The significance of psychological and physiological well-being in the workplace has grown over few decades, as for a great many employees although the physical demands of a job may not be as great as their parents or grandparents faced the psychological stress is greater than ever before.
In addition, the nature of many jobs is not always conducive to physical health either. Even just sitting at a computer for long hours can have a far more damaging effect on the body than most people realize.
In some ways stress at work can be beneficial. If an employee is always challenged to keep improving and learning then this can lead to a greater sense of achievement, something that is certainly a positive. However, when the stresses become too numerous the employee’s ability to cope and maintain a healthy outlook will be damaged rather than enhanced.
The Impact of Employee Health on a Business
Employers who do not create and then implement a strategy for enhancing well- being in the workplace are damaging their business as well as their employees every day. Whatever industry a business operates in its employees are its biggest assets and failure to take care of those assets in the same way as they would any others can severely impact a business’ bottom line.
In high physical risk industries such as marine and construction it is far easier for employees to try to ensure the physical safety and well-being of their employees whose jobs are very hands on in nature. For these employers there are strict health and safety guidelines that must be adhered to and a failure to do so results in fines and penalties for an employer.
In an office environment or similar workplace there are very few such rules and guidelines but that does not mean that an employee’s everyday working environment does not put them at risk of physical damage.
These rules also do not relate to physiological issues and stress in any workplace. There is no way to measure the impact of stress on every individual and therefore regulate it. However stress is a leading cause of absenteeism in a white collar environment thanks to the physical manifestations of stress, which are many. Frequent absenteeism costs businesses money in terms of reduced productivity.
Employees who are under too much stress are also far less likely to complete their work to the best of their abilities and are more likely to make costly mistakes and errors.
According to numerous studies and censuses of people employed in workplaces all over the world the effects of workplace stress can manifest themselves in all of the following ways:
Physical Effects of Workplace Stress
Increased heart rate, blood pressure and levels of cortisol
(known as the “stress hormone”),
Increase in the frequency or severity of headaches
Over-eating or loss of appetite.
Back problems, heart disease, cardiovascular disease and
type 2 diabetes
Gastrointestinal problems such as stomach ulcers and
Weakened immune system, making a person vulnerable to nagging illness, as well as aggravate existing health problems.
Emotional responses and effects of workplace stress
Employees may feel:
Anxious, irritable, hopeless, isolated or guilty
Suffer depression and mental illness
Feel aggressive, causing unnecessary conflicts
Lethargic, unmotivated and apathetic
The need to turn to drink or take drugs to cope, unwind or forget their stress.
Implementing a Programme of Workplace Health Promotion
Keeping all of this in mind, both employees and employers can benefit significantly from the creation of a deliberate and organized workplace health promotion programme.
Just some of the benefits of implementing such a programme can be broken down as follows:
Benefits to The Employee
A safer, healthier work environment
Increased productivity and job satisfaction
Increased physical health
Increased overall sense of well being
Benefits to the Employer
Improved staff morale
Reduced staff turnover
Increased employee and business productivity
Improved company image
Reduced health related costs
A successful workplace health promotion programme should consist of a number of different elements. From helping them to stop smoking with e-cigs or nicotine-administering patches to offer free tickets for the gym. Here are some basic guidelines and suggestions:
Workplace Design and Organization
The physical layout of the work-space an employee has to work in on a day to day basis can be improved significantly by making simple changes.
Ergonomics is basically the scientific study of human work. Successful workplace ergonomics takes into account the physical and mental capabilities and possible limitations of the employee as he or she interacts with tools, equipment and work methods needed to complete daily tasks.
Over the last several years the main focus of office ergonomics has shifted to computer work due to the significant increase in everyday computer use in the modern office and the associated increase in injuries.
Employers can help achieve optimal workplace ergonomics by providing employees with properly designed workstations, chairs and other tools.
Lighting in an office space is also extremely important for the well being of the work space and its occupants. The best office and workplace lighting schemes are those that use a mixture of light sources instead of just a single overhead lighting source. Employees should have efficient task lighting at their desk, often in the form of an adjustable lamp and common areas should be well lit but not too bright.
Improving Workplace Well Being with General Health Initiatives
While individual employees likely have their own doctors and healthcare routines implementing certain practices and initiatives in the workplace can be very helpful and effective.
Health Education and Health Assistance
Employers can help improve well being in the workplace by creating a programme that encourages employees to pay better attention to their health and proper health practices. This will obviously include any specific rules and regulations that are in place to protect employees physically while actively engaged in work but should not be limited to that.
Occupational Health and Safety
Even in an office environment there are some health and safety basics that employees should be made aware of, and reminded about, that can help safeguard their physical safety and well being while at work. Simple things like lifting a heavy box of documents incorrectly or having the volume on a headset too loud can cause physical damage and employers should remind employees of those kinds of things. In addition to group education sessions simply placing posters that illustrate health and safety best practices can reinforce ideal behaviors on a daily basis.
Many employees who work and raise families and maintain a household have little time to think about the importance of simple, regular health check ups and often only visit a physician once a year or even only when they are actually ill or injured.
By implementing a system of simple monthly health checks employers can help ensure that employees are taking proper notice and care of their general health. By offering simple screenings for things like ideal weight, blood pressure and general physical fitness employers can decrease the number of days that employees are absent for health reasons. The screenings should not be mandatory but research has shown that the vast majority of employers who are offered these things take advantage of them and appreciate the employer’s concern.
Breaks and In Office Exercise
Sitting in one place for hours, even if the furniture in use is optimally designed for the individual employee can still be detrimental to an employee’s health. In addition to back and neck strain sitting in one place for too long decreases proper blood circulation and can lead to peripheral vascular problems and even to more serious physical health issues such as lower limb blood clots. Numerous recent studies have also linked sitting at a desk for too long with a lifetime increased risk of obesity, even with proper diet.
Ideally employees should be encouraged to take a break from siting at their desk at least once an hour. These breaks do not need to be too long but even the simple act of getting up from one’s chair and performing a few simple stretches should be allowed and encouraged.
To help make sure that employees are getting adequate physical exercise employers can offer simple in office exercise classes which can be as simple as organizing walks at break times, they do not have to be at all complicated or expensive to be successful.
Flexible Work Hours
The concept of a flexible work schedule, one in which employees are not strictly bound to a 9am to 5pm work day every day and are allowed to be flexible in setting schedules has been shown to increase employee satisfaction in their jobs and reduce workplace stress.
Employee Recognition Programmes
The importance of employee recognition to the well being of the workplace is something that is very often overlooked in a busy workplace. However the positive benefits of employee recognition extend to both employee and employer.
Employee recognition programmes do not really mean financial rewards either. Being appreciated and having their efforts appreciated is a basic human need that everyone has. Recognition of a job well done is important to the continuing growth and well being of employees because it confirms that the work they do is valued so therefore it has more meaning. When employees receive recognition for their good work their job satisfaction levels rise and so does their productivity.