Why workplace wellbeing is the new workplace safety

Why workplace wellbeing is the new workplace safety

Workplace wellbeing is the new workplace safety, and a holistic outlook to managing wellness will not only improve engagement, it will drive productivity and create a winning environment, writes Aaron McEwan

Whether it’s coping with long commutes, managing stress from the integration of new technologies or processes in the workplace, or disrupted sleep from ‘always on’ emails, work has an impact on both the physical and mental wellbeing of every worker – and this is spilling into workplace safety.

For years, workplace safety focused on the physical protection of employees from harm while at work. However, each day now sees technology blur the line between work and home life, and organisations must reconsider where the boundaries for workplace safety sit.

As insights into the impact of work on mental wellbeing grows, workplaces have more to fear than employees taking a couple of extra ‘duvet days’ a year. They need to prepare for the day when stress and anxiety become the leading cause of injury in the workplace.

Cause and effect
While the existence of workplace stress is acknowledged in most organisations, current efforts to manage pressure and anxiety often place the burden of responsibility with the worker; overlooking the actual cause of worker distress.

For example, efforts to build mental resilience by providing staff with access to mindfulness or meditation training fails to look at why employees are stressed in the first place. Similarly, initiatives to inject fun and improve the mood in the office provide a welcome break for employees, but if they fail to address the underlying issue they’re not serving their purpose.

“Each day now sees technology blur the line between work and home life, and organisations must reconsider where the boundaries for workplace safety sit”

Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) which play a vital role in workplaces also need to be reconsidered. Currently, they are mostly brought into play once a problem already exists and rely on employees to proactively reach out for assistance. Workplaces must start to develop systems and processes to identify when a worker is at risk of experiencing workplace stress and anxiety, and step in before it leads to more serious problems.

Work and home life collide
Developing a workplace safety program that supports genuine employee wellbeing requires looking beyond the four walls of the office to get a true understanding of the triggers for stress and anxiety before, during and after work.

Workplace leaders must explore employee wellbeing and wellness from three key perspectives; financial, emotional and physical. Managing these three aspects of an employee’s wellbeing requires a holistic view of where work and home life intersect to identify triggers for stress and seek solutions to integrate the two more effectively.

Consider the worry many working parents experience juggling the daily daycare drop-off and pick-up; flexible work arrangements to manage family movements or even having an onsite crèche could dramatically improve the mental wellbeing of many workers.

For those affected by soaring rental and home prices who are forced to live in fringe suburbs and undertake long daily commutes, a robust ‘work from home’ arrangement could transform their productivity, job satisfaction and family arrangements.

“Consider the worry many working parents experience juggling the daily day care drop-off and pick-up“

These policies and procedures must recognise that to achieve true work/life balance, they must enable the integration of personal lives into the workplace; not just facilitating workers to be able to take their work home with them.

Sprint, then recover
Along with these considerations, new thinking must also be applied to expectations around performance.

The current mindset has been to develop a work environment where workers are able to perform at their best, all the time. But this outlook is at best unrealistic and at worst, dangerous for the wellbeing of employees.

In the sports world, athletes train to be at their best on competition day. The journey to success on the sports field includes consistent training, rest days and at the end of the competition, a considered recovery period to allow the body, and brain, to reset. This process is something the corporate world can learn a lot from.

Workers need time to prepare, adjust, sprint and recover. Without these opportunities to recoup and recover from high volume periods of work, it’s a short journey from quality productivity to burnout.

Workplace wellbeing is the new workplace safety, and a holistic outlook to managing wellness will not only improve engagement, it will drive productivity and create a winning environment.

Organisations must shift from simply offering wellness programs as a ‘nice to have’ extension of their EVP to embedding wellness and healthy behaviours into how they do business. In addition to minimising psychological injury and its associated insurance and legal risks, health care savings and productivity improvements (e.g. reduced sick days and absenteeism) of roughly $3000 per employee over a three-year period is possible with an effective holistic wellness program, according to Gartner research.

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