Creating a healthy work environment is a process that requires careful planning and implementation. It also requires the combined efforts of both leaders and employees. A healthy work environment caters for physical, social and psychological or mental health of all personnel in an organization.
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The sensitization process caters for both the psychological and social well-being of employees. Leaders play a vital role in the creation, implementation, and maintenance of a healthy work environment.
In order to capture the impact of sensitization programs, policies and practices that are encouraged have been noted and their impacts discussed. Companies are required to set impact indicators that help in determining whether the initiated programs have had an impact in ensuring that there is a healthy work environment.
Moving forward, leadership of these organizations should make numerous steps towards ensure that they provide healthy working conditions. Although creation and maintenance of a healthy workplace is expensive and challenging, the benefits reaped far outweigh the shortcomings.
A healthy workplace or organization should ensure that all their employees are sheltered from disease and that their mental, physical and social well-being is catered for (World Health Organization, 2010; American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, 2005).
A healthy workplace is created by combining the efforts of workers as well as managers and engaging them in a continuous process of promoting health, well-being and, safety in the work environment (Chenoweth, 2011; O’Reilly, Caldwell, Chatman, Lapiz, & Self, 2009; Bevan, 2010).
The health hazards on organization faces difere with the nature of their work. Some of the hazards may be biological, mechanical or ergonomic. In an effort to create a healthy work environment, organizations have invested in the creation of policies and practices that sensitize employees on the importance of a healthy workplace.
Investing in a healthy working environment has led to notable improvements in employee performance, as well as business returns (Allen, 2011). According to the World Health Organization (2010), companies that promote workers’ health and maintained healthy workplaces were among the most successful.
Although leadership wellness programs have created several benefits, there are fears that have been associated with the financial burden the organization bears in creating a healthy working environment (Grawitch, Ledford, & Ballard, 2009; Akpan, 2011).
An individual’s health and lifestyle, while at work, go hand in hand. Due to this link, it is within reason to say that a person’s work environment determines the quality of work done.
Despite the conventional view, that creating and maintaining a healthy environment is more costly than not having it, there is more proof for the latter than the former.
The world health organization (2010) found that there were several costs that companies could avoid in the case that a healthy working environment was in place.
Some of the avoidable costs include accident related costs, legal fees resulting from the violation of health and safety law, employee sick leave, and employee medical expenses (Linhard, 2004; Lahiri, Gold, & Levenstein, 2004).
Although there are a few people in an organization, who may be capable of maintaining a healthy lifestyle without the need for a healthy working environment, the passage of time and an organization that does not encourage healthy living will eventually lead them to abandon their lifestyle (Grawitch et al., 2009).
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So as to minimize employee exposure to health risk, it is necessary for organizations to sensitize their employees on the importance of adopt healthier lifestyles.
The Role of Leaders in Creation and Maintenance of a Healthy Work Environment
Leaders play a significant role in the creation and management of a healthy working environment (Lowe, 2003). Leaders achieve the organization’s objectives by understanding the behaviors of their subordinates (Bierema, 2012).
By understanding their employees’ behavior and attitude towards healthy living, leaders can adjust the work environment so as to suit their lifestyles. Following this thinking the initiation of a healthy working environment could help them achieve the best out of their personnel.
We all participate in mixed environments. This means that organizations need to be comfortable with variable and implement change. Good organizations also have a sense of the inherent drivers and biases their workers have and use them to effectively motivate different personality types.
In order to create a healthy environment, it is necessary to identify leaders who support the idea of establishing a healthy workplace and also understand its significance (Allen, 2011; Gilbert, Carr-Ruffino, Ivancevich, & Konopaske, 2012).
One means of creating a healthy organization is by encouraging workers to maintain healthy practices (Allen, 2011). In such a scenario, if there are employees who have strict lifestyle and health requirement, the organization’s leaders can strive to provide the ideal working environment necessary for them to continue their practices.
Some of these health practices could require the establishment of facilities or the purchase of particular equipment. These facilities could be in-house or outsourced, provided they are close to the organization or the workplace. By providing fitness facility near the workplace may make it easier for employees to get some time to do exercise.
