putting the health into health and safety

Putting the health into health and safety

Roy White is Impact UK Consultant and a co-creator of our highly popular Going the Distance workshop - designed to maximise personal performance and wellbeing.

You wouldn’t let one of your employees drive whilst drunk but do you let them drive home mentally exhausted, stressed and sleep deprived?

We have a strong emphasis (rightly so) on Health and Safety in our businesses but it seems to me that we focus much more on Safety than Health. Some people think that it is a badge of honour to come to work whilst still infectious with a flu virus, or to reply to e-mails anytime day or night, or to work 60 plus hours a week irrespective of the quality of their output. There are no badges for admitting that you feel under pressure and stressed and that this is impacting on your sleep and therefore your recovery. Nor are there for taking regular breaks during the day to recover and refresh. Yet, these are exactly the sort of things that we need to do if we are serious about sustainable high performance at work and the health of our employees. Innovation and creativity are areas that organisations are constantly trying to improve and yet their employees are too overloaded to stand back and see how things could be different.

Before joining Impact I worked for a mobile phone manufacturer and our aim was to make it easier and simpler for you to work from anywhere at anytime. However, I don’t think that technology is the problem (and we can’t change it anyway) but it is our response to the ease of access. We are like children let loose in a sweet shop who can’t keep their hands off the treats and we need to work out how we can take advantage of the technology whilst keeping an eye on what it is doing to us.

We are starting to see a growth in ‘solutions’ to this problem. The Health and Safety Executive recently published data showing that 9.9 million working days were lost last year due to stress, anxiety or depression. There are some great organisations already doing some fantastic work in this area but there needs to be a lot more. There may be issues around the branding of these solutions, leaving them open to the office sceptics, but whether you call this wellbeing or resilience, is irrelevant to me. What is important is that, if this is an issue in YOUR organisation, you are starting to do something about it. This is the Health part of Health & Safety and it needs to be taken seriously. The programmes that we, and other organisations have developed, are designed to support people in managing the workload and pressures that the rate of technological change has exacerbated in the workplace.

There is a paradigm shift in what is happening in our workplaces and we need to step back and work out how we are going to manage the changes. One of the key issues that we discuss on our Going the Distance workshop is accepting that it is difficult to cope with continually being online and on call. The predominant culture is still one of not wanting to admit (sometimes even to oneself) that we are struggling to cope or how it is impacting our home lives. If we, and our organisations, fail to do that, the already high levels of absence in the workplace through stress, will continue to rise. We can learn from high performance teams such as elite forces, sports and emergency services who understand the importance of recovery and building resilience and create an environment for our employees that supports high performance and not just quantity of performance.

This may just be the answer to how we position this in the workplace. It’s a matter of sustainable high performance.

Surely you can’t afford NOT to seriously consider the  ‘Health’ in Health and safety - it could be the difference between technology burnout or sustainable high performance.

Roy White is a Consultant at Impact UK.