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Unclear and conflicting demands at work

WEA Guideline no 4.11.1 on unclear and conflicting demands at work.

1. About the guidelines

1.1. What do the guidelines contain?

These WEA Guidelines describe the most important work duties you have as an employer to prevent unclear or conflicting demands at work, and what you can do to fulfil these duties.

You can take different approaches to prevention from those described in these guidelines, as long as you ensure that the work is planned, organised and carried out in a way that is fully compliant with health and safety in regard to unclear and conflicting requirements of work.

1.2. Who are the guidelines relevant for?

The target group for these guidelines is primarily employers, supervisors, the occupational health and safety organisation (HSO), and other employees who work with occupational health and safety in the company. Within the company, the employer is the primary target group because it is the employer who is legally obliged to ensure that the work is fully compliant with health and safety.

Unclear and conflicting demands at work can occur in all companies and in all industries. Therefore, these guidelines are relevant for companies in all industries.

All employees in the company are covered by the rules on unclear and conflicting demands at work, regardless of the nature and duration of the employment relationship. The rules also apply to project employees, temporary workers, trainees, and others more loosely connected with the company.

Note that supervisors are also included in the term "employees". Supervisors have a dual role. They manage and supervise work on behalf of the employer, and are also employees themselves.

1.3. The guidelines' approach to prevention

The guidelines are based on the principles that underlie all work to prevent health and safety issues.

a) Duties and roles of employers, supervisors and other employees

As an employer, you have overall responsibility by law for ensuring that the work is compliant with health and safety.

The Danish Working Environment Authority's guidelines describe what that duty entails for you as an employer in a specific area.

Supervisors and other employees also have a number of duties and roles. These are general duties and tasks and are therefore not described in the guidelines, but you can read more about them at at.dk/pligter.

b) Collaboration on health and safety

It is a requirement of health and safety legislation that you, as an employer, collaborate with your supervisors and other employees on health and safety work and the prevention of health and safety problems. If there are 10 or more employees in the company, the collaboration must take place in a HSO. Be aware of the rules for which employees are included, and that there are exceptions to the 10-employee rule. In some companies, collaboration on occupational health and safety is integrated into other forums, e.g., in municipalities and regions, where takes place in the MED system.

The HSO has a number of tasks to do in the health and safety work. Read more about the HSO's tasks at at.dk/amo.

c) The principles of prevention

The prevention of unclear and conflicting demands at work must take the statutory principles of prevention into account. The purpose of the principles of prevention is to ensure that the prevention is effective.

According to the principles of prevention, you, as an employer, must avoid unclear and conflicting demands at work as far as possible, which may involve a risk to the safety or health of employees. Where there are unclear or conflicting requirements, you must identify and assess them, and prevent risks to the health and safety of employees. The prevention must be targeted at the conditions of the work that are the cause of unclear and conflicting demands at work. The causes can give an idea of what actions are needed, and where in the company they should be implemented. Prevention must also protect all employees from the risk, not just individual employees.

Find the principles of prevention in Appendix 1 to the Executive Order on Psychosocial Working Environment at at.dk/forebyggelsesprincipper. 

d) Prevention is an ongoing process

As an employer, it is necessary that you continuously identify any unclear and conflicting demands in the company, because you have a duty to ensure that the work is compliant with health and safety at all times. If there are unclear and conflicting demands at work, you must assess whether the risk to the health and safety of employees is effectively prevented and, if necessary, implement effective preventive measures. Finally, as an employer, you must ensure that effective supervision is conducted on an ongoing basis, to ensure that the work is carried out safely and that the measures taken are effective, see Figure 1.

In your prevention work, you can follow the processes used in the work with the statutory workplace assessment (WPA). Read more at at.dk/apv.

Figure 1 - Identify unclear and conflicting demands - Assess the risk to employees’ health and safety - Prevent the risk to employees’ health and safety - Effectively supervise the performance of work
Figure 1 - Identify unclear and conflicting demands - Assess the risk to employees’ health and safety - Prevent the risk to employees’ health and safety - Effectively supervise the performance of work.

