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Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters


We put a couple of questions to some of the keynote speakers at our forthcoming HealthyWork conference. Naturally they came up with some interesting responses.

Professor Sir Cary Cooper

Anxiety has been described as the 21st century epidemic, driven in part by our 24-hour online connectedness. To what extent is it an employer’s role to alleviate anxiety in staff, when most of them are likely to be online-focused outside work anyway?

The global recession has seen an increase in the common mental disorders of anxiety, depression and stress in most of the developed and developing workplaces throughout the world. There are now fewer people, doing more work, working longer hours, feeling more job-insecure and being more micro-managed.

On top of this, new technology (ie smart phones) means that people are accessing their work emails at night, over the weekend and even on holiday. Employers are increasingly concerned about the rise in stress-related sickness absence, but more importantly about presenteeism – that is, people turning up to work ill or job dissatisfied but contributing little if any added value to their products or services.

We know the causes of this are unmanageable workloads, unrealistic deadlines, job insecurity, long hours, and so on, and that many large organisations and big public sector bodies are attempting to create healthier work environments by carrying out wellbeing audits, doing more resilience and other training and providing employee assistance programmes.

Many are also trying to control the massive overload of emails and other social media. VW is blocking emails of their office workers after they leave work at night and turning them on again in the morning; Daimler is blocking emails as soon as someone goes on holiday and turning them on again when they get back to work; Liverpool City Council has mandated that no emails should be sent to colleagues in the same building, they need to meet face to face; other companies are minimising the number of people who can be copied in to an email, limiting it to only one or two; and ATOS is trying to eliminate emails altogether, creating face to face IT platforms.

The costs to businesses of not engaging in a wellbeing strategy for their organisation is high, not only in terms of sickness absence and presenteeism but also in terms of regrettable turnover, that is, losing key people to other businesses and being unable to attract top talent because of a more command and control and long hours culture.

Some employers deal with mental health in the workplace by offering “resilience training” to their staff. Would the employer not do better to look at the factors which might be prompting the need for resilience training?

Many think this is about training staff to cope better or be more resilient at work but it goes beyond that. With colleagues, we recently published a systematic review paper in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology on resilience training, and we found that it does make a difference in improving employee health.

However, this is only one aspect of any wellbeing strategy. We also need to find out what structural problems there are in the workplace that may be creating depleted resilience and ill health. This can only be done by carrying out wellbeing audits, which help to identify if there are problems, where they are and what they are.

The use of psychometrics like ASSET (an organisational stress screening tool – have been used extensively in private and public sector organisations in many countries to do just that. Strategically, organisations should be doing primary (wellbeing audits), secondary (resilience and other training) and tertiary (counselling) interventions at same time, not one in place of another.

Employees are looking for a better quality of life, better balance between work and their home life and a “good day at work”. As Studs Terkel wrote in his iconic 1974 book Working: “work is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor, in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying”.

Professor Sir Cary Cooper, CBE is 50th Anniversary Professor of Organizational Psychology and Health at Manchester Business School, University of Manchester. He is also president of the CIPD and co-author of the book Wellbeing: Productivity and Happiness at Work.

Vicki Ashton & Anne Ohlmus

Many organisations aspire to be a safe workplace. Why should they also aspire to be a healthy workplace, and can you truly be one without the other?

Health and safety are intertwined and a truly successful organisation cannot exist without both. The World Health Organisation sets out these fundamental principles in its Framework for Healthy Workplaces (2009). There has been an emphasis on safety in the workplace over the past decade, with some even thinking that the “H” in OHS has been under-represented. However a safe workplace can still be comprised of unhealthy workers, which has provided impetus for organisations to promote and offer the benefits of adopting positive healthy lifestyle factors.

Research acknowledges that a healthy workplace provides significant benefits not only to its employees but to the organisation as well. By providing a healthy, positive and supportive environment which prioritises the health and wellbeing of its staff, you can increase employee fitness, productivity and employee retention. This reaps benefits not only for employees but for their families, the organisation and the community to which they belong.

All organisations should strive to provide a healthy workplace environment focused on all areas of health – physical, mental, nutritional and general health. By incorporating wellbeing into all aspects of an organisation, there can also be greater opportunities for staff to participate and maintain their wellbeing.

Opportunities to engage in wellbeing can be achieved through:

  • • 
    Provision of a range of physical and mental health activity programs like yoga, pilates, mindfulness or mental health awareness.
  • • 
    Implementation of initiatives looking at healthy food choices available through onsite food vendors or catering suppliers.
  • • 
    Creation of active transport facilities like bike parking facilities, bike lanes and walking tracks to increase incidental activity.
  • • 
    Implementation of smoke-free programs and support for smokers.
  • • 
    Provision of health check programs.
  • • 
    Promotion of campaigns like a take the stairs campaign.
  • • 
    Provision of sit stand desks and other initiatives.

At Monash our Wellbeing Program has been recognised both nationally and internationally for providing a broad range of innovative programs, services and initiatives for staff covering all aspects of their health and wellbeing and this is underpinned by robust systems for managing safety and risk management.

When an organisation wins a major award it can feel the need to perform even better in order to live up to it. What is the next thing you are working on in order to keep Monash at the forefront of being a great place to work?

Winning this prestigious award as the world’s healthiest work-place (Global Healthy Workplace Award – large employer category) has reinforced our belief that we are making a difference and that our programs and services are world class.

It has also advanced the profile and importance of health and wellbeing within the organisation, fostered goodwill with our collaborative partners and helped to spread the message further.

Our approach is anchored in continuous improvement, so we are always looking at ways to streamline our systems, remove barriers to participation and utilise staff feedback to enhance their experience. Underpinned throughout is the need to provide programs that are evidence-based.

We are also aware that some aspects of our healthy workplace are only just developing. We are currently working on an improved delivery of a new 10,000 steps program, the implementation of new campus walks, and the delivery of new programs focused on healthy cooking.

In addition, an innovative program focused on creating healthier food choices through increased availability of healthy food and drinks via retail food outlets, vending and onsite catering is currently being developed. This will see work with our on-campus food retailers and caterers to increase the availability of healthy food choices for the Monash community. Food is assessed and labelled according to the traffic light system of food labelling.

We envisage that this work will help provide healthy nutritious and delicious food for our staff, students and the wider Monash community.

Occupational physician Dr Vicki Ashton is chief medical officer and Anne Ohlmus is wellbeing and sustainability manager with Monash University in Melbourne.

Thomson Reuters

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