Health and wellbeing in the workplace
Information and resources on various aspects of health and wellbeing in the workplace. Explore the links below to learn more.
The importance of health in the workplaceOpen
Work and working conditions can have a positive or negative impact on a person's health. Moreover, it is generally recognised that a healthy, motivated workforce can increase productivity.
ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) identifies the following signs of an unhealthy workplace:
- poor management
- a bullying culture
- poor customer service
- high levels of absence
- reduced productivity
- unreasonably high work demands.
See the section on health, work and wellbeing on the ACAS website. Some of these issues can be tackled by organisations moving towards being a 'learning organisation' as a way of purposefully changing behaviours and improving management. See the Organisational culture and learning section. In relation to social work, the Social Work Task Force (SWTF) recommended that organisations conduct a 'health check', looking at five key areas:
- effective workload management
- proactive workflow management
- having the right tools to do the job
- a healthy workplace
- effective service delivery.
This can be seen in the document Building a safe and confident future (SWTF 2010). A number of local authorities have implemented these checks and will go on to adopt the Standards for employers and supervision framework.
Promoting health at workOpen
Healthier workforces are more productive. Having healthy and motivated staff can reduce sickness absences, improve productivity, deliver more effective services and help create a safer working environment. A range of practical guidance for staff and managers on promoting wellbeing at work, in areas such as mental health and wellbeing, and drugs and alcohol awareness, can be found on the Healthy working lives website.
Stress at workOpen
Stress at work can be a particular issue in health and social care. Studies have shown particularly high levels of stress in social care organisations. Walker v. Northumberland County Council 1994 is a case example of work-related stress in a social care setting. The HSE defines stress as: 'the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them'. Recent research shows that this 'adverse reaction' can seriously undermine the quality of people's working lives and, in turn, the effectiveness of the workplace.
Stress takes many forms. As well as leading to anxiety and depression, it can also have a significant impact on an employee's physical health. Research links stress to heart disease, back pain, headaches, gastrointestinal disturbances and alcohol and drug misuse.
Managers have a responsibility to provide the necessary working conditions and support to staff to reduce stress at work, for example by enabling good-quality communication, supervision, training and appraisal. Managers also need to be sensitive to identifying and responding to the signs and symptoms of stress from staff, such as anxiety, social withdrawal and excessive time off sick. Conversely, individual staff have a responsibility to identify their own support needs and to communicate to their manager matters of concern relating to issues that compromise their ability to perform in their job.
The benefits of tackling stress are clear:
- There is an improved quality of working life; when staff feel happier at work, they perform better and deliver better outcomes for people who use services.
- Managing change is much smoother when 'stress' is managed effectively.
- Employment relations and disputes are easier to manage and less adversarial; they are less likely to end up at an employment tribunal.
- Attendance levels go up and sickness absence goes down.
The HSE has identified six main causes of stress or stressors in organisations that managers should address:
For further information and guidance on managing reducing stress in the workplace, please see the Key additional resources section.
Combating violence against staffOpen
The HSE defines work-related violence as: 'any incident in which a person is abused, threatened or assaulted in circumstances relating to their work'.
Violence against social care workers (both staff and volunteers) remains a major concern. There is therefore a need for both employers and employees to ensure effective risk reduction and appropriate responses whenever a violent incident occurs.
Violence can occur in any work environment, including residential and day care settings. One of the greatest risk areas is where staff and volunteers visit or provide support to people in their own homes. Employers and individuals therefore need to take specific steps to assess and reduce all such risks. The Health and safety code of practice in relation to preventing violence at work can be printed off and consulted.
The report of the National Task Force on Violence Against Social Care Staff (DH 2000) carries some key messages and should be revisited by managers. Skills for Care, working with the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS), Local Government Employers (LGE) and others, has produced revised safety guidance, which can be seen here:
European working time regulationsOpen
The 2003 Working Time Directive (2003/88/EC) is a European Union (EU) Directive, which creates the right for EU workers to a minimum number of holidays each year, paid breaks, and a rest of at least 11 hours in any 24 hours' work. It also restricts excessive night work and creates a default right to work no more than 48 hours a week.
The Working Time Regulations 1998 (amended 2003) specify that an adult worker cannot be forced to work more than 48 hours a week on average, normally averaged over 17 weeks. There are also specified requirements for rest breaks.
Given the requirement to maintain adequate staffing levels for many social care services, the planning and scheduling of working time and arrangements for emergency cover and annual leave are an important part of the management task. This should be taken into account as part of the approach to operational and workforce planning, and budgets will need to be planned accordingly.
A lone worker is someone who works by themselves without direct supervision. Employers have a legal duty to maintain the health, safety and welfare of their staff and have particular responsibility for safeguarding lone workers. In order to prevent distressing situations from occurring, organisations need to take additional precautions, over and above their normal health and safety assessments, to ensure that lone workers are at no greater risk than any of their other employees.
Managers are responsible for carrying out an assessment of the risks presented to lone workers. These risks could range from the impact of poor weather conditions, to risks of violence from people who use services, carers or other citizens and to road accidents or breakdowns (if the worker drives as part of their job). Managers should then put measures in place to reduce the risk of incidents occurring. Measures include staff keeping in regular contact with their office or manager by telephone.
Staff must also take responsibility for maintaining their own personal safety by working within the safety measures put in place by the organisation. These practices include phoning in on time to their manager at the end of a particular visit or shift, reporting concerns about their safety and that of other workers and attending staff training on issues such as de-escalating violent situations.
A large proportion of social care staff and personal assistants work alone. A serious incident is less likely to occur if organisations have comprehensive procedures and training to ensure the safety of their lone workers. Staff are advised to follow the procedures correctly. A preventative approach to personal safety should always be adopted. Where lone working involves travelling and home visits, regular checking systems must be set up and arrangements made for reporting staff missing.
Skills for Care has produced guidance for employers and staff to assist in combating violence against adult social care staff and volunteers, to help organisations to assess and reduce risks and respond positively to any incidents of violence:
Key additional resourcesOpen
- ACAS (2009) Stress at work (advisorybooklet), London: ACAS.
- CIPD (2010) Stress and mental health at work, London: CIPD.
- Safety guidance for social care staff (section on the Skills for Care website; consult the following sections: Guidance for employers, A guide for individuals, Review of progress and Lone working).