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Tom Lea BScHons, GradIOSH, AIEMA

Safety and Wellness Programmes: The Link to Stress and Work Productivity in the Workplace

Effective wellness and safety programmes can yield significant results, reduce stress and increase productivity in the workplace. Why do so many businesses still fail to acknowledge the importance of them?

September 2023

Despite there being a direct correlation between wellness and safety in a business setting, many organisations still perceive these two disciplines as separate functions, managed by different departments with different systems, budgets and KPI’s. 

However, when properly connected, effective wellness and safety programmes can yield significant results reduce stress and enhance work performance and productivity, decrease accident and injury figures, minimise insurance costs. Furthermore, employee engagement levels and product and service quality can feel the positive effects of interlinking such programmes.

However you view it, there is a critical connection between an organisation’s safety and wellness programmes and employee stress and work productivity. An integrated approach to safety and wellness is crucial to ensure organisational success.

Safety Policies and Programmes: 'Top-Down' Impact in Work Performance 

Each organisation, whether they're employing people in regular office jobs or demanding workplaces that are manual labour intensive or require dealing with hazardous materials, are required to have an incorporated safety policy in place. Organisations must ensure that the latest safety policies and programmes are part of their employees' onboarding process and integrated into their daily activities and procedures. 

Safety policies and programmes mandated by a regulatory body, with laws specific to that country (e.g. HSE, OSHA, CCOHS), are generally overseen by safety or risk management professionals. In turn, they are responsible for communicating the agreed policies and procedures to employees and ensuring they are adhered to. This direct leadership involvement, enhances trust between teams and their employers, leading to increased work performance. 

The administration of these policies is 'top-down' - driven by governmental and organisational mandates. It requires the allocation of sufficient resources and direct involvement of leadership teams, to build trust and employee engagement. 

Wellness Policies and Programmes: The 'Bottom- Up' Impact on Stress and Work Productivity

Organisations are becoming more aware of the impact of stress and productivity in the workplace. 

Many organisations have introduced wellness policies and programmes to generate awareness and promote healthy workplace behaviours. Depending on the organisation, employees have access to programmes including:

  • Mental Health Awareness 
  • Essential Health and Safety Training 
  • Mindfulness and Meditation Solutions.

While not mandated by the government, such programmes are highly recommended and promoted by health insurance companies as a means of reducing medical claims, with a resulting reduction in the cost of premiums for organisations.

Further benefits of healthy employees are on-the-job motivation, satisfaction and engagement levels. Reduced sickness absence is also a strong indicator of effective wellness policies.

These Wellness programs are usually managed by Human Resource professionals who encourage participation from employees in a ‘bottom-up’ manner.

How does Stress Affect Work Performance?

Research suggests that organisations should acknowledge work-related stress as an influential health and safety risk. 

Stress has a direct effect on work productivity. Employee stress symptoms usually manifest in the following areas:

  • Insufficient or inadequate sleep
  • Fatigue
  • Reduced concentration levels.

People experiencing the above symptoms are unable to work safely. A declined mental health state, leads to decreased work performance, exposing individuals and organisations to risk.

Why are Safety and Wellness Programmes Continue to be Treated Separately? 

As the above two fields differ vastly in their approach, they have different objectives and assumptions. The priorities and coordination between the two programmes are less common than we think. 

Among leaders in Occupational Safety and Health, a broad perception exists that employers could be shifting the burden for health and wellness away from management to individual workers. The shift would change the focus from environmental and organisational causes of ill health and disease to individual risk-taking. 

Workplace absences cost businesses 185 million working days in the UK in 2022. With off-the-job safety injuries accounting for up to 86% of healthcare costs in 2021, is it time that wellness efforts address this at a corporate level?

There has been a significant shift in the labour market in recent years. With a decline in manufacturing and agricultural jobs and a massive rise in service sector jobs, more employees face redundancies. The lack of job security can result in dissatisfaction, reduced engagement, poor health, and stress. 

New systems of work, increased job demands, reliance on part-time labour and the rise of the 'zero hour' contract can also increase employee stress levels and the associated health risks, which all serve to reinforce the importance of understanding 'stressors' within an integrated wellness and safety programme. The impact of stress and productivity in the workplace is a phenomenon that's here to stay. Employers ought to be aware and support their team to be safe. 

Sources and Further Reading:

Our IIRSM Approved Stress and Wellbeing Toolkit allows employees to deal with their stress at work and feel more in control. resulting in a more productive workforce. For more information about our IIRSM Approved Stress and Wellbeing Toolkit, please click the button below.  

For businesses and line managers, you can proactively support individuals' mental health and nurture mentally healthy workplaces that foster wellbeing with the IOSH Managing Occupational Health and Wellbeing course. Discover more below.

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