Healthy Workplaces: A Model For Action

A healthy workplace is an environment where both the people are healthy and the organization they work in is healthy. Today, more than ever, we know that employee health is strongly connected to organizational productivity and effectiveness, and employee satisfaction and retention. Workplace wellness programming is more than putting up topical health posters. Although education is important, it does not generally lead to improved habits. A growing number of employers are recognizing that for a workplace health promotion strategy to be effective and have impact, it needs to be comprehensive

The World Health Organization (WHO) has developed a Healthy Workplace Model that covers four important components in a comprehensive approach:

  • Physical Work Environment,
  • Psychosocial Work Environment,
  • Personal Health Resources, and
  • Enterprise Community Involvement.

The Physical Work Environment encompasses health and safety which is traditionally managed by designated workplace specialists and/or committees guided by Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act.

The Psychosocial Work Environment focuses on the culture and social climate of a workplace.  It is influenced by management priorities, expectations and style, and interpersonal relationships amongst staff.

Personal Health Resources speaks to the healthy lifestyle choices made by employees including physical activity, healthy eating, substance misuse, stress management and work-life balance.

Enterprise Community Involvement addresses the importance of a workplace being engaged with the greater community around them to support the health and well-being of all community members.  Supporting community initiatives (e.g., sponsoring a sports team), sharing the organization’s physical property (e.g., community gardens), and  advocating for community initiatives that support health (e.g., supporting the installation of trails or sidewalks near the workplace) are just some of the ways that a workplace supports the health of employees and the workplace while also supporting the health of the community.

While the health and safety aspects of this model are addressed primarily by another entity (joint occupational health and safety committees), the other three components of this comprehensive model are best addressed by a wellness committee.  The Committee is  made up of individuals fully representing the makeup of the workplace. The wellness committee coordinates activities addressing employee interests, needs and concerns as determined by surveying – formally or informally – the employees themselves.

All four components of the WHO’s Healthy Workplace Model need to be recognized when responding to the health of your workplace and planning your healthy workplace activities. Although these categories are separated in theory, they overlap in practice. (For example, employee stress is primarily caused by organizational issues in the working environment, but healthy lifestyle habits will increase an individual’s ability to cope with stressful situations.)

For more detailed information about Comprehensive Workplace Wellness, check out the World Health Organization’s:  Healthy Workplaces: a model for action