5 Tips to Improve Employee Health
Flexible Work Options
Perhaps unsurprisingly, flexibility is one of the most desired aspects that potential employees look for in the positions that they apply for, but flexibility isn’t just some throwaway concept to fetch new hires, but a practical and meaningful way to improve employee health and well-being. The simple truth is that every employee is different, but workplaces have been treating them as more or less the same since the industrial revolution!
This doesn’t necessarily mean that employees should be given free rein to work however they would like (although with mounting adoption of versions of that philosophy from major companies, that idea may soon not seem so farfetched), but merely afford employees different ways in which they can exercise some measure of control over how and when they work. So you don’t need to make the corporate-wide jump to ROWI, but it can help your employees to have some agency in their working process. Stress is truly the silent killer, and it doesn’t just have a massive impact on the mental health of your employees, but it can also have an incredible impact on the physical health of your employees as well.
Employees who work even a fraction of the time remotely tend to be both happier and more productive. It can also increase creativity in the workplace. It’s a win-win! And when we add in additional ways in which employees can work how they prefer to, and the stress alleviated along the way, it’s really a win-win-win!
Mental Health and Well-Being
While it’s easy to get stuck focusing on the physical health of your employees, one area that businesses can tend to overlook is mental health. The good news is that there are many ways in which you can be sensitive to the mental health of your employees and many subtle changes you can make which have a positive impact on their mental well-being.
The first thing you need to make sure that you’re doing is being open and straightforward when it comes to mental health. Speaking candidly with your employees about these topics is not only a great way to open up the discussion, but it also helps to de-stigmatize mental health issues in the workplace. A lot of employees and a lot of businesses are still laboring under the illusion that taking steps to look after mental health is something to be embarrassed about. Talking openly about these very real issues can help remove shame from the equation.
You also need to make sure that employees are still afforded their privacy, confidentiality, and anonymity. Even though you should take steps to normalize the mental health conversation, you still need to work with care to ensure that no one feels singled out, or pressured to speak about something that makes them feel uncomfortable. And, if they do seek someone out to talk to, they need to be able to trust that these conversations are private. They also need to be given ample opportunities to communicate anonymously on the subject.
Make sure that all employees have access to the tools and resources they might require. It can help to dedicate time to go over these resources with your employees or to bring in mental health experts who are qualified to speak to your employees about the resources available to them should they need them. The last thing you want to do is provide them with outdated or irrelevant resources.
Finally, you want to make sure to promote mental wellness throughout your facilities and policies. While providing employees with flexible working options can help to mitigate stress, businesses should also make sure to promote strong social connections and support networks. The changes discussed in other tips are also shown to have a positive impact on mental health.
Flexibility isn’t the only way to alleviate stress. Employee recognition and loyalty rewards can also help show employees that their hard work is appreciated. For many, working at all, no matter the type of work, the amount of flexibility afforded, or the stakes involved, is inherently an activity that involves stress, but one way to help alleviate that stress is to assure your employees that they are appreciated. Job satisfaction, productivity, and motivation can all be boosted while stress, anxieties, and presenteeism, are meaningfully reduced.
Employee recognition should be taken on board as a regular part of managing your employees. Recognition doesn’t have to just be limited to loyalty rewards and incentive programs. While these are valuable pieces of the puzzle, so too are regular feedback and casual recognition. Even sending your employees a quick email letting them know that they’re doing great, or thanking them for the work that they have submitted and letting them know that you see it and appreciate it, can go a long way to removing some of the stress and anxiety from the equation. Once this is established as a regular part of your corporate culture, actual rewards will stand out even more. From individual recognition programs, like employee of the month, to structured incentive programs, to gifts that simply show employees that they are appreciated, these incentives aren’t just great for motivation and retention, but for helping to alleviate working stress and anxiety.
Wellness Programs and Wellness Benefits
Standard healthcare packages are expected from businesses, but the ones that thrive tend to offer more than just the standard benefits. But what exactly are wellness benefits, and what is a wellness program? Are they the same? They are related, but they’re not exactly the same. Wellness benefits are generally defined as benefits that employees are offered that are non-typical and which offer voluntary ways for employees to take measures to improve their health. Wellness programs are programs that focus on preventative measures, rather than treatment options, for employee health. Basically, wellness programs are proactive programs to keep your employees healthy in the first place, rather than relying on healthcare to treat their health after the fact, and wellness benefits are the individual aspects of those programs which can be seen as a “job perk.” Not every aspect of a wellness program is a wellness benefit. For example, many wouldn’t consider smoking cessation education or health presentations to be a “benefit” in the typical usage of the word.
Now that that is cleared up, how can you create a wellness program that works for your employees, and what wellness benefits should you provide? There are a number of wellness benefits that businesses can provide, from weekly massages, to onsite fitness centers, to smoothie bars in the breakroom. Which benefits you provide will largely depend on the needs of your unique office. For example, a working environment which necessitates long hours at a desk might call for providing employees with a gym membership so they can get up and get moving before or after work.
Effective wellness programs should also go beyond flashy non-standard benefits and focus also on preventative care and education. Health risk assessments, stress reduction programs, nutrition education, health screenings, vaccination programs, and more, are all great places to start when crafting your wellness program. The basic principle you need to keep in mind is that wellness programs are a way to boost employee health proactively; anything that can help boost overall employee health rather than relying on reactive treatment for specific health problems, should be considered for your wellness program.
Of course, a gym membership isn’t the only way to combat the negative health impacts of sitting at a desk all day. Simple changes to the physical workspace, like providing workers with standing desks, can lead to huge benefits in terms of employee health in the long run. Ergonomic seating can also help avoid spinal stress and the back pains that come with it. However, while these are certainly the obvious places to look at to improve the physical environment for your employees, expanding your search area when looking for ways to improve is also important.
Proper air filtration, for example, is an often overlooked area that nevertheless can have a huge impact on employee health and happiness. If your air is being circulated without proper filtration, allergens and even pathogens might be circulated around your office.
Proper lighting, including natural light, is another area that should be looked into. While it’s not always possible to physically increase the amount of light that makes its way into your office space, lowering dividers, widening openings, removing unnecessary walls, even simply opening op the blinds, etc., can all make a huge impact on the amount of natural light available to your employees. Natural light can help boost vitamin D, ward off seasonal depression, and maintain healthy circadian rhythms.
Of course, these are just some examples of how you can improve the physical working environment that your employees work in every day. The steps you end up taking will once more depend on the needs of your physical space and the needs of your own employees. From bike racks, to removing smoking areas, to adding indoor plants, reducing machine noise levels to be within a safe decibel range, etc., the ways in which the physical working environment can be improved are functionally limitless. Likewise, so too are the health benefits your employees will see thereafter!