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What is a Healthy workforce?

Many workplaces, particularly in heavier industries are prone to occupational injuries and even, possible occupational disease due to prolonged exposure to biological, ergonomic and physical hazards that may be present in the line of duty. A healthy workforce is the working engine of an organization and perhaps the most important resource to ensure the organization can meet its objectives.

A healthy workforce and work environment is created by design and involves planning from conception, implementation and management of this very important concept. Without planning and execution, risks may go unchecked and become pitfalls that are counterproductive to the organization’s plans and a potential danger to employees’ well-being.

So, who is responsible for ensuring a healthy workforce?

The responsibility is shared between employers and employees, with responsibilities falling on both sides to ensure every employee is healthy, both mentally and physically. It is a two-pronged approach to ensuring a healthy workforce.

The first prong is shared by both parties – employers and employees need to ensure

that they are physically and mentally healthy to cope with the demands of their work. Be it from the physical side (good health and physical well-being to cope with the physical demands of the job), or on the mental side, employees need to be psychologically and emotionally healthy to cope with the likes of stresses and pressures placed on them.

Employers can ensure the physical aspects by ensuring their employees are screened for physical abnormalities upon entering the workplace and indeed, maintain this surveillance process periodically to monitor any negative changes. Employees can ensure this by taking responsibility to remain healthy and follow a suitable lifestyle to ensure they are healthy enough to perform in their positions.

There are various solutions to manage this within the workplace with occupational health and wellness screenings that can be carried out within the workplace using an in-house nurse and/or clinic, or by using external professionals to carry out these screening tests on employees.

The second prong is ensuring a healthy and safe working environment for the workforce. This responsibility is once again shared by both parties – the employer to ensure risk identification and management within the environment so that employees are not unnecessarily exposed to hazards, and where they are, preventative measures are put into play to manage those risks. The employee shoulders some responsibility as well, safe practices and regular training should be undertaken to ensure they are complying with required safety rules

set out in the workplace and thus reducing the risk of endangering themselves and their co-workers.

Are there only occupational risks to be concerned about?

The concept of a healthy workplace and a healthy workforce has evolved from a pure occupational health and safety standpoint, to include various other aspects that encompass health within the workplace. These newer concepts include work organization, organizational culture, lifestyle management within the workplace

and community aspects at the workplace. Wellness can be a broader term to wrap these concepts into a neat package and wellness days and clinics are emerging as a form of good practice in many organisations.

Wellness days are often arranged by companies to offer their employees opportunities to be screened for many lifestyle-changing factors in a safe and comfortable environment. The aim is to assist employees to get healthy (both physically and mentally) and maintaining good health status. This will help reduce long-term

risks of illness caused by unchecked physical and mental risks. The common areas covered at wealth days include screening and counselling for common ailments such as hypertension, cholesterol, HIV/Aids counselling and testing (with employee consent and participation), psychometric evaluations and counselling, among others.

Having a healthy workforce has benefits for both the employee and the company. Employees can benefit from feeling healthy and productive, breeding happiness and self-motivation to carry out their daily tasks. Job satisfaction (as a result of reaching intended results), is a big boost for employees and will motivate them to continue performing at optimal levels.

The company will enjoy many benefits from developing and maintaining a healthy workforce and a healthy workplace culture. Reduced absenteeism, productive employees, greater work participation and social inclusion are among the most desired by employers. If a company has a healthy workforce, they have a happy workforce and a happy workforce all but guarantees, success in attaining organisational goals and mission and working toward its vision.

Investment into ensuring a healthy workforce is priceless as its benefits will outweigh any associated costs in the long run, therefore any company that invests in the well-being of its workforce is investing in the future and sustainable practice. This vision and understanding are growing in popularity and being included as part of strategic planning by more companies. As a growing global trend, companies are

being internationally recognised and commended for development into health within the workplace. With South Africa and third-world countries in general, diffusion of innovation theories apply and would generally fall into late-adopter categories for integration into workplaces and one often finds that international companies with bases in the country would introduce the concept first, with local companies following suit as the trend grows. Regardless of adoption strategies, it is increasingly important to factor employee health into strategic planning to enter and compete at global standards.

By Marco Pires

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