What constitutes healthy work? This question was the focus of the symposium “Healthy workplaces – healthy workers”. It became evident that the answers vary worldwide, while the result is however always the same: promoting health in the workplace leads to greater employee satisfaction and less absence due to injuries or diseases.
“What do you see as the most important factor for keeping employees healthy?” moderator Florian Müller asked the audience right at the beginning of the symposium “Healthy workplaces – healthy workers”. The majority of the participants indicated that the executives and management have the most impact on promoting health at their companies. These are followed by health programmes and personal resources, the design of the work environment, economic aspects as well as work-life balance. But no matter which area firms decide to tackle first: it is worthwhile investing time, money and commitment in fostering good health. This was amply demonstrated by three examples of best practices that were presented at the symposium.
Cerrejón: Health programme against obesity
Cerrejón concentrates on health programmes for its employees. Approximately 10,000 people currently work for the Colombian mining company, the country’s largest private export firm. “We noticed that 80 per cent of our employees were overweight or obese – with some of them regularly eating 4,000-calorie lunches,” said Dr Hugo Piedrahita from Cerrejón. This presents a major problem for the company because mining work is physically demanding and energy-sapping. Cerrejón was able to embolden 70 per cent of its workforce to participate in a health programme that required, among other things, that they get 15 hours of exercise per month – and it soon witnessed initial progress on this front. “Many saw how easy it was to quickly reduce their body mass index.”
Deutsche Post AG: Appreciation instead of illness
Dr Andreas Tautz of the Deutsche Post AG presented another positive example. The company has set itself the challenge of reducing musculoskeletal disorders among its employees by focusing on factors such as appreciation and respect. “Numerous studies have shown that when we don’t feel appreciated, we tend to suffer more from cardiovascular disease, depression or musculoskeletal disorders,” explained Tautz. The Deutsche Post AG therefore developed guidelines as early as 2008 entitled “Respect and Results”. These specify that employees should show appreciation for others’ work, because it is only with the proper respect that good results can be achieved.
GlaxoSmithKline: Keeping executives healthy
How GlaxoSmithKline has managed to encourage its executives to look after their own health was explained by Susan Cruse. Although healthcare is the company’s own field of research, executives nonetheless first had to be persuaded to practice what they preach. “It was all about showing that health promotion is not just the icing on the cake: it is a vital part of working life,” said Cruse. A company survey discovered that members of management were at the greatest risk of burnout. A mandatory program for executives was thus implemented to counteract this risk – and it proved successful: “We were able to show that the executives felt more fulfilled in their jobs and helped and promoted their staff more when they started taking better care for their own health.”
Scientific research results
Dr L. Chasey Chosewood of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in the USA and Professor Peter Vink from Delft University of Technology took a look at the theme of health promotion from the scientific angle. Vink demonstrated how the work environment affects the well-being of employees and presented his own studies on the subject. Chosewood, who already described the Total Worker Health Program established by the NIOSH in his Keynote, emphasized how important it is to promote health awareness among employees outside the workplace as well: “Very few workers in the USA are actually exposed to fatal hazards at work,” noted Chosewood. “They die instead from the consequences of an unhealthy lifestyle.” This aspect must therefore not be neglected when planning corporate health programmes.
Text: Sanja Zec