Most important clauses

Executive Order on Collaboration on Health and Safety, Sec. 2

Executive Order on Psychosocial Working Environment, Sec. 6, and Appendix 1

Executive Order on Peformance of Work, Sec. 6 a - c

2. Definition, consequences and the duty to ensure that work is safe

2.1. What are unclear and conflicting demands at work?

The Executive Order on the Psychosocial Working Environment defines unclear and conflicting demands as demands at work that are unclear or incompatible. These may be, for example, requirements for work tasks, quality level, work function, areas of responsibility, working methods, working processes, distribution of roles, time consumption, pace of work, or working hours.

Thus there are many aspects of the work that can be unclear or contradictory. Unclear and conflicting demands therefore also occur in many different types of work and to varying degrees.

Unclear and conflicting demands can relate to conditions of work that can be clarified but have not. In these situations, it may be unclear, for example, which work tasks employees must carry out, and how. Unclear and conflicting demands can also be due to the nature of the work itself. Unclear demands at work may arise, for example, where the tasks change from day to day, or where demands and expectations are complex. They could also relate to work where new products or processes are developed. In regard to conflicting demands, these could be demands at work where employees have to take the interests and expectations of different people into account, e.g. management, colleagues, citizens, relatives, customers, and business partners.

Other terms for unclear and conflicting demands at work

Unclear demands at work are related to the term "role clarity". Role clarity is about how well employees know the role they are expected to fulfil in their work function. Conflicting demands at work can be seen as an element of the term "high psychological demands of work" and is also related to the term "role conflicts at work". Role conflicts at work are about situations where different stakeholders have different expectations of the work effort that employees must deliver. 

2.2. Health and safety implications for employees

Unclear and conflicting demands at work can pose a risk to the health and safety of employees. This applies in particular if there are unclear and conflicting demands over an extended period of time. This can be the case both if the 2 impacts occur separately or together.

Unclear and conflicting demands can e.g. increase the risk of sleep problems, concentration difficulties, long-term stress, anxiety, depression and cardiovascular disease.

Unclear and conflicting demands can also increase the risk of work accidents. This could be trip and fall accidents, traffic accidents, accidents involving tools and machinery, or violence from e.g. citizens and customers.

In addition, unclear and conflicting demands may also contribute to the occurrence other health and safety issues. This could be, for example, in situations where:

  • There are unclear or conflicting expectations about who does what in relation to a specific task. This can lead to disagreements and conflicts among employees, which can develop into offensive behaviour.
  • There are unclear or conflicting demands for the service or quality level. This can lead to employees working at a fast pace, without breaks or for many hours in an attempt to deliver work that meets demands and expectations.
  • There are unclear guidelines for working with citizens or customers, or insufficient agreement on expectations about the level of task completion. This can lead to employees having different approaches to dealing with citizens or customers. The different approaches can create insecurity or frustration with citizens or customers, which could increase the emotional demands at work. In some cases, it can also result in physical or psychological violence.
  • There are unclear guidelines for how employees should lift objects or relocate citizens. This could lead to physical strain from heavy lifting and strenuous working positions.

2.3. Health and safety risks must be prevented

As an employer, you have a duty to ensure that the work is planned, organised and carried out in such a way that it is fully compliant with health and safety in the short and long term in regard to unclear and conflicting demands at work.

This means that unclear and conflicting demands at work must not compromise the safety or health of employees in the short or long term. It also means that, as an employer, you must take effective measures to prevent employees from getting sick or injured due to unclear and conflicting demands.

Most important clauses

Executive Order on Psychosocial Working Environment, Sec. 16 and 17

3. Identify and assess unclear and conflicting demands at work

Figure 2 - Identify and assess unclear and conflicting demands at work
Figure 2 - Identify and assess unclear and conflicting demands at work.

As an employer, you must continuously identify any unclear and conflicting demands in the company. If there are unclear or conflicting demands, you must assess whether the risk to the health and safety of your employees is effectively prevented.

In this work, it is relevant to involve employees because their experiences are an important source of knowledge about unclear and conflicting demands in the company. It is therefore also very important to have safe dialogue in the company, so that employees have the opportunity to voice their challenges at work.

Identification and assessment can be done as part of both day-to-day collaboration on task performance and as  more comprehensive investigations into the psychological working environment. For example, as part of the WPA.

3.1. How do you identify unclear requirements and conflicting requirements at work?

As an employer, you can start by finding out whether there are employees who encounter unclear or conflicting demands at work.

