Health and wellbeing at work

According to the TUC the first step to improving well-being at work is to look at the management of the workplace – how work is managed and how workers are supported.

It’s Work and Well-being guidance says that in order to improve well-being at work, employers should look at the wider issues of management style, workload, hours of work, worker involvement and the level of control that workers have over their work.

Guidance on health and wellbeing at work

Simple guidance produced by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) on how to manage stress and musculoskeletal disorders and a range of other health issues that are caused by work should be the first point of call. The HSE states that 70% work related illnesses are made up of, in order, musculoskeletal disorders such as back pain and RSI, followed closely by stress, anxiety and depression.

The advice and conciliation service ACAS reports that research suggests that health, wellbeing and productivity are strongly linked to factors including:

  • the degree of control employees have over their work
  • how much support they receive from managers

Its Health, work and wellbeing advisory booklet says that good relationships have the potential to make workplaces healthy and productive and that good employment relations are built upon:

  • effective policies for managing people issues such as communication, absence, grievances and occupational health
  • high levels of trust between employees and managers

Health and wellbeing indicators

ACAS points to six indicators of a healthy workplace:

  • line managers are confident and trained in people skills
  • employees feel valued and involved in the organisation
  • managers use appropriate health services to tackle absence and help people to get back to work
  • managers promote an attendance culture by conducting return to work discussions
  • jobs are flexible and well-designed
  • managers know how to manage common health problems such as mental health and musculoskeletal disorders

Change the workplace not the individual to achieve wellbeing

The TUC warns against promoting changes in how workers live their lives rather than addressing problems the workplace. The workplace can be a useful place to encourage people to make healthy choices if this is done in a non-judgemental way rather than forcing them to adopt a particular lifestyle.  For instance, it recommends that:

  • Employers can help prevent obesity by providing choices over working methods and providing access to healthy meals, a proper lunch break and exercise classes.
  • Health screening should be linked to prevention programmes to ensure that any work-related ill health is investigated and the risks removed.
  • Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) intended to help employees deal with personal problems that might affect their work performance, health and well-being should not be an alternative to effective policies on stress and bullying.

Further advice and information on health and well being at work

For more information on this subject, see the CareerSmart Stress article, Prospect’s podcasts 'Looking after your own work stress' and 'Body mapping', and Prospect’s stress website.