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Employee well-being and cognitive ergonomics under radar

Together with The Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, we conducted a study on workload factors at Neste headquarters in Espoo, at Porvoo refinery and at Neste Netherlands. The project aimed at enhancing human performance by decreasing cognitive load to prevent health and safety risks in the agile and fast-paced work life based on self-leadership. The study continued with observational research at Neste Netherlands.

The overall results were positive: our people enjoy working in a flexible working environment and get energized from learning new issues. However, multitasking, interruptions, distractions, and insufficient instructions cause cognitive strain. They are experienced quite frequently, particularly among those working at the headquarters.

Respondents working at the Porvoo refinery found instructions, for the most part, clear and sufficient. However, as we are in a safety-sensitive business, even minor contradictions or obscurities may cause a risk and lead to a mistake. To mitigate this risk, we have emphasized clarity in our redesigned Neste Management System: we aim for fewer but clearer instructions.

At Neste Netherlands, the survey was complemented with interviews and observations. The results were extremely positive. The level of employees’ engagement is high and cognitive strain lower than typically. In fact, the results are among the best in the Finnish Occupational Institute’s statistics.

People like their job, they are satisfied with work arrangements and feel well

“The results were really good news to our management team as we have discussed the leadership and well-being issues a lot. We try to support our people as well as possible to find a balance between personal and professional life. The results confirm that we are on the right track,” says Hanno Schouten, Site Director at Neste Netherlands.

There is also something more behind the good results: “Neste is a very positive company, and we have a lot of positive energy here. People are proud to be a part of Neste’s transformation journey,” Schouten explains. 

For Schouten, the survey offers also a valuable communication tool to promote Neste’s leadership model and well-being at work. That is why he wanted to introduce the results to the employees and discuss them together during the strategy day in December 2018. He was positively surprised to see how much energy people put into the discussions.

“Our people really valued the opportunity to discuss and share ideas, so that they could themselves define the way forward. This is self-leadership in practice.”

The suggested improvements are very basic and simple: keep the noise down in the working space; avoid disturbing others with phone calls; and give clear and up-to-date instructions – that is, respect one another at work.

“There seems to be a need to repeat some basic house rules, such as ‘be considerate of your colleagues’. With this principle, most of the strains could be avoided,” confirms Anja Hallberg, Chief Medical Officer at Neste who coordinated the study together with Sanna Kauppi from Neste’s HR and the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health.

The findings at Espoo headquarters were similar. People find learning new skills, flexible thinking and social interaction energizing. Several unfinished task simultaneously, interruptions, and unclear or insufficient instructions are the major reasons for cognitive stress. 

The more we know about cognitive demands, the better we can improve productivity and well-being at work.

The study will be conducted at other Neste sites in 2019.