When someone mentions workplace wellness, does it conjure images of a spa-like office where employees have healthy lunch options at their fingertips and take yoga breaks throughout the day? While these sound like great perks, they are not what health and safety professionals are referring to when they talk about workplace wellness. “Workplace wellness goes far beyond fruit bowls in the lunchroom and gym membership programs,” says Meron Samuel, WSPS Health and Safety Consultant. Meron explains that workplace wellness is about creating an environment that supports physical and psychological health and safety while ensuring employees understand their value. With October being Healthy Workplace Month, it’s a good time for employers to focus more attention on wellness.
“Wellness is the act of practicing healthy habits daily to attain better physical and mental health outcomes,” says Meron. “Having a gym onsite that makes it easier for employees to fit in a daily workout may promote physical activity, but if employees are experiencing chronic anxiety due to the way work is managed, getting that workout in isn’t going to address the mental harm caused by unreasonable workloads.” Meron emphasizes that if employers are serious about workplace wellness, they need to focus on removing or reducing the physical and psychosocial hazards in the workplace before looking at initiatives such as gym memberships or yoga classes.
Investing in workplace wellness
If your organization isn’t already investing in workplace wellness, it’s time to start. “Ignoring workplace wellness can negatively impact your business,” says Meron. According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), 500,000 Canadians missed work in 2020 due to a mental health issue. By 2041, CAMH estimates that poor mental health will have cost our economy more than $2.5 trillion. Take action now to drive positive outcomes for your organization.
“A good starting point is to find out what employees are experiencing at work. Ask them what is working and what changes can be made to improve their work and working environment,” says Meron. She suggests starting with a survey tool to effectively assess psychosocial factors that may be causing mental harm. Here are five factors to consider.
- Recognition and reward—Look at how achievements are recognized and if employees feel that their compensation is fair and equitable.
- Work demands—Find out if employees have a reasonable workload and adequate resources to complete their responsibilities. An unreasonable workload may lead to unmanageable stress and anxiety.
- Civility and respect—Ensure your workplace handles conflict effectively and is a place where everyone is treated fairly. “If bullying is a problem in your workplace, it needs to be addressed,” says Meron.
- Clear leadership and expectations—It’s important for employees to understand exactly what they need to do, how they are expected to do it and to have time to adjust when expectations change.
- Involvement and influence—Give employees control over how they do their work and opportunities to be involved in the decision-making process.
“You need to consult your employees regularly to understand how healthy your workplace is,” explains Meron. As with all aspects of health and safety, employers need to evaluate workplace wellness initiatives on an ongoing basis because things change over time. “Continue to gather data and feedback so that you have an understanding of employees’ perceptions and experiences,” says Meron. Doing so will allow you to address workplace wellness in a meaningful way and will help you create a truly healthy workplace.
How WSPS can help
- Check out Guarding Minds @ Work, a free survey tool to help organizations effectively assess and address psychosocial factors.
- Visit the Mental Harm Prevention Roadmap site to create and implement a psychological health and safety strategy at your workplace.
- Why encouraging vacation increases productivity and job satisfaction (article)
- Do your managers know how to create a psychologically safe workplace? (article)
- Small Biz Safety Podcast – Episode 31: How prioritizing workplace culture pays!
Connect with a WSPS workplace mental health expert for help developing your workplace wellness programs.
- Psychological Health and Safety Awareness (eCourse, 20 minutes)
- Psychological Health and Safety for Workers (eCourse, 1 hour)
- Leading for Psychological Safety in Challenging Times (in-person, 1 day)
- Workplace Mental Health: How Managers Should Respond (in-person, ½ day)
- Workplace Mental Health: What Health and Safety Committees Should Know (in-person, 1 day)
- Reducing Mental Health Stigma in the Workplace (eCourse, 30 minutes)