Unclear and conflicting demands can manifest themselves in many different ways.

Unclear demands

Overall, unclear demands may appear when employees have doubts about how to carry out the work, and what the goals and framework are for the work. Employees may have doubts about, for example:

  • What work tasks they must carry out, and what the content of the tasks is.
  • How the tasks can be completed, e.g. what working methods they can use, and what the procedures are.
  • Who they have to work with to complete the tasks, who does what, and who they can get support from to carry out the work.
  • What their areas of responsibility are, and what decision-making competences they have.
  • How much time they have for the individual tasks, and which tasks they must prioritise when they do not have time for all tasks.
  • When the tasks are completed satisfactorily.
  • What the expectations are for their working hours, e.g. for how the working hours are scheduled, for overtime, and for when and how they may be contacted outside normal working hours.

Conflicting demands

Overall, conflicting demands may arise when it is not possible for employees to fulfil essential demands of the work within the existing framework for the work. This can be the case, for example: 

  • When there is conflict between the expectations that different people have of the employees' work. These can be, for example, expectations from management, colleagues, citizens, relatives, customers, and business partners. It could be that these people’s expectations are mutually incompatible, or that the employees do not have time to fulfil all the expectations within the framework of the work.
  • When the management makes mutually incompatible demands on employees' work. This could be in situations where it is not possible to meet the demands for both the number of tasks and the level of service or quality of the task completion. It can also be where employees work under different managers, who make incompatible demands on the employees' work.
  • When there is a conflict between the management's demands for task volume and time consumption and the legislative requirements for task completion. This could be, for example, if the management sets a requirement for employees to complete the tasks within a certain period of time, which makes it impossible for them to meet the requirements of the legislation, e.g. the Traffic Law, the Building Regulations, the Social Service Law, the Social Legislation, and Health and Safety Legislation.
  • When employees have to carry out different functions in their work, which are in conflict with each other. This could be, for example, where employees have to make demands of or monitor citizens, relatives or customers and at the same time give them help, support and guidance.

Unclear and conflicting demands at work can occur with individual employees, in individual teams or departments in the company, or throughout the entire company.

3.2. How do you assess whether health and safety risks are effectively prevented?

If there are unclear or conflicting demands in your company, you must assess, as an employer, whether you have effectively prevented the risks to the health and safety of your employees.

When the risk is effectively prevented, unclear and conflicting demands can help both the development and the motivation of employees, as what is unclear and fraught with dilemma can be what gives the employees the opportunity to flourish, use their creativity, and have influence on the performance of the work. Not everything in the work has to be clear and without dilemmas.

The risk is not effectively prevented when there are unclear or conflicting demands which lead to one of the following two situations or both:

Situation 1

There are employees who are faced with unclear demands of such a scope and nature that they are in doubt as to how they should carry out the work, or what the goals and framework are for the work, and the preventive measures are not sufficient to ensure that the employees are able handle the unclear demands.

Or

There are employees who are faced with conflicting demands of such a scope and nature that they do not have the opportunity to fulfil essential requirements and expectations within the framework of the work, and the preventive measures are not sufficient to ensure that the employees are able to handle the conflicting demands.

Situation 2

There are unclear or conflicting demands of such a nature that they could lead to work accidents. This may be the case, for example, if there is uncertainty as to the use of technical aids, or how to deal with citizens with potentially externalising behaviour. It can also be the case if employees work at a fast pace in an attempt to meet unclear or conflicting demands and expectations of work.

The main assessment is whether the prevention ensures that employees are not at risk of falling into one of these two situations or both.

Help with your assessment

When you, as an employer, must assess whether the risk to the health and safety of your employees has been effectively prevented, you must assess the extent of the unclear or conflicting demands, the nature of the demands, and whether the preventive measures ensure that the employees are able to handle them. 

The extent depends on:

  • How much of the daily work is taken up by the unclear or conflicting demands.
  • How long the unclear and conflicting requirements have been there.

The nature depends on:

  • How important the unclear demands or conflicting demands are for the daily work, including how they affect the employees' opportunities to carry out the work.
  • How serious the consequences can be if employees make wrong decisions, or make mistakes in their work as a result of unclear or conflicting demands.

