Service Communautaire d'Information sur la Recherche et le Développement - CORDIS

Evaluation of perceived work ability among European nurses

Work Ability Index (WAI) was developed in the early 80ies by researchers from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health to evaluate the congruency between individual's feelings of personal resources and the perceived requests of his/her work environment.

Perceived work ability is explained by two interacting factors:
- The individuals' perceived resources and
- The self-evaluation of one's own working conditions.

The first factor includes functional capacities (mental, physical and social resources) as well as the workers' health, competences, attitudes and values. The second factor includes characteristics of work that may sustain the individuals' work ability, namely physical and psychological work demands, work environment, work community as well as work management and leadership.

Within the NEXT-Study, the Work Ability Index was used to provide empirical evidence of the relationship between work ability, age and intention to leave nursing. This relationship was evaluated in a representative sample of 25.976 qualified nurses in ten European countries, to contribute to the implementation of initiatives aimed at sustaining the work ability of nurses over time and prevent premature exit from their profession.

In all ten European countries scores on the Work Ability Index were significantly lower in the older (>45, age range 19-71) than in the younger nurses. Furthermore, in all countries there was a significant association between low Work Ability Index scores and 'intention to leave nursing' (Odds ratios between 1.98 and 21.46), especially among the younger nurses, since these are offered more employment opportunities to improve their work and personal conditions. In some countries work ability differed between the younger and the older nurses to a larger extent, due to differences in sample composition, retirement age, policies addressing recruitment and retention, aging support systems and labour market.

Poor leadership and staff's social relationships were the major working conditions impacting on the decrease of perceived work ability of nurses across Europe. Indeed, workload and the availability of good information to accomplish work tasks heavily depend on such factors.

The NEXT was the first study to use the Work Ability Index from a cross-cultural perspective. This instrument proved to be sensitive, in all countries, in predicting intent to leave nursing, which can turn into real exit if employment opportunities allow for it.

Thus, work ability is an important organizational resource. Human resources managers should recognize examples of good practices and promote work conditions effective in supporting work ability to avoid depletion of resources, which manifested as intent to leave, burnout, disability or other bad health outcomes.

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