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What is a healthy workplace?

 

Investing in the physical and mental health and wellbeing of your workforce creates a healthy workplace and is simply good business.

A healthy workplace is one where making the healthy choice is the easy choice. It works with its team to ensure all aspects of its operations aren't harmful. It helps its people be as healthy and strong as they can be.

A healthy workplace knows healthy businesses need healthy communities. It recognises that helping keep families and communities strong benefits its own business through a healthier workforce and a more invested, loyal community.

What affects workers’ health?

People’s health and wellbeing is shaped by a number of social, economic and environmental factors, including:

  • How businesses work and lead – The workplace culture, how a business organises its work and how that affects the workers' ability to make healthy choices.
  • The work spaces and facilities provided – The physical conditions people work in, the kind of work they do and how that affects their ability to make healthy choices.
  • Individual lifestyle factors – What people bring to work from their homes and communities, such as how they eat and drink, health conditions, personal stresses, family issues, what they think and value.

The World Health Organization has a report about the factors that combine to affect people's  health.

A healthy workplace

Essentially, a healthy workplace puts the health and wellbeing of its people at the centre of everything it does.

A healthy workplace: 

  • values its people and promotes trust
  • promotes and encourages good relationships and collaboration
  • has good communication with and between all levels of staff, and is open and transparent
  • wants its people to be creative, and encourages innovation
  • is aware of, and flexible about, changing work-life commitments and balance
  • is aware of different cultures and religions, and supports a diverse workforce
  • encourages a healthy lifestyle, does what it can to make the healthy choice the easy choice.

The World Health Organization says:

"A healthy workplace is one in which workers and managers collaborate to use a continual improvement process to protect and promote the health, safety and well-being of workers and the sustainability of the workplace by considering the following, based on identified needs:

  • health and safety concerns in the physical work environment
  • health, safety and well-being concerns in the psychosocial work environment including organisation of work and workplace culture
  • personal health resources in the workplace, and
  • ways of participating in the community to improve the health of workers, their families and other members of the community."

Good work is good for us

The idea that working is good for us is well supported. And good work is best for us – working under stressful conditions is usually good for no-one.

Good work means there is:

  • a balance between work and rest
  • a variety of tasks
  • a sense of personal control
  • swift resolution of poor relationships
  • good communication at all levels
  • confidence in workplace leaders.

These factors create a virtuous circle in the relationship between improved health and productivity.

The benefits of building a healthy workplace

You can read more about the advantages to becoming a healthy workplace in The business benefits of investing in workplace wellbeing, but in short workplaces should invest in becoming healthy because it's:

  • the right thing to do – a successful business looks after its people and community
  • the smart thing to do – employees prefer a positive workplace culture where they can be happy, safe and productive, and so are less likely to leave (and more likely to join)
  • the legal thing to do – legislation says employers must provide a healthy and safe workplace.

Read more about how investing in the health and wellbeing of your people can also benefit you and your business:

Working for a healthier tomorrow: Dame Carol Black's Review of the health of Britain's working age population was presented to the UK's Secretary of State for Health and the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions in 2008.

The Business Case for Employees Health and Wellbeing: This report, prepared for Investors in People UK by The Work Foundation, takes a close look at the link between employee health and wellbeing and the direct impact they have on a business' productivity. 

Models to become healthy

Building a healthy workplace isn't usually a hard task. It’s about supporting people and prioritising their health by taking steps to ensure they stay as healthy as they can be at work, and even away from work.

You can read all about it in How to Build a Healthy Workplace, but some complementary models used in other workplaces that have improved workforce health and organisational performance include:

Te Whare Tapa Whā: Based on a Maori health model that recognises the four equal cornerstones, or sides, of wellbeing – physical (Taha tinana), spiritual (Taha wairua), family (Taha whānau) and mental wellbeing (Taha hinengaro). The philosophy is that if one side is missing or damaged, the person (or the workplace) becomes unbalanced and unwell.
Five Ways to Wellbeing, Nga Ara Rima: Covers five actions we can build into our everyday lives to benefit the wellbeing of individuals, workplaces/organisations, families and communities. They are Connect, Give, Take notice, Keep learning, Be active. 
WHO’s Healthy Workplaces: A model for action: The World Health Organization’s explanation and framework for building a healthy workplace.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence: You can read NICE's recommendations or download a pdf of the document, Workplace policy and management practices to improve the health and wellbeing of employees.

Workplace wellbeing and the law

Legislation, such as the Health and Safety at Work Act (2015), the Employment Relations Act (2000), the Privacy Act (1993), the Harassment Act (1997) and the Human Rights Act (1993) set out a business’ responsibility to provide a healthy work environment.

Businesses may see their main legal responsibility as ensuring people’s physical safety and reducing their risk of occupational illnesses. However, that responsibility also includes protecting workers’ physical and mental wellbeing.

Businesses must provide a workplace free from:

  • bullying
  • discrimination – gender, religion, sexual orientation
  • sexual harassment
  • all types of exploitation
  • tobacco harm (including second-hand smoke)
  • alcohol-related harm
  • risk of sun damage.

Businesses who don’t provide a safe and healthy workplace could be prosecuted, face significant fines and even imprisonment. Such costs can be severely damaging to a business’ financial viability, as well as its reputation and ability to attract new employees and customers.

Protect yourself – and your people: Know the laws and regulations for your industry and your business type. Businesses are ultimately responsible for making sure the workplace is compliant. Regulations do change, so keep up to date by subscribing to the Business.govt.nz's newsletter, Business Insider.

Next steps: Ready to build a healthy workplace? See our ideas and advice pages.

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