Whether the preventive measures are sufficient to ensure that employees are able to handle the unclear or conflicting demands depends, among other things, on:

  • Whether the employees have sufficient competences to handle the unclear or conflicting demands, e.g. professional and cooperative competences.
  • Whether there is managerial and collegial support that makes it possible to deal with the unclear or conflicting demands collectively, for example, when employees are in doubt about how they should carry out the work, or how they should prioritise it.
  • Whether the employees have sufficient influence in the work, including decision-making competences to handle the unclear or conflicting demands.

Less time passes before the unclear or conflicting demands pose a risk to the health or safety of the employees:

  • The more the daily work is taken up by the unclear or conflicting demands.
  • The greater the importance of the unclear or conflicting demands is for the daily work.
  • The more serious the consequences of the unclear or conflicting demands can be.
  • The less the preventive measures ensure that employees can handle the unclear or conflicting demands.

Signs that the risks to safety or health are not effectively prevented

There are a number of factors that may indicate that the safety or health risks associated with unclear and conflicting demands are not being effectively prevented. These factors can help you assess the risk.

If any of the conditions below occur over a long period of time, it is important to find out if they are signs that the safety or health risks of unclear and conflicting demands are not being effectively prevented, or if they are something else.

  • There is negative criticism of employees' work from management or colleagues.
  • Mistakes are made at work.
  • There is a lack of trust between management and employees or between employees.
  • There are personal conflicts and cooperation problems within the company.
  • There are offensive behaviours at work, for example, exclusion from the professional or social community.
  • There are negative criticisms or complaints about the work performed from citizens, relatives, customers, or business partners.
  • There are conflicts with citizens, relatives, customers or business partners, or they play the employees off against each other.
  • There are employees who work at a fast pace, without breaks or for many hours.
  • There are employees who spend large amounts of mental energy speculating and discussing with each other how to do the work.
  • There are important tasks that do not get done.
  • There are important deadlines that are not being met.
  • The specified level of service or quality is not reached.
  • There are work accidents or near-misses.
  • There is high sickness absence or high staff turnover.

For the individual employee, the following may be signs that the risk to safety or health is not being effectively prevented:

  • Feeling of professional inadequacy.
  • Insecurity or fear.
  • Mental or physical exhaustion.
  • Sleep problems.
  • Concentration difficulties.
  • Memory problems.
  • Bad mood and increased irritability.
  • Tendency to isolate socially.

Difficult to stop thinking about work outside of work.

Influences that may increase the risks to safety or health

As an employer, you must assess whether there are influences in the working environment that could increase the risks from unclear and conflicting demands at work. These influences are highly dependent on the type of work employees do. These can be, for example, influences in the psychosocial working environment such as heavy workload and time pressure, high emotional demands when working with people, offensive behaviours at work, risk of violence at work or high demands on attention and concentration.

The risks from unclear or conflicting requirements can be increased, for example:

  • If employees also have heavy workload and time pressure. Heavy workloads and time pressure can make it particularly strenuous for employees, as they have to spend time considering and deciding how to handle the unclear or conflicting demands.
  • If employees also experience high emotional demands or risk of violence when working with people. This type of work requires presence of mind in contact with the people being worked with. It can be particularly burdensome for employees to be in doubt about, for example, areas of responsibility or pedagogical guidelines, or how conflicting wishes and expectations must be prioritised.
  • If offensive behaviours occur at work. If employees are exposed to offensive behaviours, it could cause them to fear negative reactions to the choices they make when dealing with unclear or conflicting demands.

Consideration of employees’ preconditions

When you, as an employer, assess whether the risk to employees' health and safety from unclear and conflicting demands at work is effectively prevented, you must always assess whether there is a s consider the individual employee's ability to perform their work in a safe manner. It could be a matter of the employee's age, insight or ability to work. Special consideration may need to be given to young people and new employees, for example, if they do not have so much experience with the work.

Most important clauses

Executive Order on Psychosocial Working Environment, Sec. 8, 16, 17 and 18

4. Prevent risks to employees’ health and safety

 Figure 3 - Prevent risks to employees’ health and safety
Figure 3 - Prevent risks to employees’ health and safety.

