Healthy workplaces - well-being for business

2nd of June 2016
Healthy workplaces - well-being for business

Chris Parkes, operations director at UK-based services provider Julius Rutherfoord, winner of the ‘healthy workplace’ category for the second time running in the Kimberly-Clark Professional Golden Service Awards 2015 – shares advice on improving employee well-being.

Getting workplace well-being right is essential for businesses that are striving to grow in a challenging economic environment. A healthy workplace needs more than just great cleaning. Although tackling germs is important, often staff well-being, motivation and productivity can be increased through a more holistic approach to your working culture.

Well-being starts with the physical environment – noise, light, space, footfall, temperature, ventilation and cleanliness all make a big difference to staff productivity and morale.

As well as ensuring these fundamental working conditions are in place, take extra measures to boost employee well-being. Actions like providing fresh fruit, water dispensers for hydration, adding cycle racks to encourage staff to cycle to work and offering flexible working can create a healthy working culture and improve business performance.

Well-being champions

My organisation implemented a Healthy Workplace Initiative in 2012, taking a number of steps to reduce risk from germ hotspots. Frequently used objects such as lift buttons, kettles, microwaves and door handles present the greatest threat of germs spreading. Actions included swab testing for germs, introducing specially formulated mobile phone cleaning wipes and running staff workshops where tips to help reduce the spread of bacteria were shared.

Those organisations looking to introduce a healthy workplace programme of their own should appoint a Health and Well-being Champion, or champions, to ensure that initiatives are communicated throughout the business and to encourage healthy workplace thinking. In our business, every new employee receives a healthy workplace induction to ensure they understand the company ethos and the wider benefits of hygiene and well-being. These activities should be communicated via the staff newsletter and company intranet.

You could introduce a ‘Cleaner Desk Initiative’ and highlight the benefits of a cleaner, more organised desk through staff communications to promote a better workplace environment. Regular housekeeping competitions between different head office departments, help to maintain awareness and standards.

Office design

Space and working conditions should be carefully considered. Spending long hours sitting in the same fixed posture is not good for the body. To address the health implications of sitting for prolonged periods, introduce height adjustable desks to allow staff the option of both standing and sitting as they work. A more flexible approach to the design of office furniture promotes movement and circulation.

Most of us use laptops, tablet computers and smart phones, and because of the frequent contact with our hands and proximity to our faces, germs are easily transferred to them. Bacteria can build up on these devices to alarmingly high levels. Introduce healthy workplace kits including tissues, sanitising hand gel and keyboard wipes and distribute these throughout the office to encourage staff to keep their tech clean and reduce contamination.

Better washroom behaviour

Statistics indicate there are many of us who don’t wash or dry our hands effectively. Worse still there are some who fail to wash their hands at all after using the toilet. Washroom systems play a large part in encouraging good hygiene practice.

Display hand washing awareness posters or consider installing hygiene handles on washroom doors that dispense hand sanitising gel when people exit the washroom, so there’s less chance of germs spreading. If you want to encourage staff and patients to develop good hand hygiene habits, hand washing facilities or sanitiser dispensers should be easily accessible in all the ‘critical points’ around the building. Make sure they are readily available within washrooms, reception areas, and food preparation areas.

Don’t eat at your desks

Too often we eat at our desks whilst answering emails because we feel too busy to stop. Crumbs can accumulate on desks and in the cracks of keyboards. This helps to feed high levels of bacteria – it’s been reported that a typical office desk can harbour more than 6,000 bacteria per square inch. This is clearly unacceptable when restaurants with surfaces that contain more than 700 bacteria per square inch are considered unsanitary.

These unhygienic conditions encourage the growth of bacteria which can lead to sickness. Companies, where possible, should provide dining facilities and encourage staff to take a break at lunchtime.

Right equipment and training

Using the right equipment and techniques will help ensure staff stay healthy and accidents are avoided. Making sure every employee receives high quality training minimises the opportunity for error, some of which can have devastating consequences, such as slip, trip and fall accidents. By providing training, the health and safety of the cleaning operative and the public isn’t compromised.

Cleaners can work with awkward postures if the cleaning equipment they are using has poor ergonomic characteristics. Make sure equipment is adapted to their needs. Ensure cleaning operatives are re-trained every six months on key issues, including health and safety, site specific requirements and cleaning methods.

Daytime cleaning has become increasingly popular across a wide range of sectors, so if cleaning is going to be carried out when the building is occupied, the safety of staff, customers and visitors is of paramount importance. Minimising the risk of accidents is therefore crucial, but the correct cleaning procedures will help to reduce these happening.

Chemical hazards

Chemical cleaning products – extensively labelled with poison symbols to alert cleaners to the presence of hazardous chemicals – can cause health problems or injuries if inadequate training has been given, and no protective clothing and equipment has been provided. Instead of using harsh (and often harmful) chemical solutions to sanitise surfaces – such as office desks and kitchen countertops – enzyme-based biological cleaning products are a much safer, sustainable, and therefore healthier option.

Pure water systems, microfibre cloths and diamond encrusted twister pads are just some of the options that can be used to reduce or even eliminate the need for chemical cleaning agents. Where cleaning products are required there is a range of chemical free cleaning products.
Unfortunately, many cleaners are often poorly paid, poorly trained, and undervalued. Staff in every European country deserve fair pay for a fair day’s work.

Employees may be apprehensive about taking sick leave in these times of job insecurity and come to work when ill, increasing the likelihood of infections spreading. Staff who are ill should be required to stay at home to reduce the risk of cross infection at work and help keep new cases of sickness to a minimum.

Measure the impact

Whilst there are many unmeasurable benefits of a workplace well-being programme, there is a strong quantifiable impact. Over a three-year period, from 2013-2015, my organisation has been measuring the impact of measures introduced to improve workplace well-being. We have seen the number of staff sick days reduce by 26 per cent. Average sick days per head office person has reduced from 2.8 in 2013 to 1.85 in 2015 (against a UK average of 4.4).

As part of our plans to help other companies create a healthy workplace, we’ve produced the ‘8 ways to keep a healthy workplace’ guide and launched the Healthy Workplace Assessment.


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