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How to build a healthy workplace

A healthy workplace has work practices and a health and safety culture that supports its people to stay well, both physically and mentally.

The aim is to build a positive culture of ‘this is how we do things around here’ across all parts of the business, supported by workplace policy, activities, communication and training.

It's important not to think of workplace wellbeing as being accomplished by one-off actions or as something that employees need to do for themselves.

Rather, workplace wellbeing is achieved by ongoing actions made across the workplace. How an organisation is operated and organised, the workplace environment and the people who work within the organisation all make a difference.

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You can use the continuous improvement process outlined below to help you develop a strategy, implement a policy or plan a new initiative or activity.

There are three elements to this process:

  1. Plan your action – what are you going to do and how?
  2. Do – put your plan into action.
  3. Review – how did you go? What’s next?

Take your time

How long it takes to get moving will depend on many things.

These include your experience, the size and make-up of your organisation, and the complexity of the changes you want to make. Support from employees and management, and the resources you have to do the work, are also important factors.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Integrate healthy workplace practices into your business DNA – leaders role model ‘this is how we do things around here’.
  • Reflect it across your business – within the workplace organisation and environment, and in things employees can do themselves.
  • Be visible – regularly talk about what you are doing and how employees can get involved.
  • Tailor it to your workplace – make it relevant for your business and the people you work with.
  • Engage your workforce and management teams and get them involved - improving workplace wellbeing takes a team effort.

1. Plan

As with any change process, good planning is essential.

First you need an honest and realistic assessment of your current position. Talk to people about their ideas, what they would like to focus on and how. Call for volunteers, or champions, to help.

Look at what you are already doing: Do you currently have health and safety or wellbeing initiatives underway? What can you learn from how these were implemented? What worked and what didn’t? Are you looking to improve on what exists, or do you need to create something new?

Get buy in: Get management on board – wellbeing initiatives are much more likely to succeed if supported from the top. Identify other work colleagues who can help support workplace wellbeing actions. To increase buy-in and ensure actions are relevant, include staff from different departments and different levels of management.

Identify champions: Working groups need leaders to drive the action. They can be anyone who’s excited about wellbeing and wants to help co-workers make healthy choices.

Consult staff: Ask staff what they think and what topics they would like to focus on. Large businesses might use an online survey such as Survey Monkey, but this can be tricky for those with little access to computers, and care must be taken around privacy.

Team idea competitions are good, or ideas can be canvassed on online discussion boards if that's possible for your business. Smaller businesses might simply talk to staff, maybe in small groups or at staff meetings, or ask for suggestions via email, a whiteboard or an anonymous feedback box.

Take a ‘before snapshot’: Work out how you are going to review the success of your initiative. Collect information to use as a ‘before snapshot’ so you have something to compare to later. Maybe that’s staff engagement and satisfaction levels, sick days taken, staff turnover rates or the number of people who smoke.

Because evaluation is about our values it can be helpful to think about what 'good' and 'great' might look like. So, if your workplace was 'healthy', what would it be like?

2. Do

Now you have won support, have assembled your team and identified your focus, it’s time to take action.

Articulate your goals and objectives: Write down what you want to achieve and how you are going to measure success. You might want to think about setting them against SMART criteria.

Decide what you will DO: What practical things are you going to do to tackle the area/s you decided on to improve workplace wellbeing during the planning phase? With your champions, choose a variety of environmental, organisational and individual ideas to increase your chance of success.

Many activities can be easily implemented with little or no budget. For ideas and guidance on what works, see the Get Ideas or Get Resources sections, read our case studies or listen to business leaders talk about what they have done to build wellbeing. 

Develop your plan: Once you’ve decided where you’re going to focus your attention, create an action plan that describes what and how you’re going to achieve your goals. See how The Warehouse created its workplace wellbeing action plan.

Promote your activity and inspire action: Spread the word about the upcoming initiative with some effective communications to initiate staff engagement and participation. Hold a launch to get people talking and excited, print colourful posters and flyers and pin them up on staff noticeboards.

Put together talking points managers can use to promote the initiative in meetings. Use intranet, email, staff newsletters and social media to reach and remind staff. Remind champions to promote it to their teams. Talk about it to everyone you meet at work! Use every communication channel available to you – don’t rely on one method. 

3. Review

Did it work? Did you achieve your objectives? The review process is where you find out.

Evaluate and record: Look back on what you did and how it went. Has anything changed because of the initiative? Think about who engaged with the initiative and, importantly, who didn’t. Think about how you might get them engaged next time. 

If nothing’s changed, that’s okay because not everything can be measured and some results (such as fewer sick days) might be long term. If nothing else, you’ve got people thinking about the topic and changes may come later.

Make sure you write down everything you did and what kind of feedback you received. All of this is important so you know what to do, or not to do, next time, and can share your experience with others.

Celebrate successes: Even small successes can have ongoing effects and we all like to have our efforts acknowledged. Remember to keep celebrations consistent with your business’ policy of promoting wellbeing (in other words, if you are encouraging staff to consider drinking less, a bar shout might not be the most appropriate reward).

Review and move forward: Look back so you can look forward.

  • Are you ready to move onto another focus or is there still more to do on this current one?
  • What went well? What could you do differently next time?
  • Could you use different strategies to target specific groups that didn’t engage?
  • Could you involve other people in what you are doing?
  • If you were approached for advice by someone wanting to replicate what you did, what would you say?
  • What does your team want?

Don’t give up!

If your workplace wellbeing initiative was a roaring success, hopefully you’re inspired to keep going and to continue the process of improving the health and wellbeing of your workplace and business.

Even if it wasn’t a total success, don’t give up. Think about how you might improve outcomes next time. It might need more management support to engage staff, or staff may respond better to another issue. Maybe you didn't have the right people involved.

Perhaps identifying a smaller, more achievable goal would have more success.

Whatever your level of success, remember to review, revise and revisit. And keep up the good work!

For further reading on how to build a healthy workplace, see Workplace policy and management practices to improve the health and wellbeing of employees developed by The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. You can read NICE's recommendations or download a pdf of the document.

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