July 19, 2018

Workplace Health & Safety, and Wellbeing: What does it Look like for you?

Workplaces today all over the world are trying to figure out what they need to do to ensure wellness for their employees. But what does workplace health & safety, and wellbeing look like and what is the appropriate level of wellness we should be aiming for? What is an unwell organisation? How do we measure and how often should we measure? What do we do to support employees who are unwell? How do we get them to tell us they are not doing well or feeling unwell? This post presents a number of pieces of research from different corners of the globe that start to piece together the puzzle of workplace wellbeing and a ‘well’ workplace. It concludes with a call to consider different types of support: online GP services, gamified training and workplace initiatives such as step challenges, as part of a comprehensive workplace well-being programme.

Workplace Wellbeing: A New Zealand Perspective

Late last year the OCG Resilience Institute in New Zealand released a white paper investigating workplace wellbeing. While 87% of NZ employers now offer wellbeing initiatives, only 62% started offering them in the last two years. This is interesting because 83% of employees have workplace wellbeing as a very important priority when looking for a job. And yet 50% of businesses are struggling to get their employees to participate in workplace well-being programmes.

The study highlighted discrepancies between businesses in their approach to workplace wellbeing. There were different expectations by employees and employers with an overall lack of ownership.  Like many of us, New Zealand employers confused wellbeing with HR and workplace health & safety strategies (or below the line programmes) such as flexible working hours, offering Employee Assistance Programmes and sending out engagement surveys. So what is the definition of workplace well-being? The study notes most organisations define workplace well-being as:

“Programmes that provide health risk assessments, health education and lifestyle support”.

The aim of a workplace well-being programme is to reduce chronic disease, staff turnover and absenteeism and increase talent attraction, retention and productivity. Mental health issues was the number one reason that UK employees had time off work last year. Two-thirds of employers embark on a wellbeing programme with the primary reason being improving retention rates. Small business want employees who are satisfied and engaged, medium-sized companies are focused on organisational culture and large employers are focused mostly on productivity.

Top 3 things Employees want Employers to do:

  • STOP increasing workloads (1/3 of employees think that they are overworked or that there aren’t enough staff to cope with demands)
  • STOP providing unhealthy food and drink
  • STOP ignoring workplace bullying

The study noted that to be successful:

“Workplace wellbeing needs to be values-led, linked to organisational strategy with full support, and be modeled by senior leadership”.

5 Barriers to Successful Wellbeing Programmes

  1. Changing employee mindsets
  2. Driving programme participation
  3. Getting executive buy-in
  4. Managing programmes
  5. Communicating programme offerings

3/4 of UK Employees are at Work while Unwell

A study of 2,496 UK employees on their attitudes and behaviours around work presenteeism and illness in the workplace was published online in May 2018. The study found that:

  • 64% of British workers said they feel uncomfortable taking time off work when they’re ill
  • 45% of employees said they have felt pressured by bosses, colleagues or their company to go into work when ill

This study reveals UK employee trends to prioritize of work over their own health.

“As demands on employee productivity increase, employees feel pressured to simply struggle on regardless”.

Over half of UK employees (52%) admitting to delaying seeking medical advice because they didn’t want to take time off work. This practice negatively affects both employee well-being and organisational productivity. The key findings of the study are as follows:

  • The average UK employee worked over four days when they were genuinely ill and should have stayed at home last year
  • 75.3% of surveyed UK employees reported having worked whilst genuinely ill last year
  • Over half of UK employees (52%) had delayed seeking medical advice because they didn’t want to take time off work
  • Over a third (38.8%) of UK employees have delayed seeking medical advice, only to discover that they needed treatment.
  • Almost 80% (79.6%) of surveyed women reported going to work ill, compared to over 70% of men
  • Young people (those aged 16-24) were far more likely to go to work ill (86.8%), take unpaid leave (25.1%) or lie (14.8%) to see a GP
  • 84.7% of UK employees believe employers have a responsibility to support employee health and wellbeing

When asked what they had done in order to see their GP over the past 12 months:

  • 15.7% of respondents had taken unpaid leave to see a GP
  • 17.5% of respondents had taken annual leave to see a GP
  • 22.4% of respondents had left work early or arrived late to see a GP

What can Organisations do?

Start Small
Start small with humble expectations of participation. Use proven wellbeing initiatives to begin with such as health assessments and healthy food options before moving onto more complex programmes such as training, workshops and online solutions. Remember one size doesn’t fit all. Everyone has different needs so it’s important to offer flexible and varied solutions.

