More to a healthy workplace than a bowl of fruit

John Ryan, chief executive of Healthy Place to Work, recently led a NI Chamber of Commerce virtual event that addressed health and wellbeing in the workplace and looked at the common mistakes businesses make in relation to workforce health. This was his message

Talking about healthy eating, or simply providing bowls of fruit for staff, is very different from ensuring subsidised healthy options are available in a workplace canteen
John Ryan

MANY organisations have a well-intentioned but superficial view on health and believe it is about implementing health and safety legislation, fruit in the office, maybe desk yoga, cycle to work schemes, mental health talks or well-being days.

But in these changed times, singular events deployed without strategy, do not cut it. I've identified seven areas where we believe organisations are getting health and wellbeing wrong and how they can be addressed.


Many organisations are using a very outdated version of health focusing on physical health with little attention on mental health, the best are using a more holistic model with measures around purpose and alignment, demands and resources, stress and control, learning and adaptability, financial, emotional and social wellbeing, relationships and support, optimism and self-efficacy along with rest, recovery, fitness and workplace safety (both physical and psychological).


The leading organisations use data to have an evidence base with associated benchmarks to give themselves a base line starting point, targeting their investment to areas of greatest need. This is a constant cycle of data collection and targeted execution.


Vision, goals, measures, and plans to promote action are required with everybody committed to the successful implementation of a strategic health plan from the top down.


Return on wellness is as important a metric as return on investment in fact, they could be seen as one in the same. It is crucial to set a number of factors that are measured to determine whether investment has been worthwhile.

Those measures may include absence rates related to health, litigation related to stress, workplace accidents, healthcare insurance costs, staff retention or attrition, under performance, employer brand and general engagement levels.


Crucially, change needs to be led from the top with committed management acting as role models. Health numbers need to be as important as financial numbers. Management need to lead on this issue not just follow.


Most know what they should be doing to be healthy but are not doing it. Organisations who focus efforts on driving behavioural change using the latest techniques to move the dial are the ones that see significant and sustainable improvement.

For instance, just talking about healthy eating is very different from ensuring subsidised healthy options are available in a workplace canteen. Posters promoting healthy relationships are very different to firing people who consistently bully or make racist comments. Encouraging people not to overwork versus having conversations about spreading workload by investing in more resources or smarter ways of working. The ones who are achieving success drive real changes in behaviour.


Organisations who are serious about this topic will have a root and branch review to ensure their culture is consistent with their stated aspirations about the health of their workforce; they will create a healthy culture throughout the organisation.

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