Warr's Vitamin Model of Occupational Health

In all work scenarios, there are characteristics that can enhance or harm our mental health, depending on whether or not they're present They act like vitamins. Warr's vitamin model is based on this idea.
Warr's Vitamin Model of Occupational Health

Last update: 13 December, 2022

The environmental variables that affect psychological well-being at work follow a pattern. There are certain characteristics that, in excess, aren’t harmful to the worker. Others are detrimental. Warr’s vitamin model suggests how everyday aspects of the workplace influence workers’ mental health.

Like a circle, the well-being of workers influences their behavior (directly and indirectly), the decisions they make, how they relate to their colleagues, and their productivity. In fact, Warr claims that work and mental health are bidirectionally related.

Psychological well-being at work

When it comes to having a better quality of life at work, one of the most important psychosocial processes is psychological well-being. Peter Warr distinguishes between two types of workplace welfare:

  • Job-specific well-being. This refers to feelings, both positive and negative, that workers have about themselves in relation to the work they do.
  • Context-free well-being. This is broader in nature. It’s influenced by all feelings, none in particular.

“Occupational well-being implies having personal and environmental security, access to material goods to lead a dignified life, good health and good social relationships, all of which are closely related to and underlie the freedom to make decisions and act.”

-Sen-

Woman thinking

The components of occupational well-being

The above two types of occupational well-being form part of the worker’s mental health. This not only oscillates between discomfort and well-being but also has more components:

  • Affective well-being. It refers to the various classes of affective experience. For example, anxiety-comfort, boredom-enthusiasm, and depression-pleasure. In the context of occupational well-being, evidence suggests that the pleasure-displeasure axis accounts for the majority of covariance in aspects of affective well-being.
  • Aspiration. The extent to which the worker is motivated in their work. Also, how attentive they are to the new opportunities that surround them, and whether they strive to achieve the goals that they consider important.
  • Autonomy. The extent to which workers can resist environmental demands and follow their own opinions and actions. Too much or too little autonomy can negatively affect their well-being.
  • Competence. The degree to which the worker has adequate emotional and cognitive resources to face the pressures and requirements arising from their work.
  • Integrated function. A component that refers to the individual as a whole. It encompasses the above four components of occupational mental health.

Warr formulated his vitamin model and published it in 1987 in his book, Work, Unemployment and Mental Health.

Vitamins at work

Warr’s vitamin model claims that there are nine features of the workplace that act like vitamins in reaching the above five components of occupational well-being. They’re as follows:

  • Opportunity to control work autonomously.
  • Opportunities to use and develop skills. The degree to which the work environment enhances or inhibits the development and use of the skills that make the worker unique and unrepeatable.
  • Clarity of goals and rules. Linked to an employee’s perception of achievement. For example, if they manage to meet a work goal, they feel effective and their sense of achievement will increase.
  • Variety of tasks. If there’s little variety, the work becomes monotonous.
  • Performance requirements and feedback. It refers to feedback from the bosses. It concerns knowing what the bosses expect when it comes to the employee’s work, and how they value it.
  • Social support and contacts. The degree to which a job facilitates or hinders opportunities for interpersonal contact. In fact, the existence of adequate social contacts within the workplace is important for the mental health of the worker. They reduce emotions such as loneliness.
  • Financial rewards
  • Physical comfort and security.
  • Position and status.
People working as a team

All of the above features act differently, depending on the dose. Warr identifies two large groups and classifies them, using the way in which real vitamins act in the body. For example, we know that deficiencies in vitamins B and C produce negative health effects, but elevated levels don’t. Therefore, characteristics that behave like vitamins B and C include physical safety, career prospects, compensation, or supportive supervision.

On the contrary, there are some characteristics that behave like vitamins A and D. These vitamins are characterized by the fact that both deficits and excesses negatively influence health and well-being. In this group, we find, for instance, the variety of tasks in the position, contact with colleagues, and the number of objectives.

“Virtue means doing the right thing, in relation to the right person, at the right time, to the right extent, in the right manner, and for the right purpose.” 

-Aristotle-

Finally, we can conclude that Warr’s vitamin model gathers together many contributions from the field of psychology and adds them to the study of occupational psychological well-being. In fact, he exposes how the variables of the environment and the job itself impact the mental health of workers.

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  • Cifre Gallego, E. (1999). Bienestar psicológico, características del trabajo y nuevas tecnologías: validación-ampliación del modelo vitamínico de Warr (Doctoral dissertation, Universitat Jaume I).
  • Córdoba, E. (2009). Factores psicosociales y su influencia en el bienestar laboral. Universidad de Buenos Aires. Recuperado de http://23118. psi. uba. ar/academica/carrerasdegrado/psicologia/informacion_adicional/obl igatorias/040_trabajo1/cdcongreso/CD/TRABAJOS% 20LIBRES/SALUD% 20MENTA L/3. pdf.
  • Herrera, Y. C., Betancur, J., Jiménez, N. L. S., & Martínez, A. M. (2017). Bienestar laboral y salud mental en las organizaciones. Revista electrónica PSYCONEX, 9(14), 1-13.

The contents of Exploring Your Mind are for informational and educational purposes only. They don't replace the diagnosis, advice, or treatment of a professional. In the case of any doubt, it's best to consult a trusted specialist.