Above the Line Programmes
Flexible working initiatives, Employee Assistance Programmes and engagement surveys fall below the line for workplace wellbeing as these are considered common legislative or social requirements. Workplace wellbeing programmes that sit above the line are recommended actions that business can take. Examples of such programmes include:

  • Emotional intelligence programmes
  • Executive medicals, health checks, health risk assessments
  • Gym memberships
  • Health coaching and education
  • Healthy on-site food options and nutrition programmes
  • Mindfulness, relaxation and mediation
  • Physical activity programmes (see below Workplace Step Challenges)
  • Resilience and stress programmes
  • Smoking cessation programmes
  • Weight-management programmes
  • Alcohol and drug programmes

Workplace Step Challenges
Workplace step challenges have become popular in recent years and their aim was to increase employee health by encouraging 10,000 steps per day. A 2018 study, conducted in India, looked at the effects of walking on mental health and wellbeing and has revealed some interesting findings. Engaging in work-based step programmes provided psychological benefits irrespective of the number of steps achieved by the employee. The study reported improved stress levels by 8.9%, reduced signs of depression by 7.6% and reduced anxiety by 5.0% with an overall increase in wellbeing by 2.1%. These improvements may have been due to the enjoyment of participating in a group activity rather than the physical action of walking, but perhaps this is a further initiative to promote workplace wellness that businesses
can engage in? Not only will it help them tackle medical issues such as obesity and heart health, but it appears that it has a positive impact on mental health and workplace wellbeing.

Online GP Services
The UK study discussed above, also revealed that there might be a place for online GP services. When employees were asked if they would use an online GP the study showed that:

  • 7 in 10 (69.9%) British workers surveyed think that more companies should offer online GP services
  • Almost half (47.5%) of surveyed British workers would use an online GP if it was quicker than seeing one in person

Training Using Devices
Research from the Pew Research Centre in the US found that in 2014, 10-17 year olds are almost 100% online with 97% of boys and 95% of girls stating that they play video games in some sort of fashion. Given that this research is now 4 years old this group have begun to enter the workforce. Couple online usage with the increasing demands of the workplace and the call for online GP services and we enter a new world of workplace wellbeing support and delivery.

Workplace mental health solutions delivered via smart devices and online are an efficient way for organisations to provide quicker and accessible support and training.  One solution is Tap into Safety’s All of Me which is unique in that it offers training delivered online and via smart devices, anywhere, anytime on relevant workplace topics that impact mental health using fun animation, gamification and interaction. As part of a well-being programme, All of Me helps business to support worker mental health better by providing relevant and interactive workplace wellbeing training. To learn more please take a look at the video below:

The solution offers ‘one click away’ from help to reach out for support (on average only 5% access their Employment Assistance Provider, when 20% have an issue right now – stigma plays a huge role here). All of Me increases help-seeking by 100% as shown in the product evaluation conducted in 2017. By encouraging help-seeking early, we reduce the escalation into serious stress claims. This assists employees to tell us when they are not well or not feeling as good as they should.

Finally, to measurement – the diagnostic tool (animated, gamified DASS-21) is a world first in its use across organisations, that together with our filters, enables them to pin-point groups of staff in mental health decline so that they can target and tailor their wellbeing education programmes. This not only saves them money; their programmes are now more effective.

How often should business measure workplace well-being? As often as they can to collect longitudinal data, however as shown in the research, engagement is a barrier. All of Me is designed to provide training modules at least every quarter. This means data is collected every quarter.

“Data is knowledge; data facilitates action”.

In Summary

Workplace wellbeing is more than just flexible start and finish times, Employee Assistance Programmes and engagement surveys. This article outlines what a workplace well-being programme should include. The aim is to reduce chronic disease, staff turnover and absenteeism and increase talent attraction, retention and productivity. The research presented from different corners of the globe provides some suggested solutions that business can make to develop a ‘well’ workplace.


Dr. Susanne Bahn, Director and CEO, Tap into Safety

With over 11 years’ consultancy and 9 years’ research including more than 50 published journal articles, Sue knows her way around safety in hazardous workplaces. Her specific expertise focuses on induction deafness, risk blindness and risk management. A passionate individual, Sue is on a mission to lift the safety standard across Australia and internationally. Her qualifications include a PhD (Business – Health and Safety Management), a Masters in Human Resource Management, a Bachelor of Education and a Graduate Certificate in Higher Education. In July 2017 Sue was appointed as a panel member of the Reserve Bank of Australia’s Small Business Finance Advisory Panel. This appointment is an exciting opportunity to provide the Bank with valuable information on the financial and economic conditions faced by small businesses throughout Australia.

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