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Program targets healthy workplace

Local employers hoping to increase productivity and improve the overall wellness of their staff may want to consider taking advantage of a new program offered by the Northwestern Health Unit.

“HealthWorks” is a free service that looks at all aspects of health in the workplace—occupational health and safety, individual health practices, and organizational change.

“It’s a relatively new program,” said Shannon Robinson, Health Promotion co-ordinator for the health unit based in Kenora

“Organizational culture” is the big buzz word for this movement, which has gained popularity over the last five years or so.

Employers should take notice “because [organizational culture] really shapes the behaviour of the managers and the employees,” Robinson remarked.

Provided by the health unit as part of “HealthWorks” are surveys to help the workplace assess the positives already present and the weaknesses which need to be built upon, consultations on workplace health promotion, support to help the workplace’s “wellness team” create a workplace health promotion plan, phone advice, and an eight-step package to get the workplace started.

There is no set time frame over which the program is run or completed because different workplaces will require varying levels of improvement, Robinson explained.

Some might need to start from the beginning of the process, she said, while others “might come up with ideas and [just] need help to implement them.”

According to the health unit’s website, organizational change focuses on impoving the organizational climate.

“Organizational change includes things such as leadership practices, management style, social support, the way that work is organized, and the amount of control and independence people have in their jobs,” it reads.

Some other elements of organizational culture include things like communication styles, employee family assistance programs, and allowing employees flexibility in their schedules to deal with family obligations.

“These are just as important as physical conditions,” Robinson stressed.

A healthy workplace leads to better productivity, decreased absenteeism, and can help attract employees.

“Unhealthy workplaces are the number-one cause of injury and illness claims,” Robinson noted. “Highly-stressed employees are more at risk for cardiovascular disease, depression, and accidents.

“If employees know that it’s a healthy workplace, that’s kind of a perk” when they are considering employment options, she added.

But how do you identify an unhealthy workplace?

“Physical hazards are the obvious,” said Robinson. “But there are other signs that aren’t so clear.”

These are the problems Robinson refers to as psycho-social hazards—the emotional and psychological effects of an unhealthy workplace.

Psycho-social hazards fall under the general category of working conditions that include job and employment security, work pace, control and stress, working time, opportunities for self-expression and personal development, participation and relationships at work, and work-life balance.

Robinson said something like work overload (“too much to do in too little time too often”) would be a sign of an unhealthy workplace.

Other factors that could come into play include lack of training, lack of respect, and too little or too much responsibility.

“These are all about people’s perceptions” of their workplace, Robinson explained. “A lot of it has to do with the management of the organization.”

For this reason, one of the first aspects of “HealthWorks” is an anonymous survey completed by employees to identify the workplace’s weaknesses.

But without the co-operation and willingness to change by management, “HealthWorks” will not be successful. “The biggest challenge would be getting your management on board. You might have to sell the idea to them,” Robinson admitted.

Still, she enthused the program is a worthwhile venture and said it is employee-oriented. “Really it’s about the health of employees,” she remarked.

For more information, check out the “HealthWorks” website at www.nwohealthworks.org/index.php

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