The Wealth of Business Depends on the Health of Workers.

Building Health and Wellbeing into your organisation’s culture

The World Health Organisations (WHO) has defined the workplace as an optimum place to promote health. Work is an important determinant of health that has both positive and negative effects.

WHO defines a healthy workplace as one in which workers and managers collaborate to use a continual improvement processes to protect and promote the health, safety and well-being of all workers and the sustainability of the workplace by identifying needs regarding the physical environment, the psychosocial environment, personal health resources in the workplace, and the community [1].

To create a healthy workplace, an enterprise must consider the avenues or arenas of influence where actions can best take place and the most effective processes by which employers and workers can take action.

According to the WHO model developed through systematic literature and expert review, four key areas can be influenced in the workplace [2];

WHO MODEL, 2010 [2]

The Physical environment refers to structure, air, machinery, furniture, products, chemicals, materials and production processes in the workplace, including vehicles and outdoors. This environment is where health and wellbeing programs traditionally started with the introduction of health and safety polices, acts and legislation.

The psychosocial environment includes organisational culture; attitudes, values, beliefs and daily practices in the enterprise that affect the mental and physical well-being of employees. Personal health resources include: health services, information, resources, supportive culture which motivates efforts to improve or maintain healthy personal lifestyles.  Organisations should monitor and support health. Employers in Ireland are focusing on a variety of mechanisms to deliver information; such as ‘lunch and learn’ events. These events may cover a variety of topics such as diet and nutrition.  They may be held on a one –to- one basis or in a group setting which may include physical activity. Community involvement includes activities in which a workplace might engage, or expertise and resources it might provide in order to support the social and physical wellbeing of a community in which it operates. Employers are also assisting with funding of care for employees and their families through benefit schemes such as health, dental and other benefits.   

Globally, rising levels of non-communicable disease [NCDS], such as certain cancers, heart disease, respiratory disease, and diabetes type 2 account for approximately 70% of all deaths [3]. Modifiable behaviours, such as tobacco use, physical inactivity, unhealthy diet and the harmful use of alcohol, all increase the risk of NCDs. Employers are beginning to recognise the linkages and common preventable risk factors when planning their employee wellness programme. For example, dietary habits influence the development of dental disease. Tobacco use has been estimated to account for over 90% of mouth cancers.  Employers are taking a holistic approach to wellness and are beginning to understand that one size does not fit all.  

Benefits from embedding health and wellbeing into your organisations culture?

The benefits of embedding a wellbeing program into your culture is clear. Results show reduced staff sickness, reduced absences and turnover, increased productivity and employee satisfaction and lower levels of stress leading to improved mental health.  There are fewer accidents and injuries. Health and wellbeing at work forms established communication networks. It provides worker cohesion. Occupational health provides an established structure. Protecting the health of workers is beneficial for the economy and society in general [4].  Culture and style of management has a big impact on health outcomes for employees. Companies of all sizes should have a top down approach with an organisational commitment to improving the health of the workforce. Responsible companies are involving employees in decision making processes in order to develop a work culture that is based on partnership.  Ideally all workplaces should incorporate the four areas from the WHO model into company policies and work practices, which will in turn enhance employee health and wellbeing and empower healthy choices.


1. The WHO Healthy Workplace Framework and Model

2. WHO (2010) Healthy workplaces:   a model for action for employers, workers, policy-makers and practitioners

3. Non communicable diseases Fact sheet Updated June 2017


4. (Naidoo & Wills, 2016)

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