Occupational health

Country and Regional Issues

Implicit strategies to improve workers’ health: Good practices from the Netherlands

Professor Dr Gerard I.J.M. Zwetsloot PhD (corresponding author) Senior researcher and consultant, TNO Quality of Life – Work & Employment Special professor University of Nottingham, Institute of work Health and Organisations E-mail: gerard.zwetsloot@tno.nl

Arjella R van Scheppingen MSc Researcher and consultant, TNO Quality of Life – Work & Employment PhD researcher at VU University Amsterdam E-mail: arjella.vanscheppingen@tno.nl

There are many examples in which significant improvements in health and well-being have been created by activities that were not originally intended to improve health. Examples include the purification of drinking water and improvements in education and housing. These examples illustrate that improvements in health and well-being can be generated as by-products of activities undertaken by agents other than healthcare institutions or health experts. For this reason, more relevant strategies and interventions to promote health and well-being at work exist than are usually considered.

Employers, with their prime interest in good business, are obviously key factors for workers’ health. For them, the healthy workforce is often of secondary importance. For experts promoting workers’ health, safety and well-being at work, these priorities are reversed. When these differing interests are not well-understood by OH experts, the potential of implicit strategies to improve workers’ health will remain unused.

Two examples from companies in the Netherlands illustrate the potential to improve workers’ health through implicit strategies.

The engineering firm Siemens Netherlands sees organisational development as a major factor in its efforts to achieve better health for the organisation and its people. The company strives to cultivate good business and a healthy and employable workforce by creating a positive organisational identity, while improving the company’s status in society, its capacity for innovation and the employability of the people, and becoming an employer of choice.

The provincial organisation Overijssel sees organisational development as crucial to organisational excellence and as the key to achieving better health for the organisation and its people. Its vision statement, known as ‘the vital coalition’ (2006), encompasses the excellence and health status of the organisation as a whole, its departments and all of its employees.

The case studies demonstrate considerable potential for fostering workers’ health and well-being through implicit strategies and activities. A company’s mission and vision form the basis for the strategic embedding of organisational policies to create a healthy and vital workforce as an organisational goal. The examples demonstrate the potential of strategies that focus on developing leadership and creating an organisational culture and practice in which people are valued and in which learning and innovation are stimulated.

The main challenges identified are as follows:

  • To conduct a more systematic exploration of implicit strategies to foster workers’ health and well-being
  • To become more systematic in triggering ‘parallel interests’ for creating or strengthening management and organisational commitment for health and well-being at work
  • To help companies develop an optimal mix of implicit and explicit strategies for health and well-being


  • Zwetsloot G.I.J.M., A. R. van Scheppingen, A. Dijkman, J. Heinrich, H. den Besten, The organizational benefits of investing in workplace health, Int. J of Workplace Health Management 2010 143-159.
  • Zwetsloot G.I.J.M. & A.S. van Scheppingen (in press), Implicit Strategies to Improve Work and Well-being: The Social Dimensions of Organisational Excellence. Proceedings of the International Conference, 10-12 February 2010, Helsinki, Finland. Towards better work and well-being.