What is a healthy workplace?
The World Health Organisation (WHO) define a healthy workplace as an environment that
"[protects] and [promotes] the health, safety and well-being of all workers and the sustainability of the workplace".
They argue that the following should be considered in the creation of a healthy working environment:
- Health and safety concerns in the environment itself
- Health, safety and wellbeing concerns within office culture – particularly around how work is organised
- Health resources made available throughout the workplace
- Introducing initiatives to improve the health of workers, their families and other members of the community
The overall intent of these considerations is more than preventing injury or illness in the first instance, but presenting the recurrence of injury or illness once an individual has returned to work too.
Further, with these considerations made and addressed on an ongoing basis, we create a workplace that is naturally supportive and accommodating of disabilities, chronic illness and other complications beyond the remit of healthy workplace policies and initiatives.
Healthy or safe?
A 2003 study by Lowe, Schellenberg and Shannon found that people were more likely to
"[report] a safe work environment than a healthy one". This is interesting, because although it suggests that workplaces are fulfilling health and safety requirements – employers are doing little more than this.
When workplaces were thought to be healthy rather than just safe, it was because of the following factors – listed and described in the same terms they were raised with survey respondents:
- Communication and social support. Colleagues being seen as helpful and friendly. Open relationships are created with supervisors and line managers, and recognition is received without prompting.
- Job demands. Day-to-day roles are not unnecessarily stressful or hectic. Workloads are easy to keep up with, and demands typically made of individuals do not conflict.
- Resources. Being provided the necessary tools to do a job effectively. Having access to information, both essential and non-essential. Receiving training as and when it is needed.
- Extrinsic rewards. Job security and stability as a matter of course. Being presented with a clear career ladder and development framework, supported with good pay and benefits.
- Autonomy. The freedom to approach your daily tasks and responsibilities on your terms. Prioritising as you see fit without being micromanaged and watched over throughout.
Without these elements, the work environment focuses solely on health and safety. It addresses health, but cannot be truly seen as healthy insofar as it does not promote good health – only mitigating bad health.
Creating a healthy work environment
What can be done to create a truly healthy work environment, therefore?
Although the five factors mentioned above are undoubtedly useful guidelines, or areas to consider addressing – it pays to consider more tangible changes that can be implemented immediately.
Anything but a buzzword. Promoting wellness is, arguably, one of the major factors that transforms a safe workplace into a healthy one. There are a number of different ways you can achieve this:
- Promoting preventative care. Offering flu vaccinations free of charge is an ideal approach to this, but even smaller initiatives like encouraging staff to take sick days when needed can be effective in this regard.
- Encouraging regular exercise. From subsidised gym memberships to the provision of secure bike storage, you probably already have strategies in place to address this, but there is always more that can be done.
- Bring a doctor to work. Our Corporate packages enable you to offer your employees access to a doctor whenever suits them – at home, work or anywhere in between, seven days a week, including weekends and bank holidays.
- Switching snacking habits. Snacking need not be discouraged if the snacks made available to staff are healthy. Fruit, nuts and other low calorie snacks with low levels of refined sugar are perfect here.
Supporting mental health
According to the Mental Health Foundation, workplaces with higher levels of mental wellbeing are up to 12% more productive, and good mental health at work and good management go hand in hand:
- Do your homework. Regularly survey staff about their mental health, using your findings to inform the development of policies and strategies to protect and improve mental health in the workplace.
- Provide adequate training. Require line managers to train to better support staff living with mental health problems on an ongoing basis, as well as the mental wellbeing of staff in general.
- Zero tolerance discrimination. Discrimination based on mental health status should be as unacceptable as discrimination based on race, gender or sexual orientation. Encourage staff to report discrimination they witness, and respond quickly.
- Encourage disclosure. Create peer support and mentoring programmes for staff with experience of mental health problems, establishing a culture of authenticity and openness – and so raising awareness and acceptance to break the stigma around mental health.
Flexibility and autonomy
An alternative approach to improving workplace wellbeing doesn't involve health promotion at all, essentially. Here, we propose altogether healthier working conditions that any business can learn from:
- Flexible working hours. The shorter the working day, the more productive staff are within that shorter time. Trust staff to work their contracted hours, and let them spread those hours out over the week however they choose.
- Working from home. Even if you only allow staff to work remotely for a set number of days over a week or month, you will find staff are as productive, and their work is as high quality, despite being off-site.
- Room to breathe. Be mindful of the design of your working environment in terms of lighting, ventilation and temperature control. Create breakout spaces for groups or individuals to work and collaborate without disrupting the wider office.
- Make weekends off-limits. By encouraging staff to not reply to emails sent over the weekend, and to have their work phones set to silent (if possible), you encourage a healthy distance from work in the team's personal lives – which then inherently feeds into the creation of a healthy workplace.