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Staying healthy at work can mean so many different things, and now with the added lens of a global pandemic, it can take on a much more serious tone than in years past. We’re here to help you create a healthy work environment and workplace culture no matter your industry or your company size—and no matter if your employees are remote, in-office, or a mix of both. Join us as we discuss ideas to bolster employee health and provide a healthy workplace for all your employees.
What Is a Healthy Workplace?
A healthy workplace means different things to different people and can even vary across organizations. For example, a healthy workplace for a manufacturing company might mean having a sign that says “X days since last accident.” On the flip side of that coin, an organization in the healthcare industry might be focused a little more on the mental health of their employees who deal with challenging human situations every day.
Though it might differ somewhat for each organization, a healthy workplace is one that looks after the physical and mental health of their employees. Ensuring there are physical safety standards is a big deal, and legislation in 1970 officially formed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). OSHA’s mission is to “assure safe and healthy working conditions for working people by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education, and assistance.”
Basically OSHA was formed because working conditions throughout human history have often been pretty bad (don’t search for “labor conditions in the industrial revolution,” you’ll be horrified). Thankfully, we decided everyone deserved better working conditions, and things have continued to improve from there.
The main gist of it is this: a healthy workplace is one that contributes to and ensures your continued good health. Bada bing bada boom.
Why Is a Healthy Workplace Important?
If you’re asking why a healthy workplace is important, may we humbly refer you to the section above about OSHA. But if you MUST ask why a healthy workplace is important, let’s take a quick little trip into the working conditions of your average factory worker in the United Kingdom in the 19th century:
- 70 hour weeks √
- Additional hours supported by governmental legislation √
- Child labor √
- One-hour breaks for a 16-hour shift √
- Poorly lit √
- Standing all day √
- Exposure to toxic chemicals √
- No a/c or heating √
- No training with heavy machinery √
In essence, a healthy workplace and work environment is essential because caring for your employees means a more productive, longer-lasting, more innovative company. It’s absolutely crucial to care for the people that work for you—and to care for them in multiple ways that encompass the physical, emotional, and mental aspects of life. Your people show up for you every day, day in and day out. Why wouldn’t you show up for them, too?
How Do You Create a Healthy Work Environment?
Work and workplace culture have changed significantly even in the last few decades—and will continue to change as life moves at an ever increasing pace. One of the most impactful changes of recent decades is the Global Pandemic, which has impacted work in many, often incalculable ways. Remote work, labor shortages, and the Great Resignation are only the tip of the iceberg, and we will undoubtedly see more changes in workplace culture and work environment in the coming months and years.
How do you create a healthy work environment during such times of change? Here are some basics:
Create a Flexible Work Schedule
If possible, allow employees the freedom to complete their work at times and places that are most convenient for them. Working in an office is arguably the best for collaboration, but with remote work tools like Zoom, it is easier than ever to collaborate no matter where your physical location is.
Focus on Quality of Life
Providing basic health care via insurance is a great start, but what else can you do? Can you provide day care subsidies, mental health support through on-site clinics, or even a free gym membership? Improving quality of life for your employees outside of work is key to creating a healthy work environment.
Provide Employees the Tools They Need
We’ve come a long way from 16 hour shifts in a toxic, chemical-laden factory, but there’s more we can do. Sometimes all it might take to create a supportive, health-promoting workplace is to offer employees a few choices with the tools they use at work. Do they want a standing desk? A particular type of ergonomic chair, mouse, or keyboard? Providing employees simple necessities like this can go a long way in improving your healthy workplace culture and environment.
Give Ample PTO—and Then a Little More
This is a tough one because you need your employees to work and be productive, so why would you give MORE PTO than the standard? Some studies show that giving employees a flexible and generous PTO structure can drastically improve employee health in many ways (like the aforementioned physical, mental, and emotional ways). When you trust your employees to be adults with their time off, they’ll return that investment in their good health with more productivity and a better workplace culture.