As an employer, you have a duty to take preventive measures when necessary to ensure that the work is health and safety compliant in regard to unclear and conflicting demands at work. These measures must be effective, so that employees don’t fall ill or get injured as a result of unclear or conflicting demands.

You must plan and implement preventive measures in collaboration with your employees and HSO. The latter only applies to companies with 10 or more employees.

If the necessary expertise is not available within the company to prevent the risks from unclear and conflicting demands, you, as an employer, must seek external expertise to ensure that the work is completely safe.

4.1. The most important preventive measures

It is particularly important that you, as an employer, focus on the following measures to prevent the risks from unclear and conflicting demands at work:

  • Planning and organisation of work, to ensure that the work is safe.
  • Sufficient and appropriate training and instruction on how to carry out the work.
  • Support from management and colleagues.
  • Influence in relation to the work that needs to be carried out.
  • Consideration of employees’ preconditions.

You should to the extent possible avoid unclear and conflicting demands at work, which could put the health or safety of your employees at risk. Not all unclear or conflicting requirements can be avoided, nor is it always appropriate or desirable to do so. When there are unclear and conflicting demands at work, you must prevent the risks by ensuring that employees are able to handle the unclear and conflicting demands.

4.2. Planning and organisation of work, to ensure that the work is safe

As an employer, you have a duty to plan and organise the work to ensure it is health and safety compliant in regard to unclear and conflicting demands at work.

Planning and organisation of work is crucial to the successful prevention of the risks from unclear and conflicting demands. Below are some examples of how you can work with your employees to plan and organise the work.

Unclear demands

  • You can clarify distribution of responsibilities and decision-making competences, for example, amongst specialist groups, job functions, teams and departments.
  • You can determine how much time employees have for the individual tasks, and continuously assess whether the time for the tasks is appropriate.
  • You can agree to expectations of the service or quality level within the company, so everyone knows what service or product they must deliver.
  • Management can agree expectations with citizens, relatives, customers and business partners, so they know what service or product they can expect.
  • When implementing changes in the company, you can as early as possible clarify e.g. which tasks employees must perform, how and with whom, when the changes have been implemented.
  • You can clarify expectations as to employees' working hours, e.g. how the working hours are scheduled, overtime, and when and how employees may be contacted outside normal working hours.

Remember to follow up on whether the measures are implemented as planned.

Example: New initiatives created more clarity around expectations as regards quality levels, and strengthened shared professionalism

In one workplace, the quality level for the employees' tasks was not defined. The demand for the content of tasks was therefore not clear to the employees. They also did not know who they could go to for professional help, and there was uncertainty and confusion as to how they could find out about procedures for how the tasks should be completed. There was a big difference in the quality of the task completion, which often led to criticism from the management. The employees spent large amounts of time and energy discussing with each other what was needed to complete the tasks.

The workplace initiated a number of different measures:

  • Descriptions were made of the quality level and goals for the individual tasks.
  • Working methods were specified.
  • Professional inspiration material was prepared.
  • The shared professionalism was strengthened with development of competences and expert group meetings with specialist and methodological discussions.

The management prioritised the focus on visible and process-oriented management.

Example: Clarity was created around tasks after a change

After a restructuring in one workplace, employees found that there was a lack of clarity as to how and when they had to complete various tasks, and who was responsible for the tasks, and they did not think they were using their working time effectively.

As a consequence, there were a number of tasks that were not completed on time, and there were problems with getting the tasks completed to a satisfactory level of quality. This led to frequent conflicts between the employees, and a high staff turnover.

The workplace initiated a number of different measures:

  • An transversal working group was established, who drew up proposals for how cooperation and the completion of tasks should proceed in the new structure.
  • It was decided to follow the new organisation closely, because many employees had new tasks and colleagues.

A process was initiated whereby management and employees found a good way to continuously distribute and clarify tasks collectively. Among other things, they agreed to go through the tasks at board meetings every day, where specific needs for sparring, help with tasks, as well as prioritisation and coordination of the work were clarified.

Conflicting demands

  • You can continuously agree demands and expectations for the level of service or quality internally in the company, to enable staff to meet demands and expectations within the existing framework for the work.
  • Management can agree to expectations with citizens, relatives, customers and business partners, so they know what service or product they can expect.
  • You can prioritise tasks by, for example, deciding if there are tasks or deadlines that can be postponed or need not be prioritised.
  • You can ensure that employees do not have to carry out different work functions that are in conflict with each other.

