ACOEM: Sense of Coherence Affects Employees' Responses to Merger

A strong sense of coherence—consisting of comprehensibility, manageability, and meaningfulness—has been linked to a reduced risk of mental health problems, including stress-related disorders like burnout.

Employees with a strong sense of coherence — “a stress resistance resource” that is “a key factor in maintaining health” — have a more positive response to workplace changes resulting from a merger, reports a study in the February Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, official publication of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM).

Led by Krista Pahkin, MSocSc, of the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, the researchers looked at how sense of coherence affected employee responses to a merger (not involving mass layoffs) at one large company. A strong sense of coherence—consisting of comprehensibility, manageability, and meaningfulness—has been linked to a reduced risk of mental health problems, including stress-related disorders like burnout.

In surveys including about 4,000 employees, those with a low sense of coherence were about 80 percent more likely to say their work situation got worse after the merger. Workers with a low sense of coherence also tended to have a higher rate of psychiatric problems (such as psychiatric hospitalization or medications) within two years after the merger.

Among workers who thought they had been negatively affected by the merger, only those with a low sense of coherence were at increased risk of psychiatric events. Employees with a strong sense of coherence were less likely to experience serious mental health problems—even if they felt worse off after the merger.

“Strong sense of coherence is a resource that enables people to manage tension, to reflect on their external and internal resources, and resolve tension in a health-promoting way,” Pahkin and co-authors wrote. They believe that efforts targeting the three elements of sense of coherence may help in preparing employees for an event such as a merger: “[D]uring an organizational change process it is important to ensure that employees understand what is going on (meaning), why (comprehensibility), and what they can do (manageability).”

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