Health and health promotion in the workplace

Health and health promotion in the workplace
  • 25. October 2021
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  • News
- Pärnu juhtimiskonverentsil toimunud töötuba tervisliku töökeskkonna loomisest. Foto autor: Anneli Saaroja -

Health and staying healthy is a major challenge for our society. It has also received increasing attention from employers. At this year’s Pärnu Management Conference, practical tips were given to managers on how to work healthier and more efficiently and what the manager’s opportunities are in creating a healthier environment.

Although the average life expectancy of Estonians is gradually increasing, it does not lead to an equivalent increase in healthy life years. At the same time, it is agreed that a healthy employee is a more efficient and caring employer; “If an employee feels that the employer cares about their health and contributes to their movement habits, it creates a sense of team. Mutual relations in the team are improving,” said Eneken Titov, Member of the Management Board of AS Mainor, Professor of Management and Education Expert at AS Estonian Enterpeurship University of Applied Sciences.

Mental health in the workplace, mental fitness in the workplace

However, health care is not always about exercise or physical activity. The focus of companies is often more specific. “However, there is less awareness of the social side of health, i.e. social well-being – people’s need for meaningful relationships with other people,” said Maie Kiisel, an analyst at social sciences at the Center for Applied Research at the University of Tartu, adding that good working relationships and well-organized work ensure better work results for the employer and more committed employees. “The current crisis shows that restricting people-to-people contacts is accompanied by mental problems, and often physical tensions, but also a reduction in readiness to move.” Thus, in a COVID situation, for example, it is not just a matter of closing down sports clubs, but of motivating each other to move. However, the only solution is not the management’s athletic behavior, because what works for one is not always suitable for everyone.

If a certain group considers golf important from the point of view of health, then a sauna culture and water relaxation are valuable for manual workers. The involvement and well-thought-out activities of different interest groups are important, because otherwise the work organization and workplace culture may work against the employer. There are many fears about not participating in collective movement events. “For example, an employee feels that he or she is fat, makes the wrong movements or thinks that others feel he or she is wearing a cheap clothing brand. Humans do not operate in a vacuum, they operate in an environment whose design levers are largely in the hands of the employer. If people’s individual efforts for health are not in accordance with the precepts of the work environment, it is also easy to give up the effort. In order to support a good initiative, a support in the workplace must be provided at the level of managers,” said Kiisel. Health promotion initiatives need to be integrated with other needs in the workplace: be it various mobility events, bicycle support for those who come to work without a car, a healthy choice of food in the office, as well as creating teams for inspiring projects.

Where to start

 Years ago, workers’ health was not dared to be addressed, let alone mental health. On the one hand, the issue seemed too sensitive and protected by personal data, and on the other hand, many thought that mental health did not concern the employer.

Now the mindset has changed and leaders are paying more and more attention to healthy aspects. According to Maie Kiisel, we should start with listening. “We could start by getting employees to talk about health. Listen! Maybe there are small health initiatives to extend to the organization? Maybe there are people to invite to the organizers circle? Put the talents of your employees to work, recognize and support them. Then try to define how the needs and preferences of employees differ.” It is worth gaining experience from other organizations as well. “Try without fear of failure. Don’t be afraid of a lukewarm reception for the second or third time, because often it takes time to develop a tradition,” said Kiisel.

Different experiences and involvement encourage taking bigger steps. 100% involvement is not important, because the saddest thing is when employees start to feel that they are immediately expected to overcome large personal barriers and contribute their free time to the benefit of the company. “Usually one thing is not enough and there are definitely many differences that an employer must take into account. For example, cancer patients. They need to be heard, understood, offered flexible working hours, put a brake on rumors and help colleagues understand why one or another person works at a certain level of performance. Understanding the employee is very important. Then the motivation and commitment is significantly more loyal to the employer,” said Eneken Titov when talking about her own experience.

How expensive is expensive

Despite the fact that health examinations have been obligatory for the employer since 1999, it turns out that a large number of companies have not heard of the health examinations yet performed by an occupational health doctor or are consciously ignoring them. Although health surveillance is not a substitute for a healthy lifestyle and does not prevent the development of diseases, early hazard mapping is an effective aid to doctors, employers and, above all, workers themselves, so that there can be more healthy life years. Thus, the primary activity is to refer a worker to an occupational health doctor. In addition to the health check, there are other possibilities.

In addition to psychologists, sociologists and sports scientists were involved in the development of Ülemiste ?ity. “Many employers there want to strategically support the health of their employees. At the same time, there are a lot of employers who cannot increase their income in order to provide more for their employees even if the management wants it,” Kiisel explained. So it is an expensive relative concept, and what is expensive for one is not for the other. He clarifies that fieldwork with Estonian employers shows that it is not necessary to buy large-scale health services in order to promote health. We need to think openly about what employees need and how to achieve it. “For example, larger teams may have a yoga enthusiast or a former basketball player. Allocate the room and let the employees go there on their own initiative, under the guidance of a colleague. Develop middle managers so that they can think not only about the division of tasks but also about how to create motivating, mentally and socially inspiring team relationships. Do not allow out-of-office communication about work. Encourage people to share their leisure experiences at Monday’s office meeting so that the use of holidays for an active rest becomes a social norm. Such things are rather stuck in ideas, skills, will and trial and error,” Kiisel ensures.

Eneken Titov also puts the importance of social relations at the heart of employers. “We must be able to work in such a way that energy opens the door to new challenges, but certainly the social form is also important. Community relations and people-to-people contacts matter.” Consequently, there is a need to raise awareness of mental and physical health in the workplace and to raise public awareness of which work cultures are healthy and which are not.

The participants of the management conference stated that in order to work healthier and more efficiently, it is necessary to listen to all parties, communicate with each other and be involved. Good examples of the integration of teams for healthy goals or the contribution of employers to this can be read from online resources, but it is also worth focusing on national development plans. One of the principles of the Population Health Development Plan 2020-2030 is the implementation of an innovative approach, i.e. that in solving the challenges it is important to pay attention to the results and development directions of research and development. It is always possible to turn to universities and research institutions in order to create an added value, take into account the specifics of the health field and find personal solutions.

Author: Kaja Liivak


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