Remember to follow up on whether the measures are implemented as planned.

Example: Overview of tasks reduced conflicting demands

In a large workplace, there were several employees who were assigned tasks by various managers in the organisation. There was no overall overview of the assignment of tasks. This meant that in some cases employees were given more tasks than they were able to complete within their working hours. The employees were in doubt as to which tasks were the most important, and they were therefore unable to prioritise them. This led to long working days and a feeling of professional inadequacy.

At the workplace, a joint procedure was implemented across the organisation about the need for prioritising tasks and dialogue about expectations for the individual's work.

Results of the procedure:

  • There was an understanding of the need for clarity about the demands for the content of the tasks and the individual employee's contribution.
  • There was clarity about the framework that the employees had for completing the tasks when they were given tasks from different managers at the workplace.
  • Reciprocal trust between management and employees was increased as a result of clarity about the total amount of tasks that had to be completed by the individual employees.
  • There was an awareness of the importance of prioritisation and cooperation in completing the tasks.
  • There was a common understanding of the total amount of tasks, and what was needed for the individual to perform their work satisfactorily.

It was decided to make the subject a permanent item on the agenda at staff meetings.

Example: Agreed expectations became a tool for dealing with conflicting demands

At one workplace, management and employees focused on creating a clear level of service and quality in order to handle situations where citizens had high and very different expectations of the workplace's services. The employees were therefore often in doubt about what service they should be providing to individual members of the public, and whether there was anyone who should be given special treatment.

The management therefore worked on agreeing levels of service and quality with employees, while clearly communicating this to the citizens. There were regular meetings between management and employees, where they discussed demands and expectations for performance.

The work showed that it was beneficial to have the same expectations of service, both internally in the workplace and in relation to the citizens. This provided greater clarity on what employees should and should not deliver. The employees were also less doubtful about what to say to the citizens when they made demands to or complained about the services.

4.3. Sufficient and appropriate training and instruction on how to carry out the work

As an employer, you have a duty to ensure that each employee receives sufficient and appropriate training and instruction on how to carry out their work in a health and safety compliant manner in regard to unclear and conflicting demands at work. Training and instruction are therefore key preventive measures.

You must pay special attention to training and instruction when you bring new employees into the company, including project employees, temporary workers, trainees and others more loosely connected with the company. You also must pay special attention to providing training and instruction when changes are made to employees' work. This could be when employees are given new tasks, when new teams are formed, or when there are changes in the way work is carried out. This could be due to new procedures, new legislation, new work equipment, or the introduction of new technology.

Training and instruction must be repeated regularly if necessary.

In your training and instruction, you as an employer can benefit from focusing on:

Unclear demands

  • What tasks employees must complete.
  • How the tasks can be completed and coordinated, and with whom.
  • What demands and expectations there are for the scope and quality of the task completion.
  • What tasks employees should prioritise when the time available is insufficient.
  • What opportunities there are for support and sparring from management and colleagues for specific tasks.
  • What opportunities there are for influence at work, and what responsibilities and decision-making competences employees have.
  • Giving employees the competences to be able to handle unclear requirements. These can be, for example, specialist, methodological, communicative and collaborative competences.

Conflicting demands

  • How employees should handle and prioritise conflicting demands and expectations for their work effort internally in the company.
  • How employees should handle and prioritise the conflicting expectations of citizens, relatives, customers and business partners.
  • What opportunities there are for support and sparring from management and colleagues to handle and prioritise the conflicting demands.
  • What opportunities there are for influence in handling and prioritising the conflicting demands.
  • Giving employees the competences to be able to handle and prioritise conflicting demands. These can be, for example, specialist, methodological, communicative and collaborative competences.

Read more about training and instruction in the WEA Guidelines "Training, Instruction and Supervision of Work".   

4.4. Support at work from management and colleagues

Support from management and colleagues is an important measure to successfully prevent risks to employees’ health and safety from unclear or conflicting requirements at work. Support at work from management and colleagues helps employees to cope with the demands of the job.

