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Fostering Wellbeing through the Workplace Environment, Policies, and Practices

Earlier this month you read about defining wellness to support the whole employee, and we shared ideas about how to impact employee wellbeing outside of the context of a formal wellness program. In this article, we are continuing to emphasize thinking beyond the program and the individuals, to create positive organizational health
Late last year, I came across an article in the New York Times titled, The Neighborhood Is the Unit of Change. The author posits that “the neighborhood, not the individual, is the essential unit of social change. And if you’re trying to improve peoples’ lives, maybe you have to think about changing many elements of a single neighborhood, in a systematic way, at a steady pace.” 
Why am I referencing this article in a blog post about employee wellness and supporting employees with health promoting environments, policies, and practices? I’m sharing it to inspire a shift in perspective, and hopefully a shift in action for your strategies. The sentiments in this article about creating change in a larger community, can also be translated into the workplace. The author asserts a powerful concept that resonates with me when I think about evolving employee wellness strategies – if we’re not changing the structures, systems, and environment that shape and influence the lives of employees at work, will we ever have the deep impact on health and wellbeing that we’re working toward? What if we looked again at the author’s statement above, but instead inserted the word “workplace”:
“the workplace, not the individual, is the essential unit of change. If you’re trying to improve lives, maybe you have to think about changing many elements of the workplace in a systematic way, at a steady pace.”
In employee wellness, we often focus on helping individuals change their behavior, develop healthier habits, understand and mitigate their personal health risks, spark their motivation, improve their health status… but could we transfer some of our efforts toward changing the structures, systems, and environment at work to have an even greater impact on their wellness? Your organizations may have initiatives to ensure that the workplace environment is tobacco-free, or offers healthy vending options, or has access to facilities for physical activity – all are worthy and vital components to a health promoting workplace – But what else can be done to cultivate an environment that supports wellbeing?

Need more inspiration? WCWI’s 29th Annual Employee Wellbeing Conference has sessions covering a wide variety of topics that will help you learn more about fostering wellbeing through the workplace environment, policies, and practices. View Conference Agenda  

Dee Edington, PhD and Jennifer Pitts, PhD write extensively about their philosophy of positive organizational health in their book, Shared Values Shared Results. They define positive organizational health as a strong and supportive environment, culture, and climate. The elements that they consider within a healthy environment include (but are not limited to):

  • processes for personnel management and operations
  • work policies
  • employee benefits
  • the physical environment of the workplace
  • the structure of organizational leadership
  • professional development and training resources 
  • interpersonal relationships between colleagues and managers

All of these components of the larger system of the organization are inter-related and can either add or detract from a person’s wellness. For example, a universal component of many organizations is the manager/employee relationship and unfortunately, several studies point to poor or unsupportive relationships between managers and employees that impact engagement, retention, and wellbeing: 

As a starting place for creating or enhancing your environment, policies, and practices to support positive organizational health, consider exploring these resources:

Inspire, develop, and support engaged and passionate leaders and managers

Design health and wellness into the work environment

Change policies and practices to better support people inside and outside of work

How can your organization create change in the environment, structures, and systems at work to foster the wellbeing of your people?



Marissa Kalkman, MS, MCHES
Executive Director
Learn more about me.

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