Health and wellbeing in the workplace

Health and wellbeing is something employers and employees need to consider, writes Dr Michelle O'Driscoll
Health and wellbeing in the workplace

young girl woman in a yellow shirt works on a laptop with a mug of coffee at home in the living room on the carpet, remote work and education

WE spend a significant proportion of our waking hours in work, often dedicating more time to employment-related tasks than to our own families. Such is the nature of life, we work for a wage, to be able to look after our loved ones.

The pandemic has opened the door to the possibility of remote working for many, but irrespective of your location, prioritisation of health and wellbeing is something employers need to consider.

A National Healthy Workplace Framework was launched before Christmas by Minister Frank Feighan and aims to support the enhancement of health and wellbeing the Irish workplace. Supported by the Department of Health and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, its seen as an important step towards supporting the health and wellbeing of workers in Ireland. The Healthy Workplaces Framework is part of the Healthy Ireland Framework 2013-2025.

The framework reports an average of 5.6 days of absence from workplaces per year for health reasons, with stress being the No.1 cause cited for non-manual workers. Implementation of health and wellness initiatives has been shown to decrease absenteeism rates (not turning up for work) and decrease presenteeism rates (turning up but not performing at work). It improves employee engagement, improves health and wellbeing of employees, increases staff morale, and maximises retention rates.

Legally, companies are not obliged to implement anything other than to meet health and safety regulations, but for the benefit of staff and ultimately their businesses, a wider contribution to employee wellbeing is strongly advised. This is what the framework hopes to support going forward.

If you’re an employee or an employer, it might be helpful to consider what offerings, if any, are already in place for employee health and wellbeing. 

The issue you may find with many of them is that they are provided ad hoc, without a clear plan, blindly shooting in the hopes of hitting a successful target. The purpose of this framework is to provide more robust guidance around how to design your offerings and target them appropriately.

Below are the steps outlined by the framework to developing a healthy workplace. Which of these can you say your place of work is currently acting on?

Step 1 – Gain and build support.

We can all relate to the feeling of one lone sailor attempting to turn the tide on something like wellbeing. It’s a tough road if there isn’t support from leadership, and buy-in from the organisation as a whole. Somebody within the organisation should be leading the initiative with the backing and support of a working group.

The benefits of investing in this area are not always immediately obvious to those holding the purse strings, and so a strong business case is advantageous to gain the impetus to implement change such as this. What’s in it for them, their company and their employees? That’s what they’ll want to know.

Step 2 – Assessing needs and setting objectives.

It’s important to recognise that workplace wellbeing is not a one size fits all, and should certainly not be a tick-box exercise as this will only result in employee resentment and disdain.

The changes implemented should be personalised to the needs of the employees of a particular setting. Can you say that of your workplace setting?

 Are your needs and preferences taken into account? Being clear on what can and should be achieved is instrumental in a successful wellbeing campaign. If in doubt, ask, as an employee would you like to be consulted?

Step 3 – Planning and resourcing.

Ensuring the timelines for delivery are realistic, and that there is a suitable designated budget for these supports, is vital. Does your workplace factor investment in this area into their bottom line?

Putting their money where their mouth is demonstrates a commitment to the cause, and a desire to bring about positive change.

Step 4 – Implementing.

Following through on such well laid plans requires roll out of often complex logistics and the monitoring of engagement. What proportion of staff are availing of the services on offer? What benefits are they reaping personally and professionally?

Step 5 – Evaluating and improving.

Monitoring engagement feeds back to inform future iterations of the plan in order to tweak and change it accordingly. 

Does your workplace assess the impact of these initiatives and services? Do they take participant feedback on board and improve the quality accordingly? How is each phase bettered? It’s an ongoing journey, constantly evolving.

Health and wellbeing may not automatically come to mind when you think of work, but there is a rise in appreciation for the role that our workplaces can play in supporting, nurturing and boosting our wellbeing if its actioned appropriately.

The coming years will see big changes in terms of the infrastructure available to us, and the quality of the workplace wellbeing offerings, supported by this framework.

The Government will support workplaces wishing to engage in workplace wellbeing programmes by providing the resources to move through the above steps.

The full document can be found at

https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/445a4a-healthy-workplace- framework/

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dr Michelle O'Driscoll is a pharmacist, researcher and founder of InTuition, a health and wellness education company. Her research lies in the area of mental health education, and through InTuition she delivers health promotion workshops to corporate and academic organisations nationally. See intuition.ie

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