You and your employees can focus on the following, for example, to ensure the necessary support in dealing with unclear demands at work:

  • Employees receive help and support from management and colleagues to specify, for example, the specific content of work tasks as well as distribution and prioritisation.
  • Management and employees agree expectations in terms of work performance and service or quality level.
  • Employees receive constructive feedback on and recognition of how the tasks are completed. This can be from both management and colleagues. Management supports employees' ability to collaborate, spar and complete tasks collectively, where relevant.
  • That the management and employees create a working climate where employees do not fear negative consequences, e.g. being excluded from the social and professional community if they make mistakes.
  • Management assumes responsibility for handling complaints, and provides support to employees if citizens, relatives, customers and business partners complain about the employees' work.
  • Management and employees establish a good dialogue, so that employees can safely draw attention to unclear and conflicting demands, and provide proposals for solutions.

Example:  Clearer framework for tasks, and better collaborative relationships

At one workplace, there were quite a few conflicts. The employees found that there was poor communication with the management about task completion. Several employees received criticism from the management for their work, without knowing why or what they should do to deliver a better result. Many had started working more hours and at all times of the day, and there was generally a bad atmosphere in the workplace. 

For a period, the focus was directed at the working environment in the workplace. This highlighted the fact that the employees were often very much alone in defining the content and scope of the tasks. Some employees found it inspiring and developing, but for most it created a great deal of uncertainty about when the work had been done well enough.

The problems were addressed by:

  • Initiating a process whereby the focus was on what kind of help and support was needed in the work.
  • Establishing regular meetings where management and employees could discuss goals and methods for task completion and clarify transversal tasks.

Working on how the management could give feedback in a constructive way.

Example: A proces made it possible to deal with unclear demands

Employees at a workplace found for a long time that the workflows were unclear, and that there were no clear goals and guidelines for the tasks.

The tasks required a great deal of concentration, amongst other because the result of the work effort was of decisive importance for citizens, whom the department had to help. The situation led to the employees carrying out the tasks differently, and misunderstandings and conflicts arose among the employees. The employees found that they were working blind, and they were unsure whether they were doing their job well enough. Errors occurred, and deadlines were exceeded. Sick leave among employees increased. The level of service for the department’s citizens was unclear, and there was an increasing number of complaints from citizens.

The workplace carried out a service review of the organisation of the work, where working procedures and priorities were made clear. The department implemented a procedure, which resulted in:

  • Employees feeling more safe when talking about professional uncertainty.
  • It became natural and legitimate to talk about the difficulties in the work when there were unclear demands at work.
  • There was worked with agreed expectations as regards demands for the tasks and the level of self-determination.
  • New descriptions of work procedures being drawn up.
  • Clearer guidelines being drawn up as to who employees could turn to if they experienced by unclear demands.
  • Particularly competent employees were given the role of mentors for new employees.

The department introducing professional days where professional topics were taken up for discussion.

You and your employees can focus on the following, for example, to ensure the necessary support in dealing with conflicting demands at work:

  • Employees receiving help and support from management and colleagues to handle and prioritise demands and expectations for their work effort internally in the company.
  • Employees receive help and support from management and colleagues to handle and prioritise expectations of citizens, relatives, customers and business partners.
  • Employees receive constructive feedback on and recognition for how they have handled and prioritised demands and expectations. This can be from both management and colleagues.
  • Management supports employees' opportunity to collectively handle and prioritise demands and expectations.
  • Management and employees create an environment where employees do not fear negative consequences, for example, being excluded from the social and professional community, if they cannot meet the most important demands and expectations.
  • Management assumes responsibility for handling complaints, and provides support to employees if citizens, relatives, customers and business partners complain about the employees' work.
  • Management and employees establish a good dialogue, so that employees can safely call attention to unclear or conflicting demands, and provide proposals for solutions.

Example: Involvement of top management led to fewer conflicting demands for middle managers

Middle managers at a large workplace had to ensure attainment of a high level of quality that was communicated to the customers. At the same time, there were continuous urgent tasks from the upper management, which made it difficult for the middle managers to ensure that all tasks were completed satisfactorily. This often resulted in criticism and dissatisfaction from employees in the department, from customers and from top management.

The middle managers felt squeezed between their own expectations, the expectations of the top management, the expectations of the customers and consideration for the employees' well-being.

