How to improve your workplace

Lift the morale!

We spend around one third of our lives at work and a large part of this unhappy in our workspace. So why not lift the morale with a few workplace changes? By Louise Collins.

It’s Monday morning and you’ve woken up late for work. You shower, dress, do your hair and make-up in 10 minutes flat then run out the door without so much as a cup of tea. By the time you arrive at work, you’re famished and still half asleep, so you make yourself an instant coffee in the office kitchenette and grab a couple of stale cream biscuits from the cookie tin. At lunch you pop down to the café and grab a sandwich and a can of coke, which you take back to the office and eat at your desk. By early afternoon your sugar levels have dropped to zero, so you slink back to the kitchen for more cookies. You leave work feeling exhausted, so decide to postpone going to the gym until next week; and so it goes, day after day.

Does this sound familiar? The sedentary nature of work, consumption of fast foods and our increasingly inactive lifestyles are making us sick. According to a survey conducted by Medibank Private on the health of Australia’s workforce, 40 per cent of Australian workers do minimal exercise, 46 per cent live on high-fat diets, 62 per cent are overweight and, consequently, employees with poor overall health status take up to nine times more sick leave than their healthy colleagues.

With stats like these it’s easy to comprehend why health and wellbeing in the workplace is being prioritised by companies who realise that a healthy and happy workforce makes great business sense.

Productivity versus morale
Julie Anne Mitchell, NSW Heart Foundation’s cardiovascular health director, explains how health and wellbeing initiatives in the workplace can affect the productivity and morale of employees.

“The arrival of the electronic age and less manual labour has fundamentally changed how much time we spend sitting at home, during travel and at work. There is evidence to suggest that while your 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity five times per week is good, your health can still remain at risk if you spend too much of the remaining time sitting. However, by introducing a workplace health program, with supporting occupational health and safety policies, employers will be going a long way to ensure they are creating a healthier, more productive workforce.

A program might consist of activities such as education sessions or physical activity classes, creating policies and environments (physical and social) that support healthy behaviours (e.g. healthy catering policy or bathrooms that can be utilised for showering). According to the Heart Foundation, organisations that have implemented workplace health programs have reported positive business outcomes, such as improved employee retention and productivity, among other benefits. Research shows there are many measurable benefits to organisations and employers in implementing workplace health programs, including increased workplace productivity, reduced absenteeism, improved employee satisfaction, recruitment and retention, improved employee engagement and reduced worker’s compensation costs.”

Big companies like Google pride themselves on keeping their employees active and happy. Their Netherlands office boasts an indoor bike lane; their Zurich office, a giant slide to take you from one floor to the next; and their Boston office features a rock-climbing wall. Given that the majority of us are not working for a large and flamboyant company like Google, how can we begin the process of changing our workplace culture from toxic to healthy?

Small changes afoot
Doing something as simple as swapping the cookie tin for a fruit box is a start – but to establish a health and wellbeing program that inspires the staff and has real longevity, you need a plan. Bryley Sadler, ‘Wellbeing at Monash’ coordinator at Monash University, outlines some of the policies and programs employed by Monash to facilitate optimum wellbeing for staff. “Monash University has always made the physical and psychological health of its staff a high priority. The objective of our occupational health and wellbeing program, Wellbeing at Monash, is to create a culture of productive, engaged and healthy employees through a range of well-funded and targeted health and wellbeing programs and policies. The programs are delivered collaboratively across the university and, importantly, are endorsed and led by senior management.”

“Our comprehensive range of innovative, preventative health and wellbeing programs contribute to providing a positive staff experience and improving the physical and psychological health of staff. Programs and initiatives include the 10,000 Steps challenge, individual health checks, tailored Pilates/zumba/boxing/yoga programs for departments, mental health first aid training, mindfulness programs, SafeTalk suicide prevention training, onsite counselling and medical service, RU OK? Day, mental health week events, employee assistance and manager assist programs, meditation classes and HealthSmart healthy food labelling program. (For fitness we have) lunchtime fun runs and boot camp, Team MONASH community fitness events, bike arrival stations, on-site sporting facilities, education seminars on nutrition and superannuation.

“Formalised policies that underpin the organisation’s commitment to providing a positive and healthy staff experience include the mental health policy, wellbeing and support policy, work, study and family responsibilities, work life policy, staff volunteer policy, equal opportunity policy, and gender equity strategy.”

Encouraging, inspiring and motivating workers to make positive behavioural changes to improve their individual health and lifestyle has immense benefits. It increases employee morale and job satisfaction, which leads to improved employee engagement, less absenteeism, higher productivity and ultimately higher profits. Mitchell says: “There’s no denying that work can be stressful; that combined with sitting for long periods of time and eating poorly can lead to a decrease in employees’ wellbeing in the workplace. Over 10 million Australians spend, on average, eight hours per day in the workplace, but at the senior executive level, we know they do many more, which is why it is important for workplaces to actively support their staff with a robust wellness program. Workplaces are a great setting for creating healthy habits such as healthy catering guidelines for events and staff meetings, the implementation of a workplace wellness program and access to programs such as employee assistance, flexible work hours and the opportunity to socialise with colleagues from other teams.” 

NEXT: 7 tips to happiness at work>>

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