One size really doesn’t fit all

Workplace health
Jemma Gilbert addresses the need to improve NHS employees health how and solutions must reflect the culture of the organisation.

Read any article on workplace health and you’d think the argument’s been won. Investment in staff well-being reduces turnover and absence from sickness. It increases productivity and employee satisfaction.

But the evidence is that this theory hasn’t translated into mainstream good practice. The business case is sound but how many people would say their workplaces are getting healthier?

“Investment in staff well-being reduces turnover and absence from sickness.”

One size doesn’t fit all
I recently visited one of the world’s best known companies. They’ve invested in their culture and environment and it shows. On the face of it, they have it all. Great benefits, flexible working, in-house support services (laundry etc) and best of all, a collaborative and open culture.

“ideas shared around the business more quickly”

This gets ideas shared around the business more quickly, and you can see why. Big organisations tend to be bureaucratic. Hierarchies can get in the way. The culture I observed felt part workplace, part social club. I was struck by the opportunity this presents for individuals and teams to thrive.

This informal, open culture isn’t for everyone and one of the barriers to healthier workplaces is that one size doesn’t fit all.

How we behave is conditioned by our experience of the organisations we work within. There might be a state of the art gym in the company basement but if there’s a culture of presenteeism then you can bet hardly anyone’s using it.

Rip it up and start again?
For public sector organisations this presents a particular challenge. Hierarchy and bureaucracy are often essential to safety and clinical excellence. We know that trying to reinvent our workplaces to superficially appeal to a millennial mind-set isn’t going to happen. But cherry-picking best practice doesn’t necessarily work either. It can come across as faddish and imitative.

The first step in addressing this is recognising the barriers to making your workplace healthier.

“what good looks like and why”

Talk about the benefits
Why is a bar of chocolate or a couple of biscuits seen as something we want to reward ourselves and others with? Talk about what good looks like and why. This speaks to pride in ourselves and the organisation we work for.

This isn’t something that should just sit in HR’s in-tray. Ideas for healthy workplaces should be owned across the business. If it’s top-down and siloed it probably won’t work.

A top-down idea isn’t necessarily bad but it might not take account of the challenges individual colleagues face in putting it into practice. Health is a very personal issue. Team jogging or weigh-ins might work for some but they won’t work for all. Open feedback tools will support honest discussion of opportunities and challenges to getting and staying healthy.

Walk the talk
Are leaders saying one thing when it comes to healthier workplaces but doing another? Culture change is top down as well as bottom up. If senior managers aren’t prioritizing this, colleagues probably won’t.

Start where you are
It would be great if we could all start the day with a healthy team breakfast or down tools at lunch and eat well together. For some smaller organisations this might be the way to go. For others, it could be about signposting — how getting off the tube one stop earlier to walk doesn’t actually take that much longer. Or arming colleagues with the information they need to become ambassadors for healthier living.

For more information about workplace health visit:

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