H-WORK across Europe: the self-reported story of an Italian PhD student visiting Norway

by Davide Giusino, University of Bologna

I carried out my visit to the Department of Psychology of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, in Trondheim, between May and June 2022, as part of time to spend at academic institutions abroad as a PhD student of the Department of Psychology of the University of Bologna, Italy.

That may sound like an obligation, which indeed is, but I also can tell that being sent to travel the world to get your job done is something one does with really great pleasure.

There, my affiliation was with Associate Professor Dr. Marit Christensen and her research team, whose members’ names I want to make sure to mention as a sign of gratitude for how kind, welcoming, inclusive, supportive, and inspiring they were to me: Siw Tone Innstrand, Karoline Grødal, Anne Iversen, Silje Fladmark, Eyvind Helland, Trond Løkling, Henrik Nordahl, Magne Arve Flaten, Trond Viggo Grøntvedt, Terje Johansen, Tom Knudsen – thank you all  for having welcomed me at the department so nicely and included me in your interesting work activities, but also for the good social time we have spent together and for all the very good recommendations you gave me in terms of places to visit, things to do, food to eat; in a nutshell, for having guided me so well through the full NTNU and Norwegian experience!

Missions to accomplish (and accomplished): one, advancing a qualitative study about the senior management’s role in implementing multilevel workplace mental health interventions, based on data collected during H-WORK’s Needs Assessment phase; two, contributing to the e-H-WORK spin-off project which aims to produce educational materials, such as for instance e-learning platforms, about mental health promotion in small- and medium-sized enterprises and public workplaces.

One may wonder which my expectations were about my doctoral stay, the host institution, or the country itself.

But to be honest, I have to say I departed with no expectations at all. I think it’s good not to have high expectations, to avoid being disappointed. On the other hand, I think it’s unfair to have low expectations, as you never know which positive surprises the future will hold for you. So, in the end, what I can report is that time has gone by too fast. As fast as it was an intense, rich, fruitful, and fulfilling weeks in which so many beautiful new things happened to me and so many beautiful new things I have seen, done, and especially learnt.

Being hosted in a fancy private office within a colourful and lightful building only surrounded by trees displaying the most intense green I had ever seen in my life. Taking part to the Norwegian Constitution Day’s school parades and celebrations on the 17th of May. Reading dozens of research papers from previous literature about qualitative methods and managers’ role in organisational interventions. Eating Kjekssjokolade Kvikk Lunsj, brunost, Stabbur-Makrell, whale meat, and reindeer stew among the blue, red, yellow, green, and white wooden houses of Bakklandet. Developing a script for a podcast series to sensitise and inspire organisations willing to act on workers’ mental health based on H-WORK intervention sites’ experiences with preparation, needs analysis, readiness for change, communication strategies, implementation of interventions, evaluation, and Covid-19.

Visiting the ancient copper mines of Røros and the fully environmentally sustainable community living in the alternative district of Svartlamon. Performing content analysis of lengthy pages of text data transcribed from semi-structured individual interviews to senior managers from a business performance consultancy firm, a mechanical engineering manufacturer, a digital transformation company from Spain, a primary and secondary education social cooperative from Italy, and two hospitals from South Europe. Having fun at the departmental summer party hosted in an old factory in front of the wide fjords…

…these are just few excerpts from the flow of memories coming to my mind while I write this article!

Most of all, however, I had the opportunity to witness that Norway is a country built on the concept of participation.

As a rather collectivistic society as compared to the rest of the so-called Western world, Norwegian people are constantly involved to participate to decision-making and actions in every sector of public and working life. For example, they do regular group meetings at the workplace with employees from all levels where everyone is called to have a voice, share opinions, and find common solutions. For instance, they often do class time at school to discuss issues and define strategies to address them together. Of course, this reminded me of the bottom-up participatory approach that the H-WORK project adopts towards the design, development, implementation, and evaluation of multilevel interventions for mental health at work. In this sense, I think occupational health interventions psychology has a lot to learn from Norwegian society’s attitudes and culture.

Definitively, I am convinced similar staff exchanges between Consortium partners, which are allowed and facilitated in the context of European research and innovation projects, should be continued and promoted, as they constitute a precious way to enrich oneself and others both professionally and personally.