Different organisations have differing motivations for implementing a health and wellbeing program. Some are motivated to improve occupational health and safety and reduce the rate of injuries and adverse events, and others are driven to invest in human capital and reduce workforce absenteeism.

A healthy workplace is one in which workers and managers collaborate to use a continual improvement process to protect and promote the health, safety and wellbeing of all workers and the sustainability of the workplace by considering the following, based on identified needs:

  • Health and safety concerns in the physical work environment;
  • Health, safety and wellbeing concerns in the psychosocial work environment, including organisation of work and workplace culture;
  • Personal health resources in the workplace; and
  • Ways of participating in the community to improve the health of workers, their families and other members of the community

(World Health Organisation, 2009. Healthy workplaces: a model for action).

Workplace health and wellbeing programs involve the use of health promotion principles to develop a set of planned strategies to address identified health and wellbeing needs within an organisation. Programs consist of a range of organisationally based strategies (e.g. environmental changes/supports such as showers and bicycle racks, or policies and cultural changes/support) as well as strategies aimed at individual employees (e.g. smoking cessation programs).

Chronic disease is the main cause of death and disability worldwide. The role of prevention is recognised, both within the workplace and outside, as a key to reducing disease and injury. Approximately one-third of adult life is spent at work (ACT Work Safety, 2010. A Guide to Promoting Health and Wellbeing in the Workplace). The workplace, therefore, provides a key avenue to influence the health of workers and the community as a whole.

A range of workplace determinants (e.g. physical environment, organisational structure, culture, and the nature of work tasks) can have an impact on the health of an employee. As a result, the World Health Organisation (and the Australian government) have recognised the workplace as a priority setting for health promotion.

Employers who focus on the health and wellbeing of their staff can bring multiple benefits not only to workers but also to the organisation. Organisations benefit through a more positive workplace culture; healthy, happy and balanced workers; and reduced economic costs as well as improved productivity outcomes. Conversely, an unhealthy and hazardous workplace can increase mortality and morbidity, escalating health care costs, and reduce productivity and organisational health.

National and international studies provide compelling evidence supporting the value of workplace health and wellbeing initiates. This evidence supports the impact such initiatives are having on physical, mental and social wellbeing amongst workers. (ACT Work Safety, 2010. A Guide to Promoting Health and Wellbeing in the Workplace).
(derived from Medibank Private 2005, The health of Australia’s Workforce).

Unhealthy: Healthy:
18 days annual sick leave
Self-rated performance 3.7 out of 10
49 effective hours worked (fulltime) per month
2 days sick leave
Self-rated performance of 8.5 out of 10
143 effective hours worked (fulltime) per month
High fat diet Healthy diet
Low energy levels and poor concentration Fit, energetic and alert
Obese or overweight Normal body weight
Irregular sleep patterns More attentive at work and better sleep patterns
Poor stress management techniques Actively manage stress levels

Returns and benefits associated with workplace health and wellbeing programs
Organisations that implement health and wellbeing strategies can reduce their employees’ health risk factors by up to 56% (Wesley Corporate Health, 2006. The future@work health report: Employees and their workplace).

Productivity gains of up to 15 % can be achieved by upgrading the workplace environment (Wesley Corporate Health, 2006. The future@work health report: Employees and their workplace).

Employees’ work performance can be improved by 4-15% through participation in regular physical activity (Department of Sport and Recreation Western Australia, 2009. Presentation: Making the case for workplace health programs).

For every dollar invested in workplace health and wellbeing programs, there is a return on investment of between three and six dollars (Bellew, B. 2008. Primary prevention of chronic disease in Australia through interventions in the workplace setting: a rapid report).
The healthiest Australian employees are almost three times more productive than their unhealthy colleagues (Medibank Private, 2005. The health of Australia’s Workforce).

Australian studies conducted by Medibank Private have estimated average Return On Investment from workplace wellness programs at 300%. Some international experiences have been quoted as high as 1,300%. The benchmark cost of rehiring an employee is widely estimated to be the cost of their annual salary and on costs, so a $100,000 per annum workplace wellness program would break even if it resulted in just one less $60,000 per annum salaried employee leaving the organisation each year. In comparison to other initiatives to improve productivity, workplace wellness programs stand out as a great investment (Vie Wellness, 2010. Why Wellness. www.viewellness.com.au).
In addition to offering first aid and manual handling training in the workplace, Next Step Health is available to consult, design and deliver corporate wellness programs suited to a variety of organisations.