Over 15 million Canadians are spending more than half their waking hours at work. Research confirms that the work environment directly impacts employee health and has far reaching social consequences for individuals and society. Many employers understand the benefits of providing healthy workplaces and integrating occupational health and safety, and human resource practices into the business strategy of the organization is often regarded as a key ingredient of success.

For workplaces:

  • Reduced absenteeism
  • Reduced benefit costs
  • Higher employee morale and job satisfaction
  • Happier and healthier staff
  • Improved corporate image
  • Lowered insurance costs
  • Reduced staff turnover
  • Increased productivity
  • Increased organizational effectiveness

For employees:

  • Improved health
  • Increased energy
  • Decreased risk of injury and/or illness
  • Increased job satisfaction
  • Increased ability to balance work and family responsibilities

Traditionally, there are three factors that influence the health of the organization and its employees.

  1. Occupational Health and Safety
  2. Individual Health Practices and Behaviours
  3. Organizational Culture

The most effective health programs address all three factors and Corporate Social Responsibility (also referred to as Community Involvement), an additional fourth factor recognized by the World Health Organization in 2012.

Occupational Health and Safety

These initiatives help to provide a safe physical environment that prevents illness and injury. Examples may include:

  • Ergonomically designed workstations
  • Safe and well-lit stairways
  • Health and safety training e.g. first aid or hazardous material training

Individual Health Practices and Behaviours

Health initiatives can encourage and support employees in making healthy lifestyle choices. Examples may include:

  • Healthy food choices in the cafeteria and/or vending machines
  • Physical activity programs at breaks and/or lunch hour
  • Smoking cessation programs or support groups

Organizational Culture

A healthy workplace culture promotes work enjoyment and productivity. Workplace initiatives can enhance the physical and mental well-being of the employees. Examples may include:

  • Employee recognition programs
  • Flexible work arrangements
  • Leadership training and development opportunities
  • Staff involvement in decision making

Corporate Social Responsibility (also referred to as Community Involvement)

Healthy workplaces address broader social and environmental determinants of worker’s health. Workplaces that adopt community involvement practices experience bottom-line benefits and enhance society at large. Examples may include:

  • Charitable support to community causes and non-profit organizations
  • Voluntary pollution/waste control measures and disclosures
  • Equal employment opportunity policies and practices
Diagram of three factors that affect the health of a workplace
Diagram of three factors that affect the health of a workplace.

To achieve a healthy workplace, try a combination of the following strategies for the most effective approach.

  • Awareness raising, education  Provide information to help employees make informed decisions e.g. educational sessions, newsletters
  • Skill building  Provide opportunities for staff to enhance personal, interpersonal, cognitive and physical skills e.g. communications, managing stress
  • Environmental support – Provide an environment which supports healthy choices e.g. breastfeeding room, cafeteria with healthy food choices, on-site physical activity centre
  • Policy development – Establish policies that encourage healthy behaviour e.g. healthy eating policy, breastfeeding policy

Strategies and sample workplace health activities

 Occupational Health and Safety

  • Raise awareness of health risks associated with hazardous materials
  • Provide training on how to respond in an emergency
  • Provide necessary equipment to safely handle hazardous materials
  • Implement a policy stating all employees must complete WHMIS course annually

Individual Health Practices and Behaviours

  • Provide information on bulletin boards, intranet, newsletter, etc. about the benefits of physical activity
  • Provide a session with a qualified instructor on proper stretching techniques
  • Provide shower and change facilities to help encourage physical activity in and around the workplace
  • Develop a flexible work arrangement policy to allow employees to be active before work, after work or during lunch

Organizational Culture

  • Educate managers about the importance of effective communication
  • Provide training sessions on communication skills for managers
  • Friday coffee chats with senior management
  • All staff to attend a conflict resolution session when hired

Corporate Social Responsibility (also referred to as Community Involvement)

  • Promote sustainable commuting options for staff to decrease traffic congestion and air pollution
  • Organize a commute program with resources, tools and carpooling
  • Provide bike racks, discounted transit passes and other incentives to encourage cleaner commuting
  • Develop a policy stating a commitment to improve air quality through alternative commuting options

Successful workplace health programs consider the following elements:

Senior management

Involvement from senior management demonstrates their commitment and support for initiatives.

Participatory planning

Engagement of all levels of stakeholders strengthens workplace health initiatives.

Primary focus on employees’ needs

Acknowledgement of the diverse needs of the employee population helps to tailor programs appropriately.

Optimal use of on-site resources

Planning and implementation of initiatives should optimize use of on-site personnel, physical resources and organizational capabilities. For example, whenever possible, initiatives should use on-site specialists in such areas as health and safety, management, work organization, communication, and human resources.

Written commitment

An overall workplace health policy should be developed. The policies governing employee health must align with the corporate mission, vision, and values supporting both short and long-term goals. Workplace health policies should be integrated under one global workplace health policy, framework or mission statement.

Health is influenced by multiple factors

Health initiatives and activities should reflect how health is influenced by multiple factors.

Tailored to the uniqueness of each workplace environment

Health initiatives should be tailored to the specific needs of the workplace.

Evaluation

Evaluation of initiatives needs to be completed to determine whether goals and objectives have been met for both the employer and employees.

Long-term commitment

Commitment to workplace health is long term and requires flexibility to modify initiatives as needed.

The following benefits are worth the investment:

  • Employees making healthier choice (seen within a few months)
  • Evidence of increased job satisfaction, work commitment and productivity resulting in increased customer satisfaction (often seen within a year)
  • An organization sees any significant improvements in health-related costs (at least three years)