Work health and safety (WHS) in Australia is a critical aspect of any business operation, with the primary goal of ensuring the physical and mental health of employees while preventing workplace accidents and injuries. While traditional WHS measures primarily focus on safety compliance, there is a growing recognition of the importance of incorporating employee wellbeing into the framework. Wellbeing encompasses not only physical health but also mental and emotional health, job satisfaction, and work-life balance.
Understanding Wellbeing in WHS
Wellbeing refers to the holistic state of an individual’s physical, mental, and emotional health. In the workplace, wellbeing is crucial for employees to thrive, be engaged, and contribute positively to the organisation. A comprehensive approach to WHS should now include an emphasis on promoting wellbeing, recognising that healthy and happy employees are not only safer but also more effective.
Key elements of wellbeing:
- Mental Health and Emotional Wellbeing:
Mental health and emotional wellbeing are essential components of overall employee wellbeing. Stress, anxiety, and depression are common workplace challenges that can impact job performance and safety. Businesses can support mental health by offering Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), mental health first aid training, mental health awareness training, and fostering a culture of trust, openness and support.
- Physical Health:
Physical health is a traditional aspect of WHS, focusing on preventing workplace injuries and promoting healthy living. Businesses should encourage regular exercise, offer ergonomic workstations, ensure workers have provision for taking breaks, allowing them to move from their desk/office and walk around from time to time, encourage stretching, and provide information on nutrition and healthy lifestyle choices. Employers may go one step further by providing discounted gym memberships, yoga, tai chi or other low impact classes (e.g. in the office or online), sit/stand desks etc.
- Job Satisfaction:
Job satisfaction is closely linked to employee wellbeing. Satisfied employees are more likely to be engaged, loyal, and productive. Businesses should seek to understand their employees’ needs and preferences, offer growth opportunities, and provide a safe and inclusive work environment. Many of the common psychosocial hazards are associated with the design of work including low job control, high and low job demands, low role clarity and remote and isolated work. This indicated that careful consideration of job design contributes heavily towards job satisfaction and safety.
- Work-Life Balance:
Work-life balance is crucial for employee wellbeing. A proper balance allows employees to relax and rejuvenate outside of work, reducing stress and enhancing overall health. Flexible work arrangements, such as remote work and flexible hours, can contribute to improved work-life balance.
Incorporating Wellbeing into WHS Initiatives
To effectively incorporate wellbeing into WHS initiatives, employers can adopt the following strategies:
- Leadership and Culture:
Leaders play a pivotal role in setting the tone for workplace culture. Business leaders should champion wellbeing initiatives and create a culture where employees feel valued, supported, and encouraged to prioritise their wellbeing. A top-down approach is essential to establish a culture of safety and wellbeing.
- Employee Education and Training:
Businesses should invest in employee education and training programs that focus on both physical and mental health. This can include training on stress management, mental health first aid, and nutrition. Raising awareness about the importance of wellbeing can significantly impact employees’ lives both at work and outside. Staff education in the area of neurodiversity is also a beneficial initiative, promoting inclusion and understanding of workers and others who may have differences in the way their brain works, and how best to work with people of varying diversity. This can benefit individuals and teams, by establishing protocols and frameworks that enable everyone to thrive.
- Wellbeing Policies and Programs:
Develop and implement formal wellbeing policies and programs that align with your HR and WHS framework. These may include wellness challenges, stress reduction workshops, and initiatives promoting work-life balance. Integrating wellbeing policies into your WHS strategy reinforces the idea that employee wellbeing is a priority. Research by SafeWork NSW has shown that for every $1 spent on initiatives to improve mental health at work, it can achieve returns of up to $4 through improved productivity and savings from workers compensation claims. SafeWork NSW Mentally Healthy Workplaces – ROI Study 2017
- Employee Engagement:
Engage with your employees regularly to assess their needs and gather feedback on wellbeing initiatives. This two-way communication ensures that your efforts are aligned with the actual concerns and preferences of your workforce. If using a HRIS platform such as Employment Hero, you can use the Happiness Survey tool as a top-line analysis of worker engagement, and if you wanted to explore further, you could develop custom surveys to ask workers more specific questions. Engagement and culture surveys should be anonymous where possible. This will help assure the accuracy of data received, as workers who feel their identity may be revealed may not respond with the most honest answers.
- Flexible Work Arrangements:
Offer flexible work arrangements to support work-life balance. Remote work options, flexible hours, and compressed workweeks can enable employees to better manage their personal and professional lives. These arrangements can reduce stress and improve overall wellbeing.
- Supportive Work Environments:
Create physically and psychologically safe work environments. Ensure that employees have access to ergonomic workstations, natural light, and clean, well-ventilated spaces. Additionally, address issues like workplace bullying and harassment promptly to maintain a positive and supportive atmosphere.
Benefits of Incorporating Wellbeing
Incorporating wellbeing into WHS initiatives can yield numerous benefits for Australian businesses:
- Improved Safety Performance:
Healthy and happy employees are more alert and attentive, reducing the risk of workplace accidents. In addition, promoting mental health can help employees cope with stress and challenging situations more effectively, making them less susceptible to workplace hazards.
- Enhanced Employee Productivity:
Employees who feel supported and valued are more engaged and motivated. This results in increased productivity, which ultimately benefits the bottom line of the business.
- Talent Attraction and Retention:
Businesses that prioritise wellbeing and safety become more attractive to potential employees. They are more likely to retain their current workforce, reducing turnover and associated costs.
- Positive Reputation:
Demonstrating a commitment to employee wellbeing and safety enhances a business’s reputation in the eyes of customers, clients, and the wider community. This can lead to increased customer loyalty and support.
In the context of work health and safety, wellbeing plays a vital role in creating a safer, more productive, and healthier work environment. Incorporating wellbeing into WHS initiatives is a strategic and smart business decision. By focusing on mental, physical, and emotional health, job satisfaction, and work-life balance, employers can create a culture of wellbeing that benefits both employees and the organisation. Leaders should champion wellbeing, implement formal policies and programs, and continuously engage with employees in a productive and supportive way.
If you would like any support in relation to your WHS and wellbeing strategies please contact Employment Innovations.
About Employment Innovations
Employment Innovations is one of Australia’s leading providers of employment services designed to increase productivity and ensure compliance. Its services and solutions include all the tools that every Australian small to medium sized employer needs – including workplace advice, workplace safety, legal services, payroll solutions, migration, human resource management and HR software.
The information provided in these blog articles is general in nature and is not intended to substitute for professional advice. If you are unsure about how this information applies to your specific situation we recommend you contact Employment Innovations for advice.