Safety V Wellbeing: A Strategic Imperative for Our Sustainable Future
Recent headlines have sparked debates about the efficacy of workplace wellness programs, particularly in light of Dr. William Fleming’s recently released research findings on employee well-being outcomes from individual-level mental health interventions. As these discussions unfold, it’s essential to reflect on the current landscape and to recognise the parallels between workplace safety and wellness and the shared imperative to prioritise the safety, health, and well-being of individuals in the workplace.
Dr. Fleming’s research, featured prominently in articles like those in the New York Times and reproduced in Australian newspapers like The Age, has been touted as the largest of its kind, offers insights into various well-being interventions and their impact across different job levels, organisations, and industries.
Maya Angelou’s wise words remind us that our pursuit of improvement is ongoing, echoing the shared commitment among professionals to enhance workplace well-being. However, navigating the landscape of workplace wellness that is in the infancy stage for the majority of organisations, is akin to charting unexplored territories, as Jeff Bezos aptly notes. It requires innovation, a willingness to be misunderstood, and a dedication to pushing forward despite challenges.
Contrary to common misconceptions, workplace wellness is not about standalone programs; it’s about cultivating a healthy work culture that prevents harm, supports, restores, and enables the health and well-being of employees.
This holistic approach encompasses various dimensions of wellness, including psychosocial factors that have always been part of comprehensive wellness strategies. Dr. John Travis’s seminal work in the 1970s and subsequent authors like Judd Allen, Ph.D. and Laura Putnam have highlighted the importance of addressing organisational structures, systems, and cultural norms in protecting and promoting employee well-being.
Safety and well-being are interconnected aspects of a healthy workplace, requiring an integrated approach that addresses both. Just as safety measures have evolved to become legislatively mandated and widely accepted, workplace wellness programs are undergoing a similar transformation. However, challenges remain, particularly in overcoming the focus on individual interventions that may not drive meaningful cultural and behavioural change.
Even Fleming shares in the introduction to his article that, “Despite formal recommendations (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence [NICE], 2022) and evidence supporting the effectiveness of organisational change and work redesign on improving worker well-being (Fox et al., 2022; Lovejoy et al., 2021), interventions that target the individual worker are most common. The most popular practices include employee assistance programmes (EAPs), counselling, resilience and stress management training and the promotion of healthy lifestyles (CIPD, 2022).”
In my capacity as a workplace wellness advisor that has dedicated my life’s work to this field, I have seen too many times where organisational budgets in both the public and private sectors allow only for standalone ad-hoc interventions. There simply is no budget for the critical underpinning framework and strategic planning. So, managers take the budget they can and do the best they feel they can with it. Invariably, these are individual interventions.
Quality training for leaders, managers and supervisors and the strategic integration of wellness principles and practices into organisational systems to embed a healthier work culture are crucial steps in overcoming these challenges. Workplace wellness professionals, with their expertise in navigating these complexities, are instrumental in driving this transformation.
In this dynamic landscape, workplace wellness specialists play a crucial role. Armed with qualifications like the 11047NAT Diploma of Wellness Leadership which includes workplace health and safety competencies, they provide practical guidance to organisations and individuals. By collaborating with safety and other specialists, they leverage a breadth of knowledge and experience to create environments that prioritise employee well-being.
As we navigate this evolving landscape, it’s essential to remain focused on what matters most: the safety, health, and well-being of the people we as leaders are here to serve. Workplace wellness isn’t about standalone interventions like resilience training or yoga classes alone; it’s about implementing systematic strategies that promote a positive and healthy work environment. Individual interventions are akin to safety’s personal protective equipment; they may be necessary and helpful but are insufficient on their own.
In conclusion, the current debates surrounding workplace wellbeing programs highlight the need for a strategic and integrated approach. By embracing this approach and collaborating across disciplines, we can create workplaces that authentically support the safety, health, and well-being of all employees. As we continue to innovate and evolve, let us remember Maya Angelou’s words: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Together, we can build a healthier and more sustainable and thriving future for all.
Wanting to get your skills in workplace wellbeing recognised?
In addition to Australia’s first accredited Diploma of Wellness Leadership qualification for workplace wellness leaders, check out our range of accredited wellness courses, workshops and strategy design and advisory services for organisations.
CONTACT US for information on our courses and workshops to build and strengthen mental health and wellbeing capabilities within your team. Onsite and online delivery options are available to suit your needs.