How to Improve Workplace Wellbeing: 24 Best Ideas & Activities

Workplace wellbeingThe Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2020) estimate that US employers lose $36.4 billion a year due to missed days of work.

Drivers of these absences include a range of health conditions and risk factors, including high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, physical inactivity, and obesity (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020).

The costs of mental health challenges are rising too, with estimates suggesting that mental illness and substance abuse cost US businesses between $80 and $100 billion annually (Sime, 2019).

If you’re a manager or leader looking for ways to support your workers’ health and wellbeing, look no further. In this article, we’ll present a clear business case for investing in employee wellness and point you toward useful questionnaires and interventions you can put into practice today.

Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Positive Psychology Exercises for free. These science-based exercises explore fundamental aspects of positive psychology, including strengths, values, and self-compassion, and will give you the tools to enhance the wellbeing of your clients, students, or employees.

What Is Workplace Health & Wellbeing?

Despite its obvious importance, there is often confusion about what workplace health and wellbeing entail (Pescud et al., 2015).

In an in-depth review, Griffin and Danna (1999) argued that the term “health” regards indexes of physiology and symptomatology, as drawn from the medical field, relevant to the organizational context. Examples can include back pain associated with poor ergonomics and mental illnesses that arise because of hostility in the work environment.

On the other hand, wellbeing regards a broad concern for the wellness of a whole person beyond specific symptoms or diagnoses. These scholars argue that wellbeing should be captured using general life-satisfaction and job-satisfaction measures, and even measures designed to assess satisfaction with specific facets of a job, such as pay or colleagues (Griffin & Danna, 1999).

While these definitions may sound broad, ultimately, they boil down to five facets of employee wellness (Pescud et al., 2015):

  1. Occupational health and safety
  2. Mental health
  3. Nutrition
  4. Physical activity
  5. General health concerns

 

18 Benefits According to Research

Workplace wellbeing researchLet’s now consider the benefits for individuals and organizations, flowing from these five sources of workplace health and wellbeing.

 

Occupational health and safety

Employees who perceive that an organization is more committed to safe practices will, in turn, demonstrate greater commitment to the organization (Gyekye, 2006).

Further, staff working in industries with many risks and hazards, such as mining, will be less likely to consider leaving when that organization shows commitment to safety leadership and the formulation of safe policies and supervision (Amponsah-Tawiah, Ntow, & Mensah, 2016).

 

Mental health

Cost–benefit analysis exploring the effects of access to professional mental healthcare, such as on-site psychologists or financial reimbursement for therapy, suggests myriad benefits for organizations. In particular, employers can expect (Attridge, 2008):

  • Reduced absenteeism
  • Reduced turnover intention
  • Increased productivity
  • Decreased non-psychiatric medical costs

It has even been shown that employees with depression can decrease the morale of their colleagues, suggesting the benefits of taking swift action to support staff with mental health challenges (Putnam, McKibbin, & Wachs, 2004).

 

Nutrition

There is a wealth of evidence pointing to the benefits of a quality diet on a labor force.

Some of these effects are indirect, such as the benefits a healthy diet has for preventing diseases that may hamper productivity. However, research has identified direct benefits too, including (Drewnowski, 2020):

 

Physical activity

The benefits of regular physical activity for health are well documented. In particular, workplace physical activity interventions, like walking/step-count challenges, can positively affect indices of health, such as body mass index, waist girth, and resting heart rate (Chan, Ryan, & Tudor-Locke, 2004).

Like good nutrition, regular physical activity is powerful for preventing diseases and conditions that may hamper performance. However, emerging evidence points to direct effects of physical activity on utilitarian workplace outcomes, including (Pronk & Kottke, 2009):

  • Increased performance
  • Reduced absenteeism
  • Reduced use of sick leave
  • Reduced medical care expenditure

 

General health concerns

As noted, when employees are physically healthy, they are less likely to be slowed down by conditions that hamper performance. However, findings suggest that even just an employee’s perception that their organization supports their health can predict increased productivity (Chen et al., 2015).

Further, employees who perceive that their employers support their health are less likely to force themselves to work despite injury or illness, a phenomenon known as presenteeism (Chen et al., 2015).

 

How to Improve Wellbeing at Work: 6 Tips

Looking for ways to improve wellbeing in your workplace? Consider the following tips as useful starting points:

  • Aim to create an overall safety climate that involves and informs all members of the organization regarding occupational health and safety, rather than just targeting interventions at managers and supervisors (Neal & Griffin, 2006).

  • If you’re an organizational leader, speak with your vendor about having employee mental healthcare included in your company’s insurance plan, knowing that the benefits will likely offset additional costs (Attridge, 2008).

  • One study has found that providing a weekly fruit box for staff, particularly when the fruit is available for free, significantly increases staff members’ average nutrition intake (Pescud et al., 2016).

  • If you run an on-site canteen, consider working with a certification body to help label healthier options. Doing so has been shown to have positive nutritional effects by reducing consumption of calorie-dense foods (Lassen et al., 2014).

