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"The Nordic Model": historical background, operationalization of the concept and its potential significance in the development of sustainable production systems - A literature study

Work life is subject to continuous changes, interventions to reduce work-related absenteeism and production system rationalizations to enhance productivity. A systematic review (Westgaard & Winkel 2011) showed it is difficult to demonstrate long-term positive effects of ergonomic interventions while rationalizations had a predominant negative effect on workers’ health. Thus, there appears to be an inherent conflict between the two types of workplace interventions. A key research issue is therefore to investigate potential contextual opportunities allowing for amalgamation of ergonomic workplace interventions and rationalizations into the same strategy; i.e. interventions increasing the organizational sustainability defined as “the joint consideration of competitive performance and working conditions in a long term perspective”.

A potential problem is that the different categories of interventions are “owned” by different stakeholders, workers’ representatives and safety personnel vs. executive officers and rationalization engineers. It is our worldwide experience that communication across these borders is poor to non-existent, notably in the US, where employers often oppose efforts to better work in conjunction with the rationalization of production systems. At EU meetings in Brussels, we have registered the corresponding strong conflicts between "Business Europe" and the European Trade Union Confederation. The lowering of conflicts across organizational borders seems essential to achieve better integration of environmental factors in the development of production systems, whereby organizational sustainability can be achieved.

The paper by Westgaard & Winkel (2011) argues, based on a comprehensive literature review, that communication across borders in the organizations represents established management insight in some organizations towards increased organizational sustainability. This insight has only led to marginal increase in sustainability of few production systems.

We believe the Nordic countries have unique preconditions to make significant contributions along this line. “The Nordic Model” has regulated industrial relations in our part of the world (Guðmundsson 1993). It has evolved gradually over a period of over hundred years in the light of our special historical circumstances. The Nordic model has been the subject of extensive discussions and studies supported by the Nordic Council of Ministers (Schiller et al 1993, Fleming et al 1998, Fleming and Thörnqvist 2003). The broader concept of "The Nordic model" is somewhat more difficult to define (Schiller et al 1993), but includes "gentlemen's agreement" and trust between the parties. This is probably reflected in the selection and way of implementation of management strategies in the Nordic countries (Schramm-Nielsen et al 2004). There is a large degree of "social capital" in the Nordic countries. This includes three cornerstones: teamwork, trust and justice. Recent studies show that Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland occupy leading positions 1-4 in the world regarding social capital (Tinggaard Svendsen & Lind Haase Svendsen 2006) and this may have played a key role in the impressive economic growth in these countries (Olesen et al 2008).

On this background, we established in 2007, supported by the Nordic Council of Ministers, a Nordic research network, the NOVO Network. The vision is a “Nordic Model for sustainable systems in health care”. As part of this work we now focus on the possible significance of the "Nordic model" and how this can be further investigated to facilitate future interventions for increased organizational sustainability. Some questions:

  • How is the Nordic model explained historically?
  • Can the "Nordic model" be operationalized?
  • Is the Nordic model challenged by globalization?
  • Can the Nordic model be investigated, e.g. through case studies?
  • Can / should the Nordic model be further investigated in order to promote the intervention processes to increase organizational sustainability? (thus supporting our vision: “a Nordic intervention model for sustainable production systems”)

Project duration

A first scientific reporting at the 11th NOVO Symposium 9-10 November 2017 in Gothenburg.

External funding

No external funding


Jörgen Winkel Department of Sociology and Work Science

Other participants

Bernt Schiller, Department of Sociology and Work Science
Lotta Dellve, Department of Sociology and Work Science
Kasper Edwards, Department of Management Engineering, Technical University of Denmark
Rolf Westgaard, Div. Industrial Economics & Technology Management, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway

Page Manager: Anders Östebo|Last update: 10/25/2017

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Utskriftsdatum: 2020-07-06