Quality in Modern Nordic Working Life: Investigating Three Related Research Perspectives and Their Possible Cross-Fertilization

Stine Jacobsen, Pia Bramming, Helle Holt, Henrik Holt Larsen

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Nordic working life balance is important in the context of a highly developed welfare state, budget collaboration between the State and municipalities, and a unified labor movement. In working life studies, various research perspectives create meaning around and propose solutions for the many quality issues of modern working life. Welfare research, working environment research, and human resource management (HRM) research attack the multiple challenges of working life in different ways and share the overall objective of solving issues in modern working life. Research from the three perspectives, however, tends to compartmentalize life spheres. They conceptualize the modern working person as an individual, employee, or citizen, neglecting the complexity of lived life where all three spheres blur together, which possibly reflects the difficulty of making modern work life function well. This article is based on a structured literature review of the three main research perspectives (welfare, working environment, and HRM). We review existing international research, observing where the three perspectives show overlaps and identify 24 studies which cross-fertilize in the sense that two or more of the perspectives are applied at the same time in the same study. Our results show that while the perspectives share a common interest in solving the problems of the overlapping working life (OWL), they do so with different methods and criteria for success, and offer different solutions. We propose the concept “OWL” to analyze how working life studies create meaning around quality issues of modern working life. OWL’s main focus is the multiple challenges faced by working people who are simultaneously individuals, citizens, and employees. We arrive at two main cross-disciplinary themes: boundary and quality. The boundary theme reflects an approach to solving the issues of modern working life through improvements of the working life balance. The quality theme reflects an approach to solving issues in modern working life by addressing quality of work, preventing stress, burnout, etc. The review only finds three studies which try to encompass all three life spheres (employee, citizen, and employee), and even when the research perspectives are cross-fertilized, knowledge of possible effects of cross-fertilization is sparse. We propose further research in initiatives aiming at improving the complementing and supplementing of the three perspectives especially with regard to facilitation of families with small children, an intensified focus on inclusive workplaces, and a higher degree of correlation between HRM, working environment, and welfare policies.
Original languageEnglish
JournalNordic Journal of Working Life Studies
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)47-80
Number of pages34
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2013


  • Health
  • Working environment & wellbeing
  • Employment
  • Wages
  • Unemployment & rehabilitation
  • Work/life balance
  • Organization & management

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