Establishing a Healthy Workplace

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There may be various ways to define a healthy workplace, but for the purpose of this article, a healthy workplace will be defined to be consistent with the models promoted by Health Canada, the National Quality Institute, the Ontario Healthy Workplace Coalition, and the Forum on the Advancement of Healthy Workplaces. The basis of this model is the premise that employers have three avenues by which they can influence the health and well-being of their employees. While terminology for the three avenues may differ slightly, the models all agree in content and intent. No workplace can be considered truly healthy until all three are addressed:

1. Occupational Health & Safety: The physical work environment must be safe and healthy. This area relates to the hazards and issues covered by most health and safety legislation.

2. Organizational Culture: Sometimes called the “psychosocial work environment,” this aspect includes non-physical hazards that can influence the health of employees. Other phrases for this could be work organizational factors or workplace stressors that threaten the mental and physical health of employees, such as harassment, bullying, lack of respect or appreciation, work overload, or lack of control over work. There is evidence showing many of these factors create a two to three times greater risk of injuries, workplace conflict and violence, back pain, and mental illness.

* For more information on the what, why, and how of healthy workplaces, see Creating Healthy Workplaces, by Joan Burton, published by IAPA (Industrial Accident Prevention Association)

3. Personal Health Practices: Employers should support healthy lifestyles among employees. Work often creates barriers to employees wishing to make healthy lifestyle choices. While employers must not impose healthy lifestyle choices on workers, there are often ways that creative and motivated employers can remove barriers and support the personal health goals of employees. One of the errors commonly made when discussing the business case of a healthy workplace is to equate “business” with profit or money. But there is more to business than money. There are three broad strategic business reasons for creating a healthy workplace:

1. The Financial Costs – the monetary costs of an unhealthy workplace and the cost/benefit of creating a healthy workplace.

2. The Organizational Profile – becoming an “employer of choice” and being seen as demonstrating Corporate Social Responsibility in the community, and thus creating added value for shareholders and other stakeholders.

3. The Legal Case – demonstrating due diligence with respect to employees, customers, and stakeholders.

It is intuitively obvious that unhealthy, stressed employees will cost a company something in terms of absenteeism, presenteeism, and decreased productivity. But a business case requires more than a “gut feeling” about issues. There is much evidence documenting the costs to business of having employees who exhibit unhealthy lifestyles. In addition, there is a growing abundance of data documenting that the organizational culture, especially certain psychosocial risk factors, can have a profoundly negative impact on employees’ health, safety, and well-being. A stressful workplace characterized by high demands, low control, high effort, and low rewards has been shown to correlate to significant increases in injuries, substance abuse, heart disease, certain cancers, mental problems/depression, and back/neck pain, etc.

WorkSaver actively assists employers in obtaining a health workplace by assisting employers in matching the employee to the job, properly accommodating employees, applying effective ergonomic interventions, and promoting wellness (e.g., via the wellness motivational training seminar, The Enemy in the Mirror).


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