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Encouraging staff to exercise is one way to reduce stress in the office

How to create a healthy workplace

A healthy workplace is one which works for everyone and it’s important that adequate time is spent trying to create this.

“Healthy” workplaces are ones that provide an open environment in which everyone feels comfortable to approach both managers and colleagues about any stresses they may have, but it is also a company culture which does not reward or prioritise unhealthy working behaviours.

Instead of standalone initiatives that often do not have sustainable results, focus on determining the root cause and integrating employee wellbeing into all your processes. By following a strategy that places employee wellbeing at the heart of your company culture, you can begin to create a healthy workplace.

However, it is important to remember that this is a process that should be continually revised in order to ensure no-one is slipping through the cracks and everyone is always seeking ways to improve.

Consider root causes, not quick fixes

Even when you think you have processes in place to prevent instances of stress or conflict from occurring, sometimes circumstances will occur where you need to manage these behaviours. Rather than focus on a quick fix which may remove the surface problem, always place priority on finding the root cause of any negative behaviour or of an employee showing signs of stress or burnout. Instead of these quick fixes, try and see if there are any common themes in the issues that are arising so any problem-causing processes can be eliminated. It is quite possible that instances of out of character irritability or disinterest may be caused by underlying feelings of stress, so to begin to solve this and stop it having the same effect on others, you may need to change your time management processes or working hour expectations to ensure you are not always wanting employees to work late or through their breaks. This may take up more time than a quick win, but as the problem will not resurface, it is much more beneficial in the long run. Similarly, everyone will become much clearer on your expectations of them so can represent your values perfectly.

Prioritise your company values

If you have set out clear company values and are ensuring every employee is adhering to and promoting these, everyone will know what is expected of them from the off. Don’t just use them in your rhetoric – make sure all your processes and actions are in line with them. If you spot someone deviating from these and their behaviour is having a negative effect on the rest of the team, you have a clear document you can refer to during your escalation procedure to show how this behaviour is negative and what is expected in your workplace. Ensuring these are clear and transparent makes it much easier for both leaders and employees to digest and embody them to ensure the workplace functions productively.

Give everyone a break

In a long-hours culture that measures productivity by the hours worked, making full use of the lunch break may seem a luxury; however, making sure everyone takes a full break is actually a great way to ensure a healthy workplace is maintained for a number of reasons:

  • Take a break from a difficult task – If there a difficult task at hand for which the solution is not presenting itself, the initial reaction may be to spend as much time on it as possible, but this is likely to be counterproductive. By taking some time away from this task your brain gets an opportunity to refresh, and it’s then that innovation is more likely to take place.
  • Time to talk with others – The lunch break provides colleagues a great chance to mix and chat with people they may not normally converse with. They could share their career experiences or interests to encourage a diverse range of voices. Similarly, if everyone is encouraged to get to know each other, it becomes much easier to spot changes in behaviour that signpost when someone is struggling and may require additional support.
  • Promotes physical wellbeing – Promoting the importance of the lunch break is not only good for mental wellbeing, but it is also good for physical wellbeing. Encouraging people to move from their desk for at an hour is good for both posture and digestion.

Don’t focus on perfection

Placing the focus on perfection and not progress is very negative for team morale and the mental wellbeing of everyone in the workplace. It creates an unnecessary ideal which is very difficult to live up to. Rather than always focusing on the end goal, it is important to recognise how far the team has gone and the progress that has been made – don’t forget to celebrate this and all the individuals that have contributed to it.

Not only does working towards “perfection” place high levels of stress on everyone involved, but it can also stifle creative thinking and experimentation from taking place to find innovative solutions.

Thinking in an “all or nothing” mindset is very inefficient as you will never be satisfied with the outcome unless it is exactly what you pictured, which rarely actually happens. Instead, make your first move and create improvements as you go along to get the ball rolling; this will help you to quickly realise which process will work. Build on what you have learned from a challenging situation and don’t just disregard something because it did not work initially.

Empower your leaders

While everyone has a vital role to play in ensuring a healthy workplace, leaders are well placed to make a real difference to the processes and policies present in the environment. All leaders should have adequate training for this role to ensure they are able to provide the correct support to any employee that approaches them with their concerns. This training does not need to be expensive or take place externally as long as it empowers people with the fundamental skills of leadership. If leaders are not adequately prepared to deal with staff issues, they too will become stressed, their behaviour may slip and their confidence will be knocked.

Leaders should not be expected to fill the role of a mental health professional, but it is important they are equipped to signpost anyone to the avenues of support available to them – this could be private services, HR or their GP – and show them that they are valued and that you will support them during this process.

In addition, empowering line and middle managers with skills in employee wellbeing and conflict resolution can also help to take some of the pressure off senior management.

Introduce steps one at a time

Although it can take a while to see the changes in your workplace culture, starting this process will put you on the right path to doing so. Always introduce things one step at a time and start with something that you know your organisation can manage. Employees may lose trust in your organisation if you introduce big, shiny initiatives and do not follow through or create sustainable change.

Not only does a healthy workplace support all employees and protect them from burnout and stress but it also maintains high levels of productivity and professionalism that are necessary for effective working as well as attract future employees.

Karen Meager and John McLachlan are the co-founders of business coaching and training firm Monkey Puzzle Training

Further reading

How to improve employee motivation in the workplace

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