Creating a healthy workplace is not an overnight task, but Dr Frances Pitsilis offers some excellent advice for making a start.
In a small-business context, a healthy workplace may be one that operates as a well-oiled machine; where employees like being at work and feel part of a positive team that shares common, worthy goals. Such a workplace maximises safety, productivity and profit, and improves staff performance, loyalty and retention. From an employer’s perspective, it’s a no-brainer.
So how is this healthy workplace created?
There are zones of responsibility that sit with the employee or employer, and there are the grey zones. The employee must ensure he/she is fit for work by getting adequate rest and nutrition. Employees cannot take on responsibilities that interfere with their primary work, such as taking on a secondary job.
Some workplaces, especially larger ones, have health programmes, but there is little evidence as to how much these help.
Employers must know their responsibilities in the workplace, which include the Health & Safety in Employment Act, the Human Rights Act, the Privacy Act, the Holidays Act, and any requirement sensitive of cultural differences.
As an employer seeking to maximise health in the workplace, start by understanding yourself and your leadership style. If this is hard for you to pinpoint, consider having your own personality profile done. This can help you understand why you have difficulty with some staff, or vice versa.
Learn about different personalities and understand why people like to work differently to you. Here are some key tips for bosses:
- Be open about change and responsive to ideas raised by others.
- Be your authentic self.
- Be a role model for your employees.
- Set an organisational vision and agree on the values.
- Exhibit your professional commitment to your staff.
- Show integrity.
- Be accessible and ensure the same of other senior managers.
- Avoid a self-centred and negative leadership style.
- Set a positive, productive and healthy culture at work.
- Ensure that there is organisational justice.
- Make sure all managers are properly trained and competent.
- Make sure any change in the workplace is managed carefully and well, while constantly keeping staff informed.
If you are a manager, the best management style involves:
- Ensuring that you are competent and confident and receptive to training.
- Being a supportive supervisor at work.
- Reviewing those under you regularly.
- Giving your workers social support as necessary, which can lower sickness absence.
- Supporting employees in managing conflicting demands between home and work.
- Engendering trust and respect.
- Encouraging participation and decision-making.
- Regularly consulting on daily problems and procedures.
- Being flexible and prepared to modify any work scheduling.
- Explaining workforce goals clearly.
- Providing praise and recognition for a job well done.
- Identifying sources of potential stress and mitigating effects on staff.
- Being able to identify a staff member who needs support and then providing it.
A common issue to manage is ‘presenteeism’, when employees are physically at work but not actually working. Methods to reduce and prevent this include:
- Being able to properly monitor and manage group dynamics.
- Making decisions that include employee input.
- Showing interest in employee ideas and projects rather than ignoring them.
- Not being threatened by competent employees.
- Engaging rather than remaining aloof.
- Being open and not guarded in communications.
Beyond the above advice, employers must start by recruiting well; finding round pegs for round holes will reduce downstream problems. Create detailed job descriptions so you know exactly what skill-sets you need. Consider personality profiling candidates to ascertain whether they are likely to be happy in your workplace and get along with existing staff.
To promote staff loyalty and retention while reducing sick leave, offer your staff as much family and social support as possible. This can range from flexibility in work hours to the ability to work from home and options to work around childcare, school hours, family events and family illnesses. Flexibility gains you many, many loyalty points.
Know that as an employer you are responsible for two specific areas of work: content and context.
Content refers to the actual nuts and bolts of the work and includes the pace and volume of work and associated deadlines. The most important related stressor is overload. The physical work environment (noise levels, temperature, lighting, ventilation and cleanliness) is an important part of the content component.
Context is less tangible and includes the culture of the organisation, how employees feel in the environment and in relation to others, the management style and how much control employees have over their own work. A significant stressor for workers is lack of control over the way they can do their work, and a powerful way to make people happy and productive is to give them the ability to self-determine, with support from their manager as needed.
Context and environment include any stressors beyond people’s control, such as bullying and harassment. This is more common than many employers think: one Australian survey found that up to 40 percent of workers had experienced workplace bullying. An astute manager will be able to identify cases of bullying and help all affected employees, include the bully/s, who may be sick or stressed.
Many components go into creating a healthy workplace, and it’s not an overnight task.
But with the right will, strategy and leadership, any business or organisation can be optimised to get the most from happy, healthy people.