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The health effects of major organisational changes
  1. Jussi Vahtera1,2,
  2. Marianna Virtanen2
  1. 1Department of Public Health, University of Turku and Turku University Hospital, Turku, Finland
  2. 2Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Helsinki, Finland
  1. Correspondence to Professor Jussi Vahtera, Department of Public Health, University of Turku, Lemminkäisenkatu 1, Turku FI-20520, Finland; jussi.vahtera{at}

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Driven by alterations in national and global economies, international competition and the rapid pace of technological change, personnel downsizing, company mergers, expansions, privatisation and restructuring have become important and on-going characteristics of modern working life. Regardless of whether organisational change is an effective business strategy resulting in better corporate performance, there is growing concern about the potential deleterious consequences of organisational changes on employee health.1 ,2 In line with this concern, a large body of observational studies suggests that perceived stressful work conditions, such as high demands in combination with low control over work, are associated with poor health and early exit from the labour market.3–5 Quinlan and Bohle found 86 studies for their review showing an association between major organisational changes and occupational health and safety (OHS) outcomes undertaken over the past 20 years.1 Of these studies, 85% found adverse OHS outcomes, 8% found mixed effects, 6% found no effect, and only one study (1%) found a positive effect. However, a recent systematic review analysing the association between organisational changes and mental health outcomes found only 17 relevant studies.6 An association between exposure to changes and decreased mental health was found in 11 studies, with a weaker association in longitudinal studies than in cross-sectional studies.

Recent systematic reviews and observational research have focused on intervention studies. Findings from observational studies strongly suggest the benefits of organisational-level participation and task-restructuring interventions for workplace reorganisation to decrease job demands and increase control by giving employees the opportunity to participate in decision-making. However, intervention studies showed only weak evidence for …

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  • Contributors JV and MV planned the content of the editorial and wrote the text.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

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