A healthy workplace is in the best interests of the employer and the employees.  Employees tend to be more productive, more able to deal with change and less absent.  But how do you know if you have created a healthy workplace?  What can you do to develop and improve the work environment?

ACAS, the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, has 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 deal with absence issues
  • Managers promote an attendance culture including return to work discussions
  • Jobs are flexible and well-designed
  • Managers know how to manage common health problems

By contrast, an unhealthy workplace tends to be indicated by poor management, a bullying culture, poor customer service, high levels of absence, reduced productivity and unreasonably high work demands.

Line managers have a crucial role to play in the way they interact with their teams and especially how they deal with problems.  Do they avoid the issue and pretend it hasn't happened?  Do they hesitate to deal with it, thinking it may not happen again?  Do they confront it, possibly aggressively and in an inappropriate situation or manner?  Or do they have an open discussion in an appropriate setting, giving both sides room to manoeuvre towards a mutually acceptable solution?  The best managers use what has been called 'intelligent leadership' by adopting the most helpful approach for a specific situation, which may be less or more controlling and less or more prescriptive.  The right mix of being reactive, proactive and creative.

Good two-way communication with employees is critical in the creation of a healthy workplace.  That includes creating ways of listening to employees through team meetings, regular one-to-one's and employee engagement surveys.  Issues and challenges can be aired and discussed before they cause problems.  This includes both the general organisational culture and specific job design to allow as much flexibility and creativity as possible.

Sickness and absence policies need to be clear and well communicated so that all managers and staff know the procedures to follow.  Policies need to be regularly revised and updated - for example, to include the Fitness for Work 'fit note' which replaces the sick note .  Flexibility in support and adaptations to encourage employees to return to work even in a phased way rather remain on sick leave promotes an attendance culture.

The majority of absence is due to a limited set of reasons, especially mental health issues such as stress and depression and musculoskeletal disorders including back pain.  Sometimes there is a direct causal link to the way a job has been designed, for example having to deal almost constantly with customer complaints or shifting heavy weights in confined spaces.  Sometimes it is due to problems in the work environment such as poor design of work stations or badly adjusted office chairs.  Line managers need to know how to address such issues and when and where to refer problems.

For people to flourish in the workplace, they need healthy workplaces.


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