Leaders could also organize some time for the worker to engage in exercises. Organizations could make healthy foods available in cafeterias and vending machines at affordable prices.
The Impact of Policies and Practices that Promote Awareness on the Importance of Creating and Maintaining a Healthy Work Environment
An ideal and healthy work environment is created by the organization’s leaders through enactment of various policies and encouraging the employees in adopting healthy lifestyles.
For leaders to create and maintain a healthy workplace environment, they must be capable of allocating the organization’s resources without affecting profit margins (Lowe, 2003; O’Reilly, Caldwell, Chatman, Lapiz, & Self, 2009; Oxenburgh & Marlow, 2004).
The practices and policies that are put in place serve two purposes; one is to protect, and the other is to discourage habits that create unsafe work environments. In an effort to ensure that the policies are enforced, employees who do not follow the set safety requirements should be punished appropriately.
There are other policies that that can be introduced in an organization in order to ensure that the mental well-being of employees protected. Sexual harassment policies ensure that all employees within the organization are treated equally without bias of gender or sexual preference (Burton, 2010; Blanchard, 2009; Ritter, 2011).
The policy may be extended to cater for racial equality (Blanchard, 2009). Leaders and managers should encourage workers to practice good work organization. This practice eliminates the problems related to workload demand, time pressure, job quality and supervisor support (Kane-Urrabazo, 2006).
Practices that encourage and promote two-way communication between workers and leaders create an environment where employees feel safe to approach management with any problem they may have (O’Reilly, Caldwell, Chatman, Lapiz, & Self, 2009).
Policies that protect employees from sudden job loss due to mergers, acquisitions, retrenchment or the economy, reduce employee stress levels significantly (Spence, Kemp, & McKee, 2012; American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, 2005; Woo & Postolache, 2008).
The job security assurance offered by such policies encourages workers to be more productive. The primary objective of these policies and practices is to promote cohesion while ensuring the employees that they have an equal chance of getting a promotion (Kane-Urrabazo, 2006; Burton, 2010; World Health Organization, 2010).
These policies also sever a broader purpose of eliminating or reducing the occurrence of emotional of mental stress (Burton, 2010; World Health Organization, 2010).
The social well-being of employees is an area where many organizations fail to consider when creating a healthy environment (American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, 2005).
In order to set up a socially healthy workplace, it is of paramount importance that leaders have a good relation with their employees (Casse, 2012; Kroth, Boverie, & Zondlo, 2007).
Allen (2011) found that in such scenarios, it was preferable to have the workforce divided into teams and team leaders selected from within. The elected leaders are able to monitor their subordinates’ social lives and can thus help them maintain a healthy work-life balance.
Co-worker support helps employees to be more open and honest about their health lifestyle. Moreover, the emotional support gotten in such an environment helps workers to overcome the conflicts that arise from work-life situations (Partnership for Prevention, 2011; World Health Organization, 2010).
A healthy social environment lessens the impact felt by an employee in the case where they have to be transferred to other branches of the organization (Chenoweth, 2011).
Another means of establishing a healthy organization is by enhancing employee awareness of the dangers of unhealthy living (Grawitch et al., 2009). However, this should be done with care to avoid causing social tension in the workplace where unhealthy workers are criticized.
To ensure that this is done successfully, the involvement of leaders and managers in the sensitization programs would be useful.
Chenoweth (2011) found that organizations which had put in place policies and practices which sensitized employees on the importance of being respectful to all workers, had fewer incidences related to gender discrimination, harassment, and HIV stigmatization.
Allen (2011) found that the sensitization process should focus on both individual and group strengths instead of weaknesses. Awareness training programs that target group aim at helping teams work together as one unit (Partnership for Prevention, 2011).
By so doing, employees stop viewing themselves as individuals, but as a team where their success depends on group performance. Group sensitization eliminates enmity among workers while also enhancing cohesion (Kane-Urrabazo, 2006).
Moreover, group awareness programs create social bonds by making anti-social members more active (Kane-Urrabazo, 2006).
