Businesses need to start taking employee health and wellbeing seriously, study finds

Barnaby Smith

It hardly needs stating that a healthy, contented workplace is a prerequisite for productivity. Yet Australia stands at an impasse in terms of maintaining health and wellbeing at work. A recent study from The Workplace Health Association of Australia (WHAA) found that 65 per cent of employees have moderate to high stress levels, while a worrying 41 per cent were deemed “at risk”.

The research also found that two in three of the workers surveyed were overweight or obese, with 12 per cent suffering from high blood pressure. The findings led John Lang, CEO of WHAA, to state, “This is an alarming insight into the poor levels of health experienced by most Australian workers. It highlights the urgency to deliver preventative actions in the workplace.”

There are many initiatives available to small businesses wishing to improve the health of staff, from implementing “walking meetings” to more imaginative moves such as providing staff with colouring books to de-stress.

Conduct a needs assessment

There is no “one size fits all” general fix for enhancing wellbeing in the workplace. It is imperative, therefore, to conduct a thorough assessment of the specific needs of your staff. This might include health assessments using national and international benchmarks as reference points, staff surveys or focus groups.

An obvious starting point here is simply raising awareness of depression and anxiety at work.

Mental health

An obvious starting point here is simply raising awareness of depression and anxiety at work, so that individuals might recognise symptoms in themselves and others.

Another step might be, if appropriate, to heed the wide contemporary interest in mindfulness and offer the opportunity for short meditations, or encourage short periods away from the desk. It should also not be underestimated how recognition, acknowledgement and support in response to performance can have a positive bearing on an employee’s mental health.

Physical health

Along with the aforementioned walking meeting, employers can: implement longer lunch breaks allowing staff to visit the gym or take a walk or run; ensure the workplace has bike racks and showers to promote active travel to and from work; and encourage group participation in fun runs and offer flexible hours.

Monitor and evaluate

Workplace wellbeing initiatives are a constant work in progress. Monitoring and evaluating will require regular feedback from employees, as well as analysing things like return on investment in health programs. Finally, as Comcare points out, it can take three to five years for some benefits of health and wellbeing programs to be realised. So patience is required.

Barnaby Smith

Barnaby Smith is a writer and journalist who has written for a variety of publications across several subject areas in the UK, Australia and Switzerland.