  • Provide end-of-trip facilities (e.g., showers, lockers, bike storage) to support and encourage staff using non-motorized methods of transport to get to and from work.

  • Provide access to occupational health checks, as these have been linked to early identification of health problems, positive dietary changes, increases in physical activity, and reduced smoking and alcohol consumption (Blake, Bennett, & Batt, 2014).

 

3 Helpful Activities & Intervention Ideas

Mindfulness wellbeingCheck out the following three activities and interventions for a few quick and easy ways to get your staff thinking about workplace wellbeing.

  • Workplace Mindfulness
    Workplace stress is one of the leading causes of physical and mental health problems (Sonnentag & Frese, 2003; Szeto & Dobson, 2013). This worksheet poses three simple questions to help workers combat work stress and increase satisfaction with work.

  • What Behavior Do I Want to Change?
    Improving safety, diet, physical activity levels, and general health often requires habit change. This worksheet helps employees create the focus needed to revise old thinking and behaviors to pursue more positive behaviors.

  • Understanding Mental Health Stigma
    The ongoing stigma surrounding mental health issues can prevent people from speaking up and getting the support they need. This handout highlights the harms of mental health stigma and can facilitate discussion about supporting colleagues living with mental illness.

 

Strategies & Initiatives for Your Wellbeing Program

If you’re working in an organization with more than 10 people, chances are at least one or two people in your team will be living with a mental illness. Additionally, one in six will experience symptoms of psychological ill-health, like worry, sleep problems, or fatigue (Black Dog Institute, n.d.).

To help, the Black Dog Institute (n.d.), a leading provider of workplace training on wellbeing, recommends the following six types of interventions and strategies to support better mental wellbeing:

  1. Smart work design
    Design jobs that are safe and encouraging, include reasonable workloads, and allow staff to use their initiative in performing work.

  2. Building personal resilience
    Draw on evidence-based approaches (e.g., Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, coaching frameworks) to help develop employees’ resilience. Provide extra support and training to those working in high-risk or high-stress roles.

  3. Building better work cultures
    Reduce stigma about mental health throughout the organization via training and policy, and teach staff ways to look out for each other’s mental wellbeing.

  4. Increasing awareness of mental health
    Speak openly about mental health and include formal training and activities regarding mental health in employees’ development and induction activities.

  5. Support staff recovery from mental illness
    Train supervisors to support staff recovering from mental illness; provide flexibility around scheduling, leave, and work duties; and protect recovering staff from bullying or discrimination.

  6. Early intervention
    Open communication channels for those seeking help and consider conducting wellbeing checks or providing peer support programs.

 

Wellbeing Assessments: Questionnaires & Surveys

Wellbeing assessmentsAs evidence of workplace wellbeing’s importance grows, scholars are designing more assessments to help managers gauge and track it.

For some options, take a look at the following three questionnaires.

 

Safety citizenship behavior

Safety citizenship behaviors refer to

“the behaviors performed by workers that go above and beyond the safety-related activities that are defined within their normal work role.”

Wishart, Rowland, and Somoray, 2019, p. 147

When employees exist within a work culture that supports safety citizenship, they will go above and beyond to help address risks and encourage others to perform work with health and safety in mind.

For a useful measure of safety citizenship behavior, look at the 27-item scale from Hofmann, Morgeson, and Gerras (2003) assessing the following six dimensions:

  • Helping (e.g., volunteering for safety committees)
  • Voice (e.g., making safety-related recommendations about work activities)
  • Stewardship (e.g., protecting colleagues from safety hazards)
  • Whistleblowing (e.g., telling colleagues to follow safe working procedures)
  • Civic virtue (e.g., attending safety meetings)
  • Initiating safety-related change (e.g., trying to improve safety procedures)

You can access the full scale and items for free from ResearchGate (see appendix).

 

Brief Symptom Inventory

The Brief Symptom Inventory (Derogatis, 1975) is a 53-item scale assessing nine symptom dimensions of psychological strain. These dimensions and accompanying example items are as follows:

  • Somatization (e.g., faintness or dizziness)
  • Obsession-compulsion (e.g., feeling blocked in getting things done)
  • Interpersonal sensitivity (e.g., your feelings being easily hurt)
  • Depression (e.g., thoughts of ending your life)
  • Anxiety (e.g., nervousness or shakiness inside)
  • Hostility (e.g., feeling easily annoyed or irritated)
  • Phobic anxiety (e.g., feeling afraid in open spaces)
  • Paranoid ideation (e.g., feeling that most people cannot be trusted)
  • Psychoticism (e.g., the idea that someone else can control your thoughts)

Respondents indicate how much each of the particular problems has distressed or bothered them during the past seven days on a scale from 0 (not at all) to 4 (extremely).

You can access a full copy of the questionnaire and scoring information from the Natural Hazards Center website.

