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Five steps to staff well-being when building a healthy workplace

By World Economic Forum | October 17th 2021
By World Economic Forum | October 17th 2021

Lawi Obonyo of Dollfarm Agricultural Engineer at his workplace in Nairobi.  [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

Improving worker health and well-being has traditionally been viewed as the responsibility of the employee, particularly when it comes to adapting to workplace stressors.

But a new employer toolkit from MIT Sloan and Harvard University researchers looks beyond the incentivised group yoga sessions and promotional gym discounts, and instead reframes poor worker well-being as a treatable symptom of an unhealthy work environment.

Designed by MIT Sloan professor Erin Kelly and Meg Lovejoy of the Harvard Centre for Population and Development Studies, the toolkit includes actionable steps and resources to help managers give employees more control over their work, cut back on excessive work demands, and improve social relationships in the workplace.

Using the toolkit, managers can learn how to support worker well-being and build a healthy workplace culture, the co-authors write.

Healthy employees have fewer healthcare expenses, are more productive, and have lower rates of absenteeism and turnover.

The five parts of the toolkit are:

Overview — Work Design for Health: A Promising Approach to Worker Well-Being toolkit is based on “how workplace practices and relationships are designed and organised,” the co-authors write. This approach includes features like identifying the root causes of poor worker health, and employee-management partnerships.

Work Design Principle 1: Give employees more control over their work. It’s stressful having no say in where, when, or how one’s daily tasks are done, according to the co-authors. Stress caused by low job control is linked to higher levels of absence and employee tardiness, and risk of heart attack.

Work Design Principle 2: Tame excessive work demands. Job demands come in many forms - deadlines, complex decision-making, prolonged physical labour. Without a supportive environment, those demands can lead to employee burnout, the co-authors write, as well as injury or even serious illness.

Work Design Principle 3: Improve social relationships in the workplace to provide benefits like emotional support and protection against workplace stressors. This leads to a happy, healthy, productive staff.

Plan and Implement a Work-Design-for-Health. Make the case for change within your organisation; encourage staff participation and invite feedback on the change process. 

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