Workplace Wellness

by Liggy Webb

In a nutshell

1. What is workplace wellness?

Increasingly, it is recognised that the workplace itself has a powerful affect on people’s health. When people are satisfied with their job, they are more productive and tend to be healthier. When employees feel that the environment at work is negative, they feel stressed. Stress has a large impact on employee mental and physical health and, in turn, on productivity. Any programme designed to improve workplace wellness will need to consider most areas of organisational life, including

  • Individual wellness
  • Managerial attitudes
  • Organisational culture
  • Work environment
  • Health facilities
  • Policies and procedures
  • Health and safety.

A conceptual model for wellness includes health and safety and the management of ill health as well as prevention and promotion, but this topic concentrates on the latter aspect.


2. Why is workplace wellness important?

The impact of absenteeism on the economy is colossal. However, another important area to consider is that of presenteeism. In contrast to absenteeism, presenteeism is when employees come to work in spite of illness, which can have similar negative repercussions on business performance. Research shows that the benefits of a workplace wellness programme can include

  • A reduction in sickness absence
  • Lower staff turnover
  • Fewer accidents
  • Greater staff satisfaction
  • Less waste of resources
  • An improvement in the company’s profile
  • Greater productivity.


3. Health promotion programmes

The best known definition of health promotion, promulgated by the American Journal of Health Promotion since at the 1980s, is ‘the science and art of helping people change their lifestyle to move toward a state of optimal health’. The wellness market is booming as people have started to realise the important role health promotion and prevention measures can play in improving employee health and reducing long-term costs. Options that may form part of a health promotion programme include

  • Smoking cessation measures
  • Weight loss programmes
  • Implementing healthy diet plans and healthy canteen options
  • Subsidised exercise programmes
  • Stress management techniques.

Factors common to successful programmes include having

  • Specific, measurable programme goals and objectives
  • Easy access to the programme and facilities
  • Incentives for participation
  • Respect for confidentiality
  • Support of top management
  • A corporate culture that encourages health promotion efforts.


4. Creating a workplace wellness strategy

Organisations differ widely, but the following guidelines describe the basics of creating, implementing and evaluating a workplace wellness strategy.

  • A comprehensive programme design should be based on a formal needs assessment.
  • Health-related data can then help to identify optimal targets and contents for the programme.
  • It is important to have buy-in for the programme on all levels to ensure success.
  • If possible, each employee’s health status should be assessed on entering the programme to provide a basis for personal objectives to be achieved and to highlight specific activities that are indicated.
  • Activities that may be used to prevent illness and disability and promote health include clinical services, health education, guidance in managing medical care, help in coping with personal problems and the provision of workplace amenities.


5. A manager’s responsibility

As a manager or team leader, you have a direct responsibility to implement the programme, if your company has one. But don’t just do what is required of you; find innovative ways to entice your team into being more proactive when it comes to health and wellbeing.

  • If your organisation has no formal wellness scheme, speak to someone about starting one.
  • Be a good role model.
  • Suggest taking part in a charity activity, such as a run or sponsored walk.
  • This is not about interfering in people’s private lives and enforcing or imposing views or behaviours on people in a dictatorial manner. It is about raising the awareness of what people can do to take personal responsibility for themselves.


6. A positive attitude – walking your talk

As a manager, if you want your particular department, team or area to be a model of workplace wellness, you need to start with yourself. Positivity and a healthy mindset can prove fortunately infectious!

  • Your emotions can have a very strong impact on how you behave and react.
  • At the bedrock of your thoughts and emotions are your values and beliefs: negative beliefs can undermine your joy in life, so it is well worth addressing any negative beliefs and looking to change them for a positive alternative.
  • For individuals to really benefit from wellness, it is important to make some changes, break a few bad habits and embrace a few new good ones.
  • Take personal responsibility.
  • Don’t blame others or complain about them.
  • Visualise success.


7. Exercise and nutrition

People who exercise regularly are likely to live longer and enjoy a better quality of life. In fact, studies have shown that being physically unfit is just as dangerous as smoking in terms of lowering life expectancy. It’s equally important to eat the highest quality food in the right quantities if you are to achieve your highest potential for health, vitality and freedom from disease.

  • Start each day with a hot water and lemon.
  • Drink herbal and green teas instead of caffeinated drinks.
  • Aim to drink two litres of water a day.
  • Never skip breakfast.
  • Snack on fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds at work.
  • Keep alcohol consumption within the recommended government limits.
  • Exercise at least 30 minutes a day.
  • Practise office exercises.
  • Wear a pedometer to work.
  • Take the stairs, not the lift.
  • Encourage walking meetings.


8. Communication and wellbeing

Poor communication in the workplace can lead to a culture of bitching, back stabbing and blame which in turn can also affect our stress levels, especially when we don’t understand something or feel that we have been misled. Good communication, on the other hand, can have a very positive effect on morale and motivate individuals to want to come into work and do a great job.

  • Positive communication is really important in the workplace in order to create a happy working environment.
  • When possible, communicate face to face.
  • Remember that intrapersonal communication, the way in which you communicate with yourself, is the first step to positive and effective communication.
  • Be assertive rather than passive or aggressive – people who have mastered the skill of assertiveness are able to greatly reduce the level of interpersonal conflict in their lives and significantly reduce a major source of stress, for themselves and others.


9. Stress management

Stress in the workplace reduces productivity, increases management pressures, makes people ill in many ways and provides a serious risk of litigation for all employers and organisations, carrying significant liabilities for damages, bad publicity and loss of reputation.

  • The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) Management Standards for Work-Related Stress have government backing and represent a set of conditions that, if present, reflect a high level of health wellbeing and organisational performance.
  • High exposure to stress can trigger chemical imbalance in the brain and trigger depression.


10. Environment

It is extremely important to create an environment that is comfortable and stimulating and conducive to both physical and psychological wellbeing. This will contribute significantly to that all-important ‘feel good factor’ at work.

  • Consider factors such as noise levels, ventilation and temperature.
  • Take responsibility to keep your work area tidy.
  • Music in a work setting can be very beneficial and can improve productivity.


11. Happiness habits

Happiness and wellbeing are inextricably linked. It is important to remember that your behaviour in the workplace is part of what makes the environment a good place to be. If everyone at work is happy and positive and friendly then the chances are it is going to be a much better place to be.

  • A recent study conducted at financial institutions in America found that managers who facilitated the highest level of employee performance used humour the most often.
  • Laughter burns calories, lowers blood pressure, oxygenates the blood and strengthens the immune system.
  • Practise happiness habits at work.


12. Goal setting

Setting and achieving goals also helps improve your performance at work, at home in your social life or wherever you choose to use it. Goal setting is a life skill that can enhance wellbeing.

  • Setting goals requires you to develop clarity.
  • If you have clear goals and focus on them, you will get more of what you do want (your goals) and less of what you don’t want.
  • When you work on what’s important, you will accomplish more than you ever expected.
  • Only three per cent of people have proper written goals although, according to research, these people accomplish 80 per cent more than those who don’t