Research has indicated a strong relationship between an employee’s health and wellbeing and their productivity at work. Healthy workers are found to be more productive with fewer rates of absenteeism than their unhealthy colleagues.
However, some groups are more vulnerable than others, for example older workers, and those employed in high stress or heavy work, are susceptible to common problems such as Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) and back pain. Such health issues can be positively addressed through effective workplace health and wellbeing programs.
Workplace health and wellbeing programs are interventions put in place by employers that aim to improve the overall health of workers in order to prevent chronic illnesses. Programs may include a variety of individual employee programs such as smoking cessation and physical activity programs and are usually tailored to the identified needs of staff within an organisation.
Research increasingly indicates that characteristics of the workplace are a critical element in the health and wellbeing equation. For example, some workplaces may generate high levels of staff stress, while at the same time offering programs and services to address it. By ignoring the causes of workplace stress, employers may be cancelling out their investment in health and wellbeing programs.
Although mature age workers are likely to redeem many benefits from workplace health and wellbeing programs, these initiatives should not only be reactively implemented when employees are older. A proactive, age-neutral approach is important in establishing healthy attitudes and behaviours for all employees.
Workplace health and wellbeing programs serve two purposes: they are of benefit to a worker’s overall health and wellbeing and secondly they are of benefit to employers by helping to prevent decreases in profits and productivity associated with workplace injury and sickness absence.
In addition to the obvious personal benefits mature age employees gain from living a healthier lifestyle, a list of organisational benefits may include:
- Reduced risk of injuries and/or work-related accidents
- Improved workplace morale, satisfaction, motivation and workplace culture
- Reduced stress levels
- Improved staff recruitment/retention
- Increased return on investment of training and development programs
- Increased productivity
- Improved external image
- Reduced absenteeism
- Prevention of mature age workers exiting the labour market due to ill health
- Increased retention of valuable knowledge, skills and experience of mature age workers
- Increased likelihood of mature age workers delaying their retirement
Workplace health and wellbeing programs
Workplace health and wellbeing programs may be both preventive in nature and/or include initiatives that are intended to compensate for physical decline as people age.
Examples of workplace health and wellbeing programs may include:
Use of experts and consultants
- Using health experts/consultants to provide advice such as on diet and exercise and how to reduce chronic disease risk factors
- Hosting on-site visits from organisations such as the Cancer Council, SunSmart, and The Heart Foundation to inform and encourage healthy behaviours (e.g. weight loss programs, provision of cafeteria healthy food options)
Information and advice
- Providing information for living a healthy lifestyle through distribution of brochures and DVDs
- Providing advice on potential impacts of ageing
- Providing information about walking and cycling routes in your area to encourage workers to include some physical activity in their daily commute to and from work
- Conducting employee satisfaction surveys to identify problem areas and establish benchmark information
- Offering access to exercise and general physical activity programs including groups, facilities and subsidies (e.g. yoga, relaxation, gym membership, walking groups)
- Offering breaks or time to participate in physical activity programs
- Encouraging workers to do simple stretching exercises during the day
Medical and other services
- Providing personal health assessments
- Offering annual health checks such as screening and risk assessments (e.g. weight, blood glucose levels, blood pressure and cholesterol)
- Offering reimbursements on vaccinations (e.g. Flu)
- Providing access to psychological counselling (e.g. stress management)
- Offering health insurance subsidies
- Offering work/life balance arrangements (e.g. flexible work hours)
- Offering preventive redeployment
- Offering access to smoking, alcohol and drug cessation programs (e.g. Quit)
Targeted Occupational Health and Safety practices - encompassing psychological/mental health, physical health and cognitive health. Risk management and insurance services may be consulted to add value to business operations. This will address an employee’s capacity and potential (which is highly variable across all age groups) that should be objectively measured and proactively sustained
- Providing access to elder care assistance for employees with elderly parents
Equipment and infrastructure
- Conducting ergonomic assessments (e.g. accessible stairwells, standing desks, RSI keyboards) and workplace (re)design
- Assessing existing infrastructure and/or providing additional workplace infrastructure that supports health and wellbeing (e.g. on-site gym facilities, showers, bike racks, eating and relaxation areas, facilities to prepare healthy food/drinks)
- Offering standing work stations to reduce sedentary behaviours (if relevant)
Tips for successful implementation
Successful implementation of health and wellbeing programs in your workplace may be achieved through considering the following:
Gaining the necessary commitment of senior management
A workplace health and wellbeing program that is actively supported by senior management contributes to a positive culture throughout the rest of the organisation. Open approval and commitment by management helps to create broader engagement from all workers at all levels.
Conducting a needs assessment of your workforce and organisation
Before considering any new strategies, review your organisation’s existing health and wellbeing initiatives. These might include flu vaccinations, flexible work arrangements and/or smoke free policies.
Consolidating existing initiatives under the banner of workplace health and wellbeing will assist to give your program a profile, engage staff and build momentum.
In the next step, you will need to identify the primary needs of both the organisation and your workforce. It is recommended that you use a variety of methods to gather information for your needs assessment.
These may include one or a combination of any of the following:
- Conduct surveys (this will inform your program development as well as provide baseline data to assist in the monitoring, evaluation and refining of your program as it progresses)
- Hold focus groups
- Ask for input through regular staff meetings
- Establish an anonymous suggestion box
Identifying a champion (either an individual or group) who is responsible for the engagement of other staff members
Identify enthusiastic ‘champions’ in the workplace to lead, actively promote and encourage participation in the program. They can be used to engage other members of staff and increase rates of participation.
Establishing a committee that is responsible for culture change
Establishing a committee to plan, develop and oversee the running of the program could be beneficial as employees take ownership of the process. As a result they will often fully understand the benefits associated with implementing such strategies.
Using effective communication/marketing/promotion strategies to inform staff about programs
Clear communication to staff regarding the purpose and objectives of the workplace health and wellbeing program is vital to building positive employee engagement.
Some tips for clear communication in the promotion of your workplace health and wellbeing program may include:
- Frequent clear communication and use of multiple channels to maximise reach to all employees. This is essential to generate interest and to facilitate active participation (e.g. through newsletters, websites, a health and wellbeing notice board, internal e-mails, and posters or flyers in the work canteen/eating area)
- Project branding can create an identity for the workplace health and wellbeing program that can build recognition and raise staff awareness
- An official launch may assist to create momentum and emphasise the support of senior management
- Multifaceted communication strategies that are ongoing in order to ensure sustainable practice
Other marketing and promotion strategies to consider may include:
- Creating a supportive culture so healthy behaviour is easier to initiate and maintain
- Providing incentives can enhance rates of participation in activities. For example provide healthy catering at a 'preparing healthy meals’ seminar
- Promote and advertise success stories widely
Reviewing, evaluating and updating the program on a regular basis
Regular systematic evaluation will provide evidence on whether the program is achieving its expected aims and objectives.
If well designed, evaluation can also provide an insight and often explain why a program has been effective or ineffective.
To assist in the evaluation process, it is important to maintain accurate records of program initiatives, participation rates and any identified barriers or enablers during the process of implementation. It is also important to create health and wellbeing initiatives that are both informative and enjoyable.
For more detailed information on reviewing, measuring and evaluating programs, go to the Evaluation section.
For a full list of resources outlining further information on implementing and evaluating successful health and wellbeing programs in the workplace, click here.