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How does the work environment shape employee health?

7 min read

03 July 2019

When you think of your work environment, it’s likely your mind leaps to the immediate physical office space. And you’d be right to take it into account.

 The physical office environment has an important role to play in affecting your employees’ health and wellbeing.

But there’s a lot more to the work environment than meets the eye. Let’s take a look at the factors that help shape employee health and wellbeing.

What is employee health and wellbeing?

According to the World Health Organisation, health is “a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”.

It’s a definition that takes psychological, physiological and social factors into account – as well as the interactions between them. It also explicitly links health with wellbeing. And wellbeing, a positive rather than a neutral state, is all about how the physical, mental and social aspects of a person’s life interconnect.

How the work environment influences employee health

You might say that wellbeing is how you feel about yourself and your life. So in the world of work, wellbeing is how you think about yourself in the context of your job. Businesses, therefore, tend to introduce employee health and wellbeing schemes in order to:

  • Increase staff productivity
  • Lower healthcare costs
  • Improve and maintain employee morale
  • Retain employees

Of course, the work environment encompasses a range of elements. And this is something specialist HR software company Breathe knows all too well. Filling up its trophy cabinet, Breathe is seeing the benefits of putting their people first and improving their culture. They recently won ‘Best Tech Company to Work For’ at the National Technology Awards 2019, the Culture Award at the Lotus Awards, and director Jonathan Richards scooped the award for Director of the Year from the IoD.

These were some of the reasons Breathe employees gave for why they like working at Breathe.

Self-determination:

“I’m encouraged to express myself, challenge myself, and bend the rules.”

Camaraderie:

“Everyone helps everyone.”

And as Richards said himself:

‘When I started Breathe I was determined to build a culture where our people grow and thrive. I think it’s so important that people look forward to coming to work each morning.” 

Here are some other elements of the work environment that make people want to come into work each day – or not.

Is it easy to take leave?

It’s important to take a holiday every once in a while. But have you ever considered how easy (or hard) it is for your employees to take time off work? What’s the process? Is there an online portal they use to request leave, or do you sign it off in person? Perhaps they have to give a month’s notice, or maybe it’s at their own discretion.

However you go about it, it’s important to find a balance that works for your company and the employees who make it tick. If it’s a struggle to take annual leave it can be demoralising for employees.

The ease of taking annual leave influences the work environment

Can your employees take leave easily?

On the other hand, making it too easy can have knock-on effects for those left behind to cover. It’s also important to identify single points of failure. Perhaps that employee who never takes leave does so because there’s no-one to pick up the slack when they’re away.

Investing in a software or system that organises holiday requests is a good choice here. With Breathe, employees can check their company calendar and request leave on the go. 

How do you deal with bullying and harassment?

Despite increasing awareness of the problem, improper conduct such as bullying and harassment happens all too often in the workplace. From unwanted comments and criticism to shouting and physical contact, harassment and bullying come in various forms. Left unchecked, they can be profoundly detrimental to employee health and wellbeing.

Bullying and harassment affects the work environment

How does your company deal with bullying and harassment?

It’s vital that your business has measures in place to tackle inappropriate behaviour. This might be as simple as providing awareness of the relevant channels open to employees if they feel they are victim to discrimination of any sort. But, of course, prevention is always better than any cure. So it’s also about establishing a supportive, caring company culture from the start.

Why not take Breathe’s Culture Pledge to show your business takes company culture seriously?

What are your managers doing?

Because they lead by example, managers are key to creating a supportive work environment. 

As the organisers and instigators of change, they also play a pivotal role in executing employee health and wellbeing plans. If managers don’t set the tone or allocate appropriate resources, employees may struggle to foster a culture of wellness by themselves.

How managers help to shape the work environment

Good managers are key to creating a supportive work environment.

On a personal level, employees will feel more comfortable opening up to managers who are available, approachable and transparent. Providing managers with mental-health training can help create a supportive environment where employees are happy to share experiences with them.

Your own work environment

You’re probably reading this because you care about the health and wellbeing of your employees. Well, so do we.

In association with Breathe, Real Business is running the SME Culture Leaders List 2019, the only league table of its kind catering to the UK’s thriving small and medium businesses that put company culture first. Nominations are now in and we’ll be announcing the top 25 on 22nd July. Watch this space.