From “safety and security first” to “work-life balance”
- Posted by Matteo Milanesi
- On 29 June 2021
- 0 Comments
In the last century the world of work has profoundly changed and so too have the demands of the workforce, which is increasingly concerned about personal health & wellbeing, and not just in terms of health & safety in the workplace.
The Global Wellness Institute Report “The Future of Wellness at Work,” published in 2016, has estimated that the average worker spends at least 90,000 hours of their life working.
The report includes data on employee wellbeing gathered around the world, giving us an overview of the actual state of mental health and physical wellbeing of the workforce globally. Of course, the importance of health & wellbeing both for the workforce in organisations and for society at large, is already well-known: a century ago, enlightened entrepreneurs, such as Henry Ford and Adriano Olivetti, began regarding their employees as the most valuable and important asset in their respective companies.
In fact, some of the early signs of an interest in worker health and safety began to appear in the second half of the nineteenth century. The first laws on health and safety in the workplace were passed in the United Kingdom and in the United States of America, following vigorous protests from the workers.
The times and the world of work was completely different then and the main thing the workers were interested in and the law focused on, was health and safety in the workplace, protection in case of an accident, illness or disability.
The regulatory framework for worker protection did not in fact reduce accidents at work; but instead increased costs due to indemnity claims and compensation being paid to workers. So an extra step was needed: in the decades that followed, employers began to take responsibility for worker safety, by making machines that were safer to use, providing protective equipment when tasks being carried out were inherently dangerous, paying much more attention to the hidden dangers. This eventually led to a decrease in the number of deaths and accidents taking place in the workplace.
As society and the world of work have evolved, we have transitioned gradually from the industrial age to the digital age: the world of work is completely different now than it was when the first laws were passed to safeguard worker health and safety. Today, interest in employee health and wellbeing also includes mental health and physical wellbeing; and has gone much beyond simply preventing accidents and deaths, to preventing illnesses caused by a poor diet or a sedentary lifestyle, encompassing stress management, work-life balance and more besides.
Notwithstanding the increasing attention being paid to corporate Health & Wellbeing Programmes in the last twenty years, there are many dissenting voices, questioning the benefits and long-term advantages associated with employers taking such a keen interest in the health & wellbeing of their workforce.
Many initiatives are viewed with scepticism even from the direct beneficiaries. According to a study published by the Global Wellness Institute in 2015 (which appears to have the largest quantity of data on the subject), 56% of workers believe that health & wellbeing programmes being offered by employers are simply to help keep the healthcare costs down.
Moreover, all too frequently these programmes are isolated emergency measures, so-called “band aid solutions,” which are implemented to resolve a specific situation and often managed by the Human Resources department. Ideally, adopting Health & Wellbeing Programmes should become part of the culture and work environment, and also the company mission. A truly proactive programme for prevention, which could bring meaningful change and improve the beneficiary’s lifestyle. As the name itself suggests, a Programme is not just an isolated initiative, rather it is a series of initiatives which take place over the long term and include nutrition, stress management or reducing dependency on nicotine, alcohol and drugs. All this should be supported by an internal marketing campaign to raise awareness. It is also possible to include meetings – for small groups or individuals – to discuss their problems, share their opinions and personal goals with professional experts or colleagues if they wish.
Sharing personal goals with colleagues, even small challenges, for instance changing personal eating habits or organising small groups to do stretching exercises for 10 minutes each day, can be an excellent way to bond with colleagues, create a more collaborative work environment and bring an altogether healthier change in daily working practices.