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How to create a healthy office environment

05 October, 2014

A healthy office environment not only helps to improve worker’s attitudes, productivity and loyalty, it can help employees make healthy decisions in their own lives.

In a message from the Commissioner, Australia is witnessing a significant increase in the burden of chronic disease brought on by tobacco smoking, alcohol misuse, poor nutrition and obesity. With most Australians spending a third of their lives at work, it’s essential that businesses help promote health and wellbeing from within the office.

The benefits of a health and wellbeing program can be huge, with participating organisations reporting a change in employee engagement, team cohesiveness, absenteeism and productivity. Good promotion of health helps to alleviate work-related stress and improves the overall physical and mental state of employees.

Company benefits of a healthy office environment

Greater productivity: Increased productivity is a major goal for many corporations, as the more productive their workforce is the more money brought into the company. When tasks are tackled at a faster rate, more work is achieved.

Staff relationships: With a positive work environment, staff learn to work well together and to appreciate all opinions. With this comes better staff decision making, innovative ideas and greater efficiency.

Reduced sick leave and absenteeism: When staff are happy in their workplace, they are less inclined to take time off. With the promotion of healthy eating and a healthy lifestyle, staff sickness is reduced, meaning less time off. A recent study has shown that physically inactive employees cost employers $488 more per year through sick days and smoking employees cost $3,396.*

Increased ability to attract and retain employees: When word spreads of your happy and healthy workforce, new employees will be eager to come on board. And for existing employees, the happier they are in the jobs and the more support and appreciation they receive, the less likely they are to move on.

Improved corporate image: How you plan, design, implement and monitor your health and wellbeing plan can help you in portraying a responsible corporate image. A company that has introduced a healthy living plan shows it takes its social responsibility seriously.


Employee benefits of a healthy office environment

Greater concentration: When a healthy diet is encouraged, it increases the level of concentration and energy. High fat diets drain energy quickly and leave staff feeling lethargic and distracted. Getting the right nutrition and a little exercise will produce fit, energetic and alert staff.

Better mental health: Health is not just about keeping disease at bay, a healthy state of mind is key to good wellbeing. Prolonged periods of job stress can wreak havoc on a person’s state of mind and carries severe risk of mental health problems. According to one study, job stress accounts for 17 percent of depression in women and 13 percent in men.

When provided with the correct support and tools to handle job commitments, staff have improved self-esteem and a better outlook on life.

Reduced risk of obesity: A person’s weight can determine their chance of developing conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and kidney disease. A bit of physical activity and advice on healthy eating can go a long way in reducing the level of obesity among employees.

Better sleep: People who are overweight have extra tissue in the back of the throat which can block the flow of air to the lungs and result in sleeping difficulties. With sleep apnea comes lower concentration, irritability and headaches.

How to implement a healthy office plan

Step 1. Gain support from management

Gaining support from management is essential for the support and resources your health and wellbeing plan may require. Management will also need to be seen ‘walking the talk’ and openly embrace the program.

Step 2. Introduce the concept

It’s vital that your employees are engaged in the program and the best way to do this is to involve them in the planning. Hold a focus group to learn more information about staff needs and issues and use this information to create baseline measures.

Use this time to introduce the benefits of a health and wellbeing plan and explain what you expect from your employees.

Step 3. Develop goals and objectives

Clearly state your expected outcomes from the program and determine the best methods for keeping track of your targets.

Step 4. Develop an action plan and budget

Understanding time constraints and budget will help you determine your action plan. With a large budget you may consider setting up on-site exercise facilities, or you may prefer to organise a lunch time walking group if spending is limited. 

Step 5. Introduce incentives and rewards

Incentives and rewards help to keep staff focused on the overall goal and can motivate participation. Rewards can be given for employees who show a good level of commitment to the program or who have achieved excellent results. Rewards can be anything from gift vouchers to water bottles and time off.


What to include

1. A program launch

Promotion of the program is key to its success, and a launch creates an air of excitement. Include a talk with a respected guest speaker and use this day to offer as much information and support as possible.

2. Support 

Build a connection with local experts, such as dieticians, personal trainers and mental health professionals. Offer advice, recipes and take-home packs listing useful resources to encourage a healthy lifestyle at home.

3. Healthy food options

Ensure there are healthy food options in staff rooms, vending machines and office meetings and functions. For small businesses, consider arranging a delivery of fresh fruit and veg each day.

4. Physical exercise

Build a connection with a nearby gym, host an outdoor mid-morning workout or encourage active transport methods for travelling to and from work.

5. Time

To keep employees motivated, ensure employees have the opportunity to take part during ‘work time’. This not only shows you care as much about their health as their skills, but allows employees with time restraints and family commitments to take part.   

A healthy organisation builds a foundation for success, reducing costs associated with sickness and distraction and improving company performance. A health and wellbeing program highlights that a business values its employees and cares about employee safety, health and overall happiness. 

With the correct resources, tools and advice, management can strengthen relationships with their employees and keep staff motivated, loyal and alert.

* As reported by the ABC

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