed by social partners in France on the quality of working life and professional equality (National Interprofessional Agreement of 19 June 2013). This agreement sets the objective of reconciling well-being at work with overall company performance. More generally, the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (2015) has recently highlighted an urgent need for new thinking on how European and national policy can help to shape more productive and healthier workplaces through workplace innovation. Health and well-being is also a vital aspect of the Europe 2020 strategy for economic growth. Raising awareness, introducing measures, and conducting research into protecting physical health are some of the activities in various Member States reported by the Eurofound network of European correspondents (Aumayr-Pintar et al., 2016). As with physical risks, psychosocial risks – such as injustice at work – are increasingly being recognized as a cause of poor health and absenteeism.
This project also arises in a societal context where questions of fairness are becoming more central and complex as we consider the future of work and employment-related trends (Dubet et al., 2006; Janta et al., 2015; Sparrow et al., 2013). Information and communication technologies provide increasing transparency around what happens inside organizations. Moreover, the very nature of the relationship between contemporary employees and their organizations is changing as modern employees face different risks than those experienced by employees in the “old economy” and develop different expectations. Contemporary employees make justice judgments at work not just as employees but also as consumers, parents, and citizens. These issues may have increased employees’ sensitivity to organizational justice matters. In sum, we believe that the socio-economic background described above makes the FairHealth project timely and relevant, as it can both inform contemporary debates and public policy.