What are the telltale signs you work in a healthy, thriving work environment?
The team hits target and gets bonuses? The company is generating good revenue and profits? You’re bringing on a good quantity and quality of new clients? Your clients are happy? What about your employees, are they healthy and safe?
An ongoing challenge in the world of health and safety, is how do you know you’re doing it well? If you’re injuries are low, is that because you’re in a low risk environment? Is it because you’re employees are following the right processes and procedures? Are you just lucky? Perhaps a blend of all three?
The only real way to measure if your employees are working in a healthy and safe environment is to consider what that is, and measure it. Traditional health and safety often relied on lagging indicators, things like injuries, and damage. Proactive safety programs often consider more leading indicators such as positive inspection results, near misses reported (can also be lagging), hours of training, hazards identified and corrected etc. So if you’ve got all of those in check, you must be doing safety right, right?
Maybe, maybe not. You’re certainly identifying key aspects of safety, such as monitoring, and responding to findings, but what about the less subtle aspects? What about employee wellness? Have you considered aspects such as:
- Employee work loads and stress levels?
- Employee engagement?
- Employees at work, but not focused, not effective, or in other words presenteeism?
- Time pressures for targets and deadlines?
- Length and time of hours worked and risk of fatigue?
- Bullying, harassment, or even social pressures?
- Employee burnout and turnover?
- Employee nutrition and dietary habits at work?
The above are just some aspects of employee wellness, which can be seen as a broader term that encompasses the engagement, and involvement of employees and both their in work environments, and out of work environments. The days where these environments were seen as separate, or less connected are behind us.
It is difficult for many roles, and individuals to simply stop work at the end of the shift, or simply leave personal life at the door before entering work. The two overlap, and the stresses, challenges, and pressures of these environments can work synergistically to influence employee wellness in a healthy or harmful context. They can balance each other, and they can work to cause health or harm depending on how they are managed.
Health and Safety isn’t the same concept it was 60 years ago when my father started his career, and neither is the world we live in. Employers and employees can work together to identify key sources of harm in the workplace, that may be typical health and safety related harm, or perhaps more subtle workplace harm such as work related stress, health habits, or uncertainty. These sources of harm can be reviewed, ideally while engaging the workers, and addressed to reduce the potential for exposure of workers to the harm, and the process doesn’t have to be time consuming, or expensive.
Some solutions may seem to be more people focused, rather than directly related to health and safety, but can lead to a sense of engagement, trust, and community in the workplace, and improve relationships, and culture. Wellness, health, safety, they are all about people after all. Some examples of a range of solutions that can be considered are:
- Utilization of a health, safety, or wellness committee to focus on trends and priorities
- Considering how existing benefits can be complimented with greater wellness benefits
- Flexi-time for workers to manage work and personal life priorities
- Reviewing nutritional habits within the workplace
- Working remotely on occasion particularly with infectious colds or flus
- Exercise breaks for a walk or short run to get a break from sitting at a desk
- Enforcing regular breaks throughout the day
- Review workload and project management needs to consider sustainability
- Collaborative lean thinking type problem solving exercises between workers and management
- Employee career development and succession planning to provide structure, stability, guidance
These are just some of the less obvious, but related examples of adjustments in the work environment that help impact wellness in the workplace. They can contribute towards addressing some of the challenges preventing organizations from truly creating a healthy, thriving work environment.