How to improve workplace health

1.3 million people suffered work related ill-health in 2016/17, losing 25.7 million working days to the economy.  40% of these were related to stress, depression or anxiety and a further 39% to musculoskeletal disorders.  The good health of the workforce isn’t an issue that any business owner can afford to ignore.

Businesses face increasing pressure to ensure the good health of their workforce, and trying to support their teams to take good care of themselves is a start.  Promoting initiatives in the workplace to get us to stop smoking, drinking less, eating more healthily and exercising go some way to improving health.

It isn’t just the direct costs of ill health that should be considered.  Every sick day  or staff member underperforming due to ill health increases pressure on other members of the team making them less productive and less engaged.  Ultimately, it could result in other members becoming unwell and needing to take time off.

Is the physical environment adequate?

Ensuring that equipment and furniture is appropriate for the kind of work being carried out is essential, and regular reviews of desk heights, chairs, monitors and equipment needed to work is essential to ensure they’re in good working order, fit for purpose and being used appropriately.

How is mental wellbeing supported?

However, there is more that could be done to keep maintain wellbeing until later in life, and much of that involves promoting good mental health.   40% of days lost to ill health in the workplace relate to stress, depression and anxiety – that equates to just over half a million people or 10.28 million working days.

In recent years, we have seen much greater focus on the importance of good mental health.  There is greater openness and acceptance, which has encouraged more people to admit to feeling depressed, anxious or stressed; but there are still instances of people failing to be appointed or achieve promotion as a result of being open about their mental health.

With greater awareness of the impact of poor mental health comes a desire to provide help and support to those who are struggling, but this isn’t as simple as prescribing a tablet or bandage, and the healing process can be very slow, and not always successful.  Mental ill health can be a recurring issue, and sufferers often have to try many different remedies to find one that works.

Employers should understand how poor mental health affects their organisation and identify potential causes.  Senior members of staff should be trained to provide appropriate support, or understand where help can be found.  This could be statutory bodies such as the NHS, voluntary bodies such as Samaritans or it could be from their colleagues, friends and family.  Each individual will need a different approach and it’s definitely not a one size fits all!

In addition to making sure that issues are detected and support offered, there are a number of things employers can do to benefit the positive mental health of all employees, and this could have a big impact on reducing stress and anxiety in the workplace.

Research has shown that there are three main things that contribute to a feeling of wellness.

  1. Access to green and blue space (fields, parks, the sea, river or lakes)

Research has shown that even an office with a view of the natural environment can provide an improved sense of wellbeing, improved job satisfaction, increased performance and productivity and decreased levels of stress.  These impacts increase further where individuals can get out into the natural environment during the working day.

Where access to green or blue space isn’t possible, such as in the middle of a city, the provision of plants or an aquarium in offices and rest areas will lead to decreased stress levels and increased relaxation.

  1. Increased physical activity

Employers who encourage their staff to take a break from their desk at lunchtime to get outside report increased activity and engagement.  Results improve further where there is an element of social interaction – a group walk, or interdepartmental football or table tennis matches.  This also impacts by increasing the team spirit within the workplace bringing with it higher levels of organisation wide co-operation.

  1. Volunteering

People who volunteer have a higher sense of wellbeing than either those who spend time in nature or who participate in physical activity.  This could be due to the altruistic nature of volunteering – doing something to benefit someone or something else with no obvious reward.  Thus, it makes sense to incorporate opportunities for volunteering into the workplace, even allowing it to be undertaken during the working day.

For maximum benefit, your volunteering could take place in nature and involve physical activity!

Staff suffering from high levels of stress and anxiety aren’t productive, therefore some minor adjustments to the workplace will help increase productivity and reduce days lost to ill health.  Businesses should understand how many workdays are being lost in their organisation to ill health, and be willing to make adjustments to reduce these.


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