The importance of a healthy working environment |

We will spend over 90,000 hours working in our life and whilst that seems like a lot of time - working in an environment which is neither healthy or helpful can make that time seem even longer and cause us significant harm.

We know that a happy employee is an engaged and productive employee, that’s why it can’t be underestimated about the importance of having a healthy working environment in business. From better staff retention to more profits on the bottom line, a healthy working environment is not only good for everyone working in the business, it is an essential part of business success.

In this guide we are going to take a closer look at what a healthy working environment looks like, an employer's duties and responsibilities, the benefits of a healthy working environment and how you can create one for your own business. 

What is a healthy working environment?

Put simply, a healthy working environment is a workplace where both management and employees work together to promote healthy actions and behaviours to keep everyone safe and well. The World Health Organisation characterised a healthy working environment as one in which “there is not only an absence of harmful conditions (that can cause injury and illness) but an abundance of health-promoting ones”.

There are quite a few factors that go into what makes a healthy work environment. There is the minimum physical space that is safe and clean — well sanitised, socially-distanced workspaces, clean air filters, etc. — but it goes beyond that, of course. 

A healthy workplace is one where employees thrive in their work projects and feel fulfilled while also staying physically and mentally healthy. They’re productive and feel supported, which leads to reduced absenteeism, illness, conflict, and, ultimately, turnover.

The Workplace Health, Safety and Welfare Regulations – which became law in 1993 – lay down minimum standards for workplaces and work in or near buildings. These regulations apply to most types of workplace except transport, construction sites and domestic premises. Workplaces must be suitable for all who work in them, including workers with any kind of disability.

However, there is a lot more about a healthy working environment that means more than compliance with health and safety regulations.

Employer’s duties and responsibilities

As we have just mentioned, there are the basic duties laid out by law which apply to employers and those who control non-domestic premises. 

Under law, employers must provide or carry out basic requirements such as:

  • Deciding what could harm you in your job and take precautions to stop it.
  • Explain how risks will be controlled and tell you who is responsible for this.
  • Provide you with any equipment and protective clothing you need and ensure it is maintained.
  • Provide first aid facilities.
  • Record injuries, diseases and dangerous incidents at work and report these to the Health and Safety Executive where relevant.
  • Provide any required training to ensure that work is being carried out safely.
  • Have insurance that covers you in case you get ill or become injured at work.
  • Work with anyone sharing the workplace or anyone who is providing employees (such as agency workers), so that everyone’s health and safety is protected.

Equally, employees also have health and safety responsibilities. This includes:

  • To follow any training you have received when using equipment or materials your employer has given you.
  • To take reasonable care of your own and other people’s health and safety.
  • To cooperate with your employer on health and safety.
  • To tell someone if you think the work or inadequate precautions are putting anyone’s health and safety at risk.

Whilst the basics must be covered by law, it is not unreasonable - especially for many businesses who are looking to do better than the bare minimum to go many steps further when it comes to a healthy working environment. There are many associated benefits of creating a healthy working environment and we are going to take a closer look at these in the next section. 

Benefits of a healthy working environment

A healthy working environment is beneficial to both the employees and the employers and as we have already touched upon, this can have a significant impact on the bottom line as well as protecting the mental health of your people. 

Here are just some of the other benefits of creating a healthy working environment:

  • Ensures compliance with legislation
  • Reduces in-work accidents and injuries.
  • Promotes a positive company image and reputation
  • Reduces stress and levels of illness in employees
  • Promotes mental health
  • Reduces staff turnover rates
  • Boosts productivity
  • Reduces absenteeism
  • Encourages collaboration, support and sharing amongst staff
  • Improves staff morale
  • Enhances motivation
  • Fosters creativity

Many of us will have experienced healthy working environments whilst many of us will have also experienced unhealthy or toxic working environments in our working life. The latter is easily identified by simply looking at how the staff are reacting to their workplace; office gossip, unengaged workers, zero communication and a lack of general camaraderie. 

These are red flags for any good manager, leader or HR professional who is trying to identify what the underlying issues in business performance can be. Of course, a healthy working environment provides a far happier space where employees have better mental health and are more likely to act as business advocates - which is great for brand reputation and recruitment.

How to create a healthy working environment

Whilst it is important - and legally required - to adhere to all health and safety recommendations, businesses must try to go that extra mile to provide a truly healthy working environment that’s both good for the workers and for the business. 

Creating a healthy working environment is achievable by taking some of the following steps:

  • Provide a clean and comfortable workplace / office

Having a clean workplace is a great start. Make sure that desks are cleaned daily and that clutter is not an issue for staff. Provide training if necessary on the importance of keeping desks clutter free but importantly, work areas should be cleaned and clean on a daily basis. This will help to promote comfort and in turn will be more conducive to workspaces in promoting wellbeing. 

  • Promote wellness

One clear change that has been made in recent years thanks to a global pandemic is how we look at wellness. From wearing masks to social distancing and even sanitising our hands and work areas on a daily basis - sometimes more than once! But wellness programs are also about getting your staff to think about their health and how the business can help support that. 

This could be from organising a flu shot campaign in the winter months to promoting office place yoga one day of the week. Wellness is an attitude or a behaviour that becomes a repeated idea and acted upon by the individual over time.  

  • Identify what disparate employees want from their working environments

Of course, what works for one person may not be right for another (e.g. pop music playing in an office) so you have to understand what makes different employees work better in different environments. 

Be sure to take notice of likes and dislikes. It could be that some members of staff prefer sprint working hours - such as a selected time of day where they get to do an hour with no distractions and no meetings whilst others may require more time in group activities to ensure that the work is being done correctly. 

  • Recognise and deal with bias in the workplace

Bias can lead to all sorts of problems in the workplace and can even cause legal issues, so being able to identify where bias can occur is essential. That’s why you can train to identify and deal with bias in your workplace. 

One of the key elements is to look for open communications to allow people to express their concerns. This could be in one-to-one meetings or in blind surveys so that there is no concern on who is raising the point. 

  • Encourage mental health breaks

This is becoming more important than ever and being able to provide this kind of service is to the benefit of the employee and the employer. Being able to understand how to ‘turn off’ and relax away from work is something that should be encouraged for employees of all ages and years of experience. 

  • Promote a healthy work / life balance

Much has been made of having a good work/life balance, and there is a reason for that, it’s because it really matters. Understanding that work is not the most important thing  in your life and finding balance with the things that bring happiness, relaxation and joy is an important part of the work/life journey. 

Not only is this healthy for the employee, it’s good for the employer. It means that you have a rounded member of staff that has interests outside of work and someone that is going to be more engaged with work when they’re in the office as well. 

  • Recognise and reward all contributions

Something like a simple ‘thank you’ message from managers to workers or between workers - makes a big contribution to a healthy working environment. It’s not a big task, but a small gesture can make someone feel good about themselves and the work they do. 

  • Encourage healthy eating

From providing fresh fruit in the office that everyone can enjoy and share to even giving staff cooking lessons as an office perk, the benefits of healthy eating are not underestimated and have shown to improve mental performance by over 82%! 

Improving your businesses working environment 

From better staff retention to impacting on the bottom line, the importance of a healthy working environment cannot and should not be underestimated. Whilst there are legal requirements to provide the bare essentials, businesses should go further to ensure that their teams have what they need to have the best kind of healthy working environment.

Thomas has a range of assessments and tools to help businesses to identify members of staff who need to take a break and provide individuals with the chance to write and speak freely in surveys about working conditions. 

If you would like to learn more about Thomas tools, please speak to one of our team.