Health and safety in the workplace is an important consideration for both employers and employees. We spend a significant amount of time at work and awareness is growing of how this impacts on our health and wellbeing. New scientific studies and updated guidance by advisory bodies are starting to show that, in addition to their health and safety responsibilities, employers need to make a commitment to helping their employees improve their overall wellbeing.
Why should you promote wellbeing in the workplace?
In a study published in the Lancet Journal, 1 in 10 premature deaths can be attributed to physical inactivity. Rather than being a lifestyle choice, prolonged sitting can be a behaviour encouraged in the workplace, where employees are required to spend the majority of their day at a workstation. According to the British Journal of Sports Medicine, every hour of sitting cuts lifespan by 22 minutes.
Improving workplace wellbeing to tackle issues such as prolonged sitting has clear potential benefits for employees. Employers can benefit from better workplace wellbeing, too. Britain’s Healthiest Workplace, a workplace wellness study that has been running annually since 2013, state that UK employers are failing to invest in employee wellbeing and that the resulting lost productivity is costing the UK economy £57 billion a year. Sickness absence costs UK employers £12.2 billion each year, according to the Faculty of Public Health.
The Faculty of Public Health states that where organisations invest in improving employee wellbeing, there are a number of positive outcomes. Employees are more productive and perform better. There are fewer absences, accidents and injuries. Employees are happier and better able to cope with change. Staff turnover in the organisation decreases. All of these benefits reflect positively on the organisation as a whole; boosting reputation and performance.
Wellbeing initiatives should include other employee lifestyle choices such as diet and exercise. While employers cannot control lifestyle choices, they can make a positive impact by promoting healthy lifestyle choices and providing the facilities for employees to make healthier choices. In an update for 2016, NICE guidance now includes lifestyle choices. For example, guidelines suggest the development and delivery of a workplace health programme that includes promoting greater physical activity and healthier nutritional choices.
How can you promote wellbeing in the workplace?
Firstly, provide information and support that allows employees to make healthier lifestyle choices. Ensure that you have clear smoke-free and alcohol and substance misuse policies. On top of this, provide helpful information that explains the health risks of smoking, drinking alcohol and other substance misuse. You should also promote counselling and support services that employees can use if they want further advice or help.
Secondly, provide the facilities to allow employees to make healthier nutritional choices. For example, if you have a canteen, ensure that nutritional information is given on the menu, healthy options are available and portion sizes are reasonable. If you have vending machines, ensure that they include healthy options too. If you don’t include healthy options, your employees can’t make a healthier choice no matter how well-informed they are.
If you don’t provide food on-site, then make sure there are clean, accessible kitchen facilities that will allow employees to bring, store and prepare their own healthy meals. This will allow them a healthier choice than the convenience food they can purchase near to their place of work.
Thirdly, help employees choose to be more active. You can encourage them to walk or cycle in to work by providing facilities such as showers, changing rooms, lockers and bike storage. Provide information on schemes such as the cycle to work scheme, which can help employees get the equipment they need to become more active.
You can promote local gyms and even negotiate a discount for your staff with that gym to help employees who many not have otherwise been able to afford membership. Another idea is to set up sports teams or clubs within your organisation and include match news in your internal newsletter or communications which, as well as boosting physical activity among employees, will also boost team morale!
Fourthly, plan your workplace layout to keep employees more active. Place resources, such as printers, in a central location so that anyone needing to print a document will need to walk away from their workstation. This keeps employees more active throughout the day and also offers them the chance to take a small break from their workstation, which is good for resting their eyes and improving their concentration. Don’t overlook your stairwell in your workplace layout and decor; although employees may not spend very much time on the stairs, it’s important that this space is accessible, bright and welcoming to encourage the use of the stairs over the lift.
Last but not least, look at improving ways of working or changing workstations to combat physical inactivity. You could look at implementing active tasks alongside sitting tasks so that employees have the opportunity to stand up from their desk and move more. You could also encourage face to face conversations because instant messaging and phone calls are convenient, but allowing staff to leave their workstation and converse with one another improves their physical health and can even boost their mood.
If an employee does need to be at their workstation for the majority of their working hours, then you could look into alternative workstations. For example, the sit/stand desk has been increasing in popularity, which is likely to be due to the growing awareness of the health risks of prolonged sitting. The sit/stand desk allows an employee to either sit or stand to complete their work, and the desk can be easily varied between these two setups throughout the day.
These are just a few ideas to get you started. As wellbeing continues to be investigated and the impacts on both employees and employers are studied, there are likely to be even more ideas that you can implement in the future. Employees want to look after their wellbeing, and employers who help them achieve these goals are likely to be rewarded with greater productivity, lower absence and sickness rates and better overall performance.