OHS and WHS: Employees sending a strong message about workplace wellbeing

It is fair to say that the emphasis and interest in workplace wellbeing across Australia is on the rise. Organisations are keen to implement programs that not only look after the wellness of workers but also in return create productive and happy working environments.

Dr Lindsay McMillan is the managing director of Reventure Limited who recently published their sixth report, Workplace Wellbeing, as part of their national campaign a future that works. The report surveyed over 1000 Australian workers and shed some light on what the expectations are and the effectiveness of wellness programs.

In an exclusive interview with OHS.com.au, Dr McMillan discusses what bought about the need for the focus on wellbeing in workplaces and what the expectations are from employees. 

OHS: Why is the focus on wellbeing in the workplace increasing and what bought about the need for this focus?

Dr McMillan: The focus on wellbeing is increasing, with one-quarter of Australian workers noticing this uptake in the last year alone. This is because workplaces are undergoing rapid periods of change and are realising that they should be actively pursuing renewal agendas and addressing these changes.

As technology continues to impact how work is conducted, with work following us home in our pocket, the amount of time people work is increasing. More and more we are seeing that people view work as a calling rather than an occupation.

There is a real risk that employee wellbeing is becoming secondary to work output, which can lead to disengagement, increased stress and other worrying results. It is important to focus on wellbeing and make sure employees are not being disregarded as these changes take place, because ultimately employees are the most important asset an organisation has.

OHS: What expectations do people have from organisations and wellness programs?

Dr McMillan: Our most recent research report, Workplace Wellbeing shows that employees have higher expectations than employers when it comes to what should be done to foster wellbeing.

85% say that employers should proactively address stress; 75% say they should foster a community feeling; 74% say that they should provide access to a counselor and 66% say that they should provide opportunity for physical activity like gym memberships and team sports.

Employees are sending a strong message here that workplace wellbeing is important to them and is a factor in choosing whether to stay or go. Ten per cent of Australian workers will not apply for a job without a wellbeing program.

OHS: Did the report find that wellness programs are only implemented in large corporations/businesses or is it across the board?

Dr McMillan: Our research found that more than two in five Australian workers (43%) have a wellbeing program. One in four Australians (23%) have had their wellbeing program running for more than three years.

More than half (57%) of Australian workers do not have a wellbeing program.

Although it is unclear what proportion come from large corporations, we have certainly found that many large organisations have been on the front foot with workplace wellbeing, including PwC who implemented default flexibility and Coles Express which launched a steps program to encourage physical activity.

OHS: How important is it for management to have the correct training in implementing wellbeing programs?

Dr McMillan: Management must genuinely engage with workers. Top down commands from management won’t solve workplace problems, they are likely to exacerbate them.  

This means that they should be taking these issues seriously and engaging with their employees in a meaningful way. Wellbeing is not a buzzword to attach to any new HR strategy, but rather it requires careful consideration, factoring in workers' evolving needs in our rapidly changing work landscape.

That’s why it is vital that management has the correct training to implement wellbeing programs in their workplace. When employees know that management really value wellbeing and are not just implementing programs to tick a box that is when workplace wellbeing programs are the most effective.  

OHS: How does Australia compare with other countries?

Dr McMillan: Australia could certainly learn something from other countries. In Norway, often businesses do not to schedule meetings after 3pm Monday to Thursday to allow parents to pick up school aged children and encourage work life harmony.

In Australia, our workplaces measures are somewhat ad hoc. Individual organisations are implementing measures, however we are yet to reach a national cultural norm.  

OHS: Is Sweden the benchmark for all countries to aspire too or are their flaws with the six-hour work system? (Note: I had recently heard a report that it has opened up other issues such as what do people do with the extra time in the day).

Dr McMillan: There are pros and cons to a six-hour work system, as people have different work habits.

Shifting the work hours won’t be a silver bullet, it will be part of a broader solution. We need to also look at workplace culture and improve the aspects of the workplace that also affect employees like unrealistic workplace expectations, low team morale or job insecurity.

Australian workers want more action in this area, with some willing to sacrifice company perks, a promotions or a pay rise in exchange for better wellbeing.  

OHS: Where do you see wellness in the workplace in the next five years?

Dr McMillan: It’s vitally important that workplaces actively pursue renewal agendas, especially during times of rapid change.

I hope to see more workplaces prioritising wellbeing in the near future so it becomes part of the cultural norm and to see that the level of national debate on workplace wellbeing and how to address it is raised.

This is why I launched a national campaign, a future that works – to not only raise modern challenges in Australian workplaces such as wellbeing, but also to address them so we move towards workplaces and towards a future that actually works.




Image sourced from Flickr cc: Tayloright

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