Keep Lines of Communication Open
Good communication has innumerable positive outcomes. When there is healthy communication at work, employees will feel more trusted, more able to air grievances, and more supported in their work as they continue to give their best efforts. Perhaps the most important line of communication to keep open is that between employee and manager. Hold regular 1 on 1’s with individuals, let them know they can always approach you with issues or concerns, and show genuine interest in them both inside and outside of work.
Recognize Your People Often
The benefits of recognition are many, like a 17% increase in productivity, a 31% decrease in turnover, and a 41% decrease in absenteeism. We could tout recognition all day long, but the bottom line is this: when you recognize people for good work, they feel seen. They feel appreciated. They feel cared for. And when an employee feels cared for, they’ll care more. That’s it.
Provide a Comfortable Workspace
Clean air, natural light, and even some green plants go a long way in helping employees feel more comfortable at work. Humans aren’t meant to be cooped up for long periods of time, and it will benefit your workplace culture and the good health of your employees if you can provide a clean, comfortable, well-lit work area.
Examples of a Healthy Work Environment
There are many examples of a healthy work environment that you can emulate. Let’s highlight a few and see what we can learn.
Kaiser Permanente is one of the largest nonprofit healthcare plans in the United States and has over 300,000 employees. How do you keep that many employees happy and healthy? Kaiser Permanente implements wellness programs that provide healthy recipes, personal wellness goals, and group fitness challenges. Furthermore there are on-site fitness centers or company-subsidized fitness passes at many locations. While these options may not be feasible for all companies, Kaiser Permanente proves that even if you have a massive global workforce, you can still effectively care for the health and workplace culture of each employee.
Whole Foods Market
With 91,000 employees and a focus on healthy foods for all, Whole Foods Market uses employee health strategies like employee food discounts, HSA options, and free, seven-day immersion programs that help team members get personal information and ideas from nutritionists and health coaches.
A relatively small company, Hydro Flask has weekly Friday lunches, flexible start times, flexible work hours, and company-sponsored outdoor activities to encourage physical activity. Furthermore Hydro Flask encourages its employees to engage in volunteer service and matches employee donations to nonprofits. One unique thing Hydro Flask does better than others is to offer massage, acupuncture, and other preventative methods of medicine to their employees as part of their health care package.
How to Create a Healthy Work Environment for Remote Employees
Remote work introduces a range of difficulties that in-office employees don’t have to deal with, and this can make it difficult for you to create and foster an environment that’s healthy and engaging (especially if you have both remote and in-person employees). Some of these remote-specific roadblocks include:
- Lack of engagement
- No cohesive culture
- Limited task visibility
- Minimal support and recognition
The benefits of remote work can far outweigh these negative aspects, but only if you take strides to develop a healthy environment. Just as we mention above, you should allow flexible schedules, provide PTO, and give remote employees the tools they need to succeed (including hardware like a comfortable chair and ergonomic keyboard and software like Slack or Zoom for communication).
A good recognition program is also vital for remote work to reach its potential:
- Recognition has a powerful impact on engagement, which in turn increases profitability. Make sure remote employees feel seen and valued with recognition.
- Recognition can build a great culture, especially with digital platforms like Awardco. Remote employees can both recognize and be recognized, inspiring feelings of teamwork and belonging.
- Recognition for remote employees can help them feel more supported and feel like they matter.
Do what you need to to support both remote and in-person employees and create a culture of health and wellness.
Creating a Healthy Workplace Culture
As you create your own healthy workplace environment and culture, remember that a healthy working environment isn’t just about perks. Sometimes perks can seem great from the outside, but they are used to cover up an abusive work environment. Google is one example of this, where daily company-provided meals and sleeping areas sound great from the outside but really only serve to keep employees at work longer, draining them of their mental and emotional reserves.
Perks do not always equal a great work environment. How can you be sure you’re providing a good mix of perks and support to your employees? The best way is to remember what it’s all about: the people. People must take precedence over process and product every time. As you put people as your focus, your people will provide you with unprecedented productivity. And THAT’S how you create a healthy workplace culture and workplace environment.