Section 8 – Promoting Wellness in the Workplace
Creating Healthy Environments for Healthy Businesses
Employee wellness leads to a more productive and motivated workforce, positively influencing success. Employee illness can have a major impact on increased business operating costs. By not having a Workplace Wellness Plan; productivity loss, increased health care premiums, increased use of sickness benefits, and absenteeism, will lead to decreased employee motivation and workforce dependability.
We spend a considerable amount of our lives in the workforce. Many of our social encounters are with co-workers and associates. We can often tell when something is not right with one of our coworkers. Usually happy people can appear withdrawn, edgy, angry, and pre-occupied, among other feelings. We can sense that they may be under pressure or stress yet we may be concerned about approaching them to discuss any issues which may be affecting them. This scenario plays out in all businesses and companies across this country and is a prime example of why creating a mental health program collaboratively with all stakeholders is crucial to promoting mental wellness in the workplace.
Let’s highlight the steps in developing a Workplace Wellness Plan.
- Firstly, bring management, workers and union representatives together to agree that this is an area which is important, needs to be properly addressed and requires solutions, resources and attention.
- Establish a Health and Wellness in the Workplace Committee and allow them to develop the policies and, with appropriate approvals, implement the policies and practices.
- Designate a Wellness Coordinator for implementing action plans.
- Create and allocate a sufficient budget that will support health and wellness activities.
- Conduct a stress audit to identify problem areas.
- Develop a stress action plan and polices to tackle problems.
- Develop and/or improve workplace practices and policies, e.g., communication, attendance management, time off for personal wellness and/or responsibilities (children, family, etc.) employee training and mentoring, improved supervision and leadership development, employee appraisal and development, return to work/rehabilitation for people with illnesses or disabilities, (including necessary supports, etc.), and investigate potential for job sharing with flexible days and hours to suit individual needs of employees (e.g., episodic disabilities, special family situations, etc.).
- Create effective and open grievance procedures.
- Create health and wellness programs for the workplace activities to promote physical fitness, e.g., bicycle/ walk/ run to work, lunch hour fitness activities, company sports teams or the provision of exercise equipment. Provide bicycle racks and changing facilities to accommodate people who cycle to work.
Special Activities to Promote Workplace Wellness
We have all heard presenters and business persons talking about the innovativeness of Canadian companies. Yet, there are businesses who find it challenging to tackle mental health in the workplace. Often, this stems from a misunderstanding of what constitutes wellness activities and how to go about implementing them.
This section will provide some innovative ideas which will act as guides for both employers and employees. Through developing creative programs to increase the level of wellness activities within the workplace, employers and employees will have an improved understanding of mental health issues and how wellness is achieved and maintained.
Of utmost importance is communication activities; Wellness posters on display boards, brochures handed directly to each employee (and management), as well as placed in employee information centers, and coffee/ break rooms. The writing of the informational handouts would be overseen by the Wellness Committee and would include workplace programs, policies and practices.
Develop wellness columns to add to the company newsletter. Create a Health and Wellness section which will include mental health information, personal success stories, and articles of interest that promote discussion and understanding of the importance of mental health.
Consider Group training to improve communication skills, working in teams, time management, health and wellness.
Provide training to all staff on recognizing stress and mental health symptoms in themselves and those around them. Also consider in-depth training for managers, supervisors and trade union representatives on recognizing stress and signs of mental illness symptoms.
Bring in community speakers. Contact local mental health organizations and ask that guest speakers discuss mental wellness and provide inspiring personal stories. This puts a face on the illness. Videos that discuss mental wellness are also available.
Create an employee personal time policy. Give employees some paid time off to involve themselves in activities which will promote health. Taking part in walk-a-thons, community festivals or fund raising events will provide exercise, social opportunities will promote healthy community interactions. It doesn’t have to be a great amount of time. Six to 12 hours a year are usually sufficient to show appreciation for the staff member.
Host a wellness seminar/ workshop. This will offer an opportunity to promote awareness and understanding of mental health in the workplace. Bring in special presenters. Consider partnering with other local businesses on this initiative. This could lead to health and wellness in the workplace campaigns among a group of employers within your community.
Create several Health and Wellness awareness events, afternoons/ mornings, or days per year where management ensures all employees discuss, learn and/or share information on mental health. These types of activities raise the level of comfort in speaking about mental health. They are the best possible opportunities to discuss mental health between employers/ employees and to understand that if mental illness occurs in the workplace, it will be addressed with compassion, understanding and professionalism. It is imperative that nobody is blamed or stigmatized because of mental illness.
Seek out company memberships or reduced fees for local health clubs and health facilities. Seek out intra-business leagues and sports opportunities such as baseball or soccer.
Make available information for contacting employee assistance for problems such as substance and/or alcohol abuse, HIV/AIDS, family counseling, smoking cessation, stress or mental illness. Employers and employees should be provided with paid time off for health appointments such as at doctors’ offices, hospitals, or other health centers. Confidential counseling through an independent outside agency should be available.
Support fully the reintegration of anyone into the workforce who has been off sick with mental health problems. Ensure that the employee is part of the rehabilitation process and is comfortable with that process. Do not penalize people who have taken time off or sick leave for mental health reasons. Ensure stigma and discrimination is known to all staff and management for what it is, hurtful and unacceptable.
Consider workplace exercise and even in-house massages. Studies have shown workplace massages are becoming more popular and relieve stress and tension. Encourage people to use stairs rather than elevators.