Health at Work in a changing world

Brexit, COVID-19 and a Fourth Industrial Revolution are just three of the changes your organisation may have been having to manage, alongside a range of more local or sector-specific changes. These changes may place your organisation’s very survival at risk.

This means it’s important to consider how health at work fits into this changing landscape. A greater focus on health at work may help you build a more resilient organisation, better placed to both guard against emerging challenges and take advantage of new opportunities.

Transitioning through change

The COVID-19 pandemic is an example. While some people may have been able to make a return to more ‘normal’ working following vaccination. others may have been less fortunate, for example due to long COVID, ‘burn out’ as a frontline worker, mental health problems surfacing during COVID, financial problems due to COVID, and delayed diagnosis and treatment of non-COVID conditions.

As this example shows, whatever major change your organisation has been going through, as you come out of the other side you may need to plan a transition period for those most affected.

Remote Working 

Remote working became more common during COVID and is likely to continue to varying degrees in the years ahead, as there are advantages for both organisations and the people who work for them. However, to avoid possible health risks to employees, arrange a risk assessment and also: 

  • Ensure people regularly doing ‘office work’ from home have appropriate office furniture and an external PC keyboard and mouse, to avoid musculoskeletal problems. 
  • Don’t rely purely on how well people appear in online meetings, as they may, for instance, be able to hide dangerous levels of stress more easily online than when they are alongside others in the workplace. 
  • Explore ways of providing a social dimension every month while working from home, recognising that social isolation can be as harmful for health as smoking or diabetes. Long term it can increase the risk of post-traumatic stress, depression, general psychological distress and avoidant behaviours. This may be a particular issue for people who are single and those who live alone. 
  • Remember that young people and new employees may be most adversely affected by remote working, as it limits the informal advice, mentoring and support, the non-verbal cues about the workplace culture, and the bonding with colleagues which being in a workplace will usually have provided for established staff.   
  • Consider what to do where remote working means remote not just from the place of work but also remote from clients, customers or patients with whom there was previously face to face interaction. This lack of face-to-face contact may change the role significantly and reduce job satisfaction over time. 
  • Consider how to balance different working preferences, fairness and productivity, as working remotely may suit some people better than others and may sometimes cause resentment among people who can’t work from home. 

Human Nature

A useful starting point here is that the world may be changing but human nature tends not to. For example, the psychologist Abraham Maslow identified a range of human motivational needs in his iconic hierarchy of needs:

 

Action you take in the following areas is likely to enhance motivation and support mental and physical health:

  • A living wage – so people can afford to feed themselves and their families, without having to rely on food banks, and can ensure they have a decent roof over the heads. 
  • Job security – so people can concentrate on their work, instead of worrying about their future. 
  • Actively engaging with staff, including remote and gig economy workers – to encourage their commitment to their work and the organisation. 
  • Recognise what people achieve – to build and support their self-esteem. 
  • Provide opportunities for people to grow and develop and achieve more of their potential. 

Leadership

An important contribution you can make as a leader in your organisation is to help your people understand, make sense of, contribute to and own the changes the organisation is going through and the reasons for this. Consistency is also important here. If your first instinct is to preserve management posts while laying off lower paid staff, or if you have a range of health at work initiatives but then make staff redundant in a way seen as unfair or unfeelingthis is unlikely to engender confidence and commitment or to contribute to health at work.