10 corporate health lessons you can learn from WHS programs September 10th, 2014, by Ken Buckley

Workplace health and safety (WHS, formerly OHS) has been around longer than corporate health. Over the decades, many large organisations have developed excellent WHS programs, which have significantly reduced the number of injuries and claims.

There are many elements to these successful WHS programs which can and should be applied to corporate health and wellness: the rigour, the structure, the systems, and how it fits with the organisational culture.

In light of Safe Work Australia Month next month, I thought I’d share with you the top lessons I think we can apply to workplace health and wellness:

1. Make it personal: show impact on family

The theme for this year’s Safe Work Australia Month is “Work safe. Home safe.” This is a powerful reminder that your safety at work affects your entire life – and your family.

It’s a great example of the way that effective WHS campaigns bring the message home (pardon the pun). The best safety slogans remind employees that failure to act safely has a very real and direct impact on their quality of life.

The same can apply to health slogans and key messages. Explain how ignoring health can impact on quality of life, family and friends. Emphasise the personal benefits of a healthy lifestyle – having more energy, sleeping better, feeling great.

2.  Make it part of KPIs

In the Safety world, KPIs such as Lost Time Injuries are often measured in managers’ KPIs. What if the health of their team was one of their KPIs too? You wouldn’t necessarily focus on stats such as BMI or risk factors, as that wouldn’t be fair, but you could focus on participation and improvement. For example, 80% of a team must participate in health and wellness activities; or 100% must fill in the online assessment tool.

3. Report on it

Many large corporations report on Safety first in all their formal reports – in their Annual Report, quarterly updates and even their shareholder meetings.

It’s a strong way of reaffirming the organisational commitment to Safety, and it embeds it into the culture.

Consider the impact of doing the same thing for health and wellness. Consider reporting on employee health stats in reports and meetings – covering baseline improvement in risk factors, employee feedback and participation rates.

4. Have close contact between workers and management on issues

In a successful Safety culture, employees know they are encouraged to speak up about Safety issues, they know how to report it and they know management will listen. Employees are there on the ground, they know what the Safety issues are, and chances are they can figure out a way to fix it.

The same could be applied to health. Create systems that allow employees to raise health issues, be it a problem or a suggestion. This could be as simple as a cardboard suggestion box, or something more high-tech such as a dedicated email address or Sharepoint site.

5. Schedule consultations

One step up from point 3, is to stipulate formal consultations between employees and management over health and wellness. Consultation is an integral part of Safety management – not only do unions enforce it, but employers know it makes sense.

Follow the Safety model and identify “health reps”, or a Committee, who meet regularly with management. Give them specific roles, such as gathering feedback from employees, and make sure other employees understand their role.

6. Include in on-boarding and training

Is nutrition part of your onboarding program? What about exercise and mindfulness?

Tell your new recruits about your health program. Make it positive and focus on the benefits. Talk about health as part of the culture – “this is how we do things around here.”

Make it clear what options are available, and outline your policies around taking part (eg managers must give you time off to attend a seminar, or allow a full hour for a proper lunch break).

7.  Mandate it

This is a controversial one, but Safety works because it’s compulsory. When seatbelts were mandated in the 70s, car fatalities shrunk. Likewise bike helmets.

Many companies chose to make wellness activities a nice-to-have benefit, but others find that employees don’t take it seriously unless it’s mandated.

8. Integrate it into processes and habits

In large manufacturing, mining and construction companies, Safety is built-in to the process for almost every task.

What if health was built-in to your daily processes, and your standard operating procedures? This would make wellness a factor in how each employee goes about their job. For example, you could have a policy to say desk-based employees must stop to stretch every 30 minutes, or all meetings should be conducted standing or walking.

9.  Believable management commitment

Safety programs where employees believe that management supports Safety, even over productivity gains by going faster, are more successful.

Employees know when managers are simply paying lipservice to Safety.

The same thing applies to health and wellness. Make sure your managers are personally engaged with your health program. Get them to talk about it, take part in it and talk about taking part in it.

10.  Design health into the workplace infrastructure

Companies who are serious about Safety design it right into the bones of their buildings and fitouts.

This might sounds onerous for health and wellness, but it can be done without breaking the bank. Install bike racks in the carpark or outside your building. Make the most of existing infrastructure, such as stairwells, by making sure they’re safe and well lit. Is there a spare room where you can set up a bike and a rower? Or set aside as a quiet meditation room?

 

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