 

Organizational support for employee health

While you’re assessing the wellbeing of your employees, be sure to put the practices of your managers under the microscope, too.

The 14-item Leading by Example questionnaire is a robust tool for assessing different facets of management’s commitment to and engagement with health promotion initiatives.

Example items from the scale’s four dimensions are as follows, with responses on a scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree):

  1. Business alignment with health promotion objectives (e.g., our health promotion programs are aligned with our business goals).
  2. Awareness of the link between health and worker productivity (e.g., employees at all levels are educated about the true cost of healthcare and its effects on business success).
  3. Worksite support for health promotion (e.g., our health benefits and insurance programs support prevention and health promotion).
  4. Leadership support for health promotion (e.g., our leadership is committed to health promotion as an important investment in human capital).

You can access the full questionnaire from The Health Project website (see Table 6).

 

More questionnaires & surveys

For even more surveys assessing workplace health and wellbeing, be sure to check out the following related posts from our blog:

 

10 Questions to ask employees

Looking to do a broad sweep of health behaviors and attitudes among employees? Take a look at the following 10 items presented by the world-leading provider of corporate wellness solutions, Firstbeat:

  1. I think I am physically active enough to get health benefits.
  2. I think my physical activity is intensive enough to improve my fitness.
  3. In my opinion, my eating habits are healthy.
  4. I feel that my alcohol consumption is not excessive.
  5. I don’t generally feel stressed.
  6. My days include breaks that allow me to recover.
  7. I usually feel rested and energetic.
  8. I feel that I sleep enough.
  9. I feel that I can influence the things that affect my health.
  10. In my opinion, I feel well at the moment.

Respondents show their agreement with each of the items on a scale from 1 (completely disagree) to 5 (completely agree).

You can access a copy of this questionnaire free from the Firstbeat website.

 

Workplace Wellbeing App & Platform

Quenza Expert Companions

If you’re a consultant or coach, perhaps you’re looking for digital tools or platforms to help deliver effective workplace wellbeing interventions for your clients.

Among the products on the market, you’ll find different options for navigating the customer relationship management and accounting sides of your business.

For a complete review of 17 different platform options, be sure to check out our dedicated article.

 

Using Quenza to improve wellbeing

Among the various available platforms, few include pre-prepared interventions and assessments for use with corporate clients.

One exception is our very own app, Quenza, which we designed to help you deliver swift and effective wellbeing interventions confidently backed by science.

Here are just a few examples of the types of interventions you will find in Quenza’s pre-loaded Expansion Library, which you can access and try for yourself for just $1.

  • Identifying Our Expert Companions
    A useful supplement to a peer coaching program, this exercise guides clients through identifying the characteristics of a support person in their network – someone who can help care for their emotional needs and make a difference during tough times.

  • Urge Surfing
    Unhealthy habits can be more easily thwarted when we learn to resist the urges and cravings that drive them. This exercise teaches clients to respond to urges by riding them out like a wave in the ocean rather than giving into them.

  • Stress Diary
    Quenza’s seven-day stress diary is a systematic tool to help employees track and identify patterns in activities that cause physical and psychological stress throughout their day. Based on the results, staff can then work with their employers to help reduce stress levels.

 

Our Positive Psychology Toolkit & Resources

A key strategy for ensuring wellbeing among your staff is by ensuring people work in such a way that they can leverage their strengths, rather than battling to work in ways that are not natural to them. Further, this strengths-based approach tends to be a better way to help staff develop and improve than alternative approaches that focus on people’s deficits.

For a great tool to help, take a look at The Strengths Wheel exercise, available for free in our 3 Positive Psychology Exercises Pack.

A staple of the Positive Psychology Toolkit©, this tool invites employees to create a graphical representation illustrating the discrepancy between their current and potential strength utilization. With this graphic in front of them, they will then be invited to develop a plan to help optimize their strength use at work.

You can access this tool, as well as The Bull’s-Eye Values Survey and Compassionate Chair Work exercise, for free by downloading the exercise pack.

Likewise, if you’re looking for more science-based ways to help others enhance their wellbeing, check out this signature collection of 17 validated positive psychology tools for practitioners. Use them to help others flourish and thrive.

 

A Take-Home Message

The evidence throughout this post not only builds a strong business case for ensuring the wellness of staff, but also highlights the moral imperative of keeping employees well for the sake of themselves and their families.

Workplace wellbeing is a fundamental responsibility of employers, and everyone throughout an organization can play a part to keep themselves and others healthy and safe.

We hope this post has inspired you to consider interventions you might employ as part of a workplace wellbeing intervention. If you decide to try out any we’ve suggested, be sure to let us know in the comments.

We’d love to hear from you, and don’t forget to download our three Positive Psychology Exercises for free.

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About the Author

Nicole is a behavioral scientist and writer based in Perth, Western Australia. Her research interests lie at the intersection between wellbeing, personal energy, and positive psychology, and her work appears in several top business journals, including the Journal of Organizational Behavior.

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