Understanding the Importance of Employee Health

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.

stressed woman

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
Short-term responses:
Increased heart rate, blood pressure and levels of cortisol
(known as the “stress hormone”),
Muscle tension
Increase in the frequency or severity of headaches
Over-eating or loss of appetite.

Long-term consequences:

Back problems, heart disease, cardiovascular disease and
type 2 diabetes
Gastrointestinal problems such as stomach ulcers and
heartburn.
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 low-self-esteem
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
Reduced stress
Increased morale
Increased productivity and job satisfaction
Increased physical health
Increased overall sense of well being

Benefits to the Employer

Improved staff morale
Reduced absenteeism
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.

ergonomic-work-station

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.

Health Screenings

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

31-Employee-Appreciation-Messages

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.

GAMIFICATION: An alternative approach to employee engagement

Aaron Dignan, CEO of Undercurrent & Author of “Game Frame“, presented his theory that bringing those exciting and engaging characteristics of games into our sustainability work will create more productive employees and projects. Rather than saying, ‘produce less waste’, create an Iron Chef game: ‘create something with this one lobster!” In other words, make it into a game!

Ever wonder why we have to “work now and play later”? Aaron Dignan argues that maybe we should just play all the time. Bring the structure and satisfaction of games into your every day work, life, and sustainability programs, and we’ll be even more productive than ever before.

At the same time that more people seem to be bored or unsatisfied at work, the popularity of games has increased dramatically. Some examples: More 2-5 year old kids know how to open a browser than know how to swim, play with an app than tie their shoe, play a video game than ride a bike. High school grads go into college with 100,000 hours of video game experience. Executive businessmen play Angry Birds in the first class section of an airplane. You might not even consider yourself a “game person,” but you’re probably engaged in games in some way.

What do games have that life doesn’t, that get us so excited about them? Aaron argues that games have 2 things that life doesn’t: structure and satisfaction. So, How is it structured? Why is it satisfying?

Games let us:

  • Learn – almost all specifies play as a way to test boundaries and learn how to survive. Humans are the only ones that separate play from our work of survival.
  • Take risks (without dying) – Innovating allows you to become a version of your best self.
  • Work together – The most popular games are the ones where you are engaging with others.
  • Find a State of Flow – Games create a challenge that is just above your skill, so you push your limits, but
    can still succeed. You loose sense of time and place. Isn’t this what we need at work?
  • Activate our wanting circuitry – As opposed to the liking circuitry (which releases a calming sensation), the
    wanting circuitry releases a sense of accomplishment and drive to get you what you want.
  • Grow our skills- Who doesn’t like to get better at what they do? Being the best at angry birds still feels
    great, even though it doesn’t mean anything – perhaps we need to find this feeling in our everyday work.

Games are great, but how do we turn work into play? Boring desk jobs into games? Here’s 3 criteria to make something into a game (think Nike run tracker):

  1. Includes activity that can be learned
  2. Player can be measured
  3. Feedback delivered in a timely manner (fast!)

Our work will be judged by our ability to engage and empower a network. Games are a great way to do it. Are we going to use them to get people to buy stuff or to make people and organizations better?

Application to sustainability:
Rather than say “do more with less”, create an iron-chef scenario: “Make something with this Lobster!”.
Here is a list of products or technologies based on this gamification:

  • my energy
  • practically green
  • mutual
  • terracycle
  • recyclebank
  • closet swap
  • nest
  • smart gage

The Top 10 Platitudes for Designing and Executing Your Sustainability Program

Bart Alexander, Chief Corporate Responsibility Officer, Molson Coors spoke at the Sustainable Opportunities Summit 2011. According to Bart, he gets paid to help a really great company make money the right way and wants to share his top 10 platitudes to help guide your sustainability efforts. Watch the whole video so you can learn how Molson Coors implements these 10 principles:

Top 10 Platitudes for Designing and Executing Your Sustainability Program

10. What’s in a Name? Does it matter what you call your program?

9. Keep the Home Fires Burning. Find out what fuels you business drivers and your leaders and how your customers expectations are changing.

8. Walk Before You Run. It’s easy for an organization to trip up by over promising and under delivering
Remember you won’t get credit for the good stuff, if you are still doing the bad stuff. Get the basics right.

7. Don’t Reinvent the Wheel. Learn from others and use existing frameworks (i.e. GRI) to guide your effort.

6. Find Your Sweet Spot. Identify the spot where your organization can have maximum impact. Look for where the needs of the world, expectations of your stakeholders and your capabilities and expertise intersect – that’s it!

5. Look Beyond the End of Your Nose. It’s critical to focus on things you can control but lifecycle impact goes beyond company walls. Your organization must look at lifecycle impact of your business.

4. Expose Yourself. Consumers expect more transparency!Be open and honest about your successes and failures.

3. Don’t Go it Alone. You’re exposed but not alone. Embrace all stakeholders and move towards strategic partnerships.

2. Think Global, Act local. It’s everyone’s job to change the world but start by looking at your own company. Start with what you can control, then work outwards.

1. Keep it Simple, Stupid. The world get what’s important and consumers support companies doing the right thing. Don’t make things more complex than they need to be.

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