On average, Canadian workers spend about 60% of their waking hours at work. What happens in the workplace can have a huge impact on employees' overall health.
What is a healthy workplace?
Employee health can be affected by
- the workplace environment: air quality, noise, lighting, quality of equipment, and exposure to health hazards like dangerous chemicals and tobacco smoke
- working relationships with supervisors and co-workers
- personal resources and support, such as having somewhere to turn if they have problems in their personal or work life
- how much control employees feel they have over their job, such as having a voice in decision-making and feeling that their opinions matter
- personal health practices: smoking, drinking, eating habits, exercise, use of medications and other drugs, and ways of dealing with stress
A healthy workplace is one that takes all these things into consideration. It is a place where employees have a safe and clean work environment, where they have strong and supportive working relationships that give them a sense of control and influence over what happens to them, and where they are encouraged to look after their own health both at work and at home.
What can employees do?
Being healthy and feeling well at work is about more than just not being sick! To be truly “well” you need to take personal responsibility for your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. That means making choices that will help you improve or maintain your health. It also means stopping or reducing behaviour that isn't healthy.
Here are some ideas for maintaining or improving your own health:
Take care of the essentials.
- Eat well, drink plenty of water, exercise regularly and get enough sleep.
- Get regular medical check-ups.
- Reduce or stop behaviour that puts your health at risk: try to quit smoking, stay clear of second-hand smoke, avoid excessive alcohol or other drug use, and don’t overeat.
Find healthy ways to beat stress.
- Exercise, talk things out with someone you trust, meditate, get a hobby, or simply learn the skills to relax your mind and your body.
- Take steps to reduce stress where you can.
- Learn healthy ways to manage stresses that you can’t control.
Don't go it alone.
- Participate in workplace wellness programs or committees to make your workplace as healthy and safe as possible.
- Let family members, friends and co-workers support you with the ups and downs of everyday living.
- Get professional help when you need it to deal with personal problems. And remember, sooner is always better.
What can employers do?
Having healthy employees is a definite plus for any organization. Healthy employees are more energetic, are less likely to be involved in an accident, are sick less often, and are able to recover from illness faster. Investing in employee health programs usually results in lower absenteeism, reduced sick leave and lower job accident rates. But the benefits go far beyond the bottom line. Employers who care about their people take steps to improve the quality of their employees’ lives.
Here are some things employers can do to increase health and reduce risk in their workplaces:
Provide information and education.
- Have health-related pamphlets, videos and books available to all employees.
- Provide courses and seminars on topics such as substance abuse, problem gambling, healthy eating and cooking, anger management and dealing with conflict.
- Offer programs to help employees stop smoking. Consider making these programs available to family members, too.
- Teach employees to handle personal and organizational change effectively.
- Involve as many people as possible in designing policies. Invite employees, safety representatives, union representatives and managers to participate.
- Make sure your policies include clear rules about drinking, smoking, other drug use (including prescription medications) and gambling activities.
- Once your policies are in place, enforce them. Ensure that smoking bans are enforced, conduct safety audits, and carry out regular fire and evacuation drills.
- Make sure all employees have copies of policies and procedures, and regularly review your policies at staff meetings or safety meetings.
- Managers and supervisors must set a good example. They are role models, and their actions send a strong message to other employees.
Promote employee participation.
- Involve employees in identifying concerns about the work environment. For example, form a committee of employees and managers to resolve environmental problems.
- Give employees a chance to participate in decision-making, and listen to their input and suggestions.
- Keep your employees informed through ongoing communication.
Be flexible and innovative.
- Allow flexible schedules when possible to help your employees balance the needs of work and family.
- Think about alternatives like job sharing and working from home to enable your employees to juggle work and home demands successfully.
Be a responsible host at company functions.
- Promote a healthy workplace culture by taking a clear stand on substance use and gambling at events like summer barbecues and holiday parties.
- Hire a bartender to mix standard, measured drinks. Make sure the bar is attended at all times and has designated opening and closing times.
- Make your gathering a non-smoking event.
- Arrange transportation or accommodations so guests who have been drinking do not drive.
- Encourage responsible drinking. Offer alternative activities like dancing, games or sports.
- Always have healthy food choices and non-alcoholic beverages available.
Provide resources and support.
- Offer programs to help employees quit smoking.
- Make healthy foods available in lunchrooms.
- Make the stairways attractive to encourage their use, and have exercise equipment available for use during lunch and other breaks.
- Create an Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP) that offers employees and their families confidential, professional help for personal problems. Promote the program regularly and encourage early, voluntary use. Early intervention is the best way to prevent a problem from getting worse.
- Provide training to managers and supervisors so they know what to do when employee performance is being affected by personal problems.
- If your organization is smaller, keep an up-to-date list of community resources that can help employees with personal problems.
- Invite speakers from community agencies to talk with your employees about the health or counselling services they provide.
- Start a workplace peer support program.
How can AHS Addiction and Mental Health help?
AHS Addiction and Mental Health offers a range of programs and services to help employers and employees create healthy, safe workplaces.
- To learn more about how to prevent and reduce workplace substance use and gambling problems, see our workplace resources.
- For more information about AHS Addiction and Mental Health workplace programs and services, contact your local AHS Addiction and Mental Health office.
- For more information and to find an addiction services office near you, please call the 24-hour Helpline at 1-866-332-2322 (Alberta only) or Health Link at 811.