The result was that the everyday life of the middle managers was characterised by "putting out fires" and little opportunity to perform the personnel management they wanted.

The middle managers therefore approached the top management directly to describe the situation and come up with proposals for solutions. The top management listened and decided to assess the priority of urgent tasks from time to time, so that not all tasks were given top priority. In addition, the top management initiated a major management development project, which, among other things, strengthened cooperation in management and clarified the roles, reciprocal expectations and work processes of middle and top managers.

 

4.5. Influence at work in relation to the work that needs to be carried out                      

Influence in the work is also an important measure to successfully prevent risks to employees’ health and safety from unclear and conflicting demands at work. Influence is about having the ability to make an impact on work, and helps employees manage the demands of their work. As an employer, you can ensure that your employees influence their work, for example by:

Unclear demands

  • Involving the employees in the planning and organising of the work as well as the distribution and prioritisation of work tasks.
  • Holding regular meetings to discuss, for example, demands for tasks and solutions, and the time available to complete the tasks.
  • Organising work so that employees have a say in how and when they carry out their tasks, e.g. through team or project organisation.
  • Involving employees in planning, implementing and embedding change.

Conflicting demands

  • Involving employees in the planning and organising of the work as well as the distribution of work tasks.
  • Involving employees in the prioritisation of demands and expectations for the work.
  • Holding regular meetings, where you discuss any dilemmas in the work, and how you can handle them.
  • Ensuring employees have decision-making competences to handle and prioritise conflicting demands and expectations.
  • Ensuring employees have decision-making competences to say no to citizens, relatives, customers and business partners who have unrealistic expectations of the employees' work effort and the services or products that they are able to deliver.

4.6. Consideration of employees’ preconditions

In your work to prevent risks to employees' health and safety due to unclear and conflicting demands at work, you have a duty, as an employer, to take account of the individual employee's ability to carry out their work in a safe manner.

For example, if the employee does not have so much experience with the work, then additional training and instruction or further support from management and colleagues may be needed for some time.

Most important clauses

Executive Order on Psychosocial Working Environment, Sec. 6, 8, 9, 10, 16 and 18

Working Environment Act, Sec. 5

5. Effectively supervise the safe performance of work

Figure 4 - Effectively supervise the performance of work
Figure 4 - Effectively supervise the performance of work.

As an employer, you have a duty to conduct effective supervision to ensure that the performance of work is health and safety compliant in regard to unclear and conflicting demands at work. Your supervisors must ensure that the measures put in place to promote health and safety are working as intended.

In order to be effective, it is necessary that the supervision is ongoing, to ensure that employees are actually carrying out their work in a way that prevents them from becoming ill or being injured as a result of unclear and conflicting demands. This is necessary because unclear and conflicting demands may vary from employee to employee and from department to department, as well as over time. The frequency and extent of the supervision depends on the nature of the work, the preconditions of the employees, and the occurrence of unclear and conflicting demands.

The supervision must include:

  • How employees carry out the work, and whether they follow the training and instruction they have been given to be able to carry out the work in a manner that is health and safety compliant.
  • Whether the preventive measures are effective in relation to unclear and conflicting demands.
  • Whether the training and instruction has been sufficient and appropriate.
  • Whether employees adjust the way they do their work when they are made aware that, for example, they are not doing the work as expected.

Read more about supervision in the WEA Guidelines "Training, Instruction and Supervision of Work".   

If the supervision shows that there are unclear or conflicting requirements, you, as an employer, must assess whether the risk to the health and safety of your employees is effectively prevented, see Chapter 3. If necessary, you must take preventive measures, see Chapter 4.   

Effective supervision can also provide valuable input for the annual health and safety discussion, and the work with the WPA.

Most important clauses

Executive Order on Psychosocial Working Environment, Sec. 11

6. Related regulations and guidelines

The WEA Guidelines on Unclear and Conflicting Requirements are primarily based on the following rules:

Working Environment Act

Executive Order on the Psychosocial Working Environment

Other WEA Guidelines on the psychological working environment

Mapping out the Psychological Working Environment - D.4.1

Offensive behaviour, including Bullying and Sexual Harassment - 4.3.1

Heavy Workload and Time Pressure - 4.1.1

Violence - D.4.3

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