Individual sensitization focuses on leaders and improving leadership skills. Leaders learn various ways of handling conflict and harassment situations (Casse, 2012; Wiskow, Albreht, & Pietro, 2010).
The creation of healthy living support groups with team leaders helps to foster cohesion and encourage participants to adopt and maintain a healthy lifestyle (Bierema, 2012). In Addition, teams boost performance by helping poor performing individuals to increase productivity for the sake of the group (Kane-Urrabazo, 2006).
Leaders should be able to hold their teams together and be the role model for the other employees to follow (Lowe, 2003). In addition, they should be able to construct a healthy lifestyle plan for the organization in a way that the needs of every individual in the organization are considered.
Heath conscious leaders have a tremendous influence in the creation, maintenance, and promotion of a healthy work environment (Lowe, 2003). Such leaders are able to monitor, support and offer means for their workers to improve or maintain a healthy lifestyle (World Health Organization, 2010).
Issues Surrounding Sensitization Programs
The most crucial part played by leaders is that of distributing the organization’s resources in a manner that does not compromise the company’s profitability (Lowe, 2003). The leaders allocate the funds needed for the establishment of a suitable and healthy, social, and physical environment.
When doing so, great care should be taken to avoid leading the organization to ruin while creating the ideal healthy workplace.
The costs associated with initiation and maintenance of sensitization programs should be carefully monitored so that they do not exceed the cost benefit of the project (Teronen, 2002; Lahiri, Gold, & Levenstein, 2004). This involves research into spending limited resources on those interventions that will have the greatest impact.
The scrupulous tracking of an individual’s overall health catches may cause some employees to feel that the organization is prying too much into their lives. So as to avoid conflict with some individuals, group forums to educate workers on the importance of maintaining healthy lifestyles are recommended.
Most organizations are characterized with long working hour of prolonged physical inactivity (World Health Organization, 2010; Woo & Postolache, 2008)). This inflexibility in working hours creates some difficulties in creating opportunities for employees in attending health sensitization programs.
In addition, long working hours make it hard for employees to have adequate time to take their meals. However, this issue can be solved through the initiation of simple and effective projects and programs within the organization.
So as to solve the issue of time, managers can create a rotation program where each department gets a chance to attend the sensitization talks.
Measuring the Impact of a Healthy Working Environment
Measuring the impact of a healthy working environment will involve looking at the immediate effect that health promotion programs in an organization influence the determinants of health for all stakeholders in the organization (Victorian Government Department of Human Services, 2008).
Health programs in an organization usually have an immediate effect on both social and physical settings (Lowe, 2010; Akpan, 2011).
The direct impact of these programs includes individuals gaining health knowledge, acquiring of new skills that are health-friendly, motivation in maintaining healthier status and changing into healthier actions and behaviors (Victorian Government Department of Human Services, 2008).
While organization sets these health programs to promote a healthier environment, there is a need to include key indicators that will help in measurement of the changes.
These indicators should be developed to show the type of change anticipated and the percentage of people for what the change will impact (Lowe, 2010; Mattke, Balakrishnan, Bergamo, & Newberry, 2007).
Therefore, it would be important to create an indicator for each strategy or program developed and implemented to determine the extent of influence (Bluyssen, 2013). These indicators should act as agents of data collection covering all employees that the programs are affecting.
Guidelines for data collection and measuring health promotions
The benefits of a healthy working environment can be measured by looking at the advantages that come about from the direct introduction of wellness leaders and programs.
The benefits may include increased employee performance, shorter time spent away from work due to illness, and increase in returns, as well as retaining employees over long periods (Allen, 2011).
By looking at the relationship between health issues in the organization and the practices and policies that can be carried out by a company’s leaders, it is possible to identify the benefits reaped in terms of productivity.
It will also be important to monitor the costs that will be incurred while implementing and maintaining a healthy working environment. These costs could be in terms of investments in facilities, equipment, policy enactment, employees, and time (Bierema, 2012; Mattke, Balakrishnan, Bergamo, & Newberry, 2007)).
In order to measure and gather information on the economic impact achieved by promotion of healthy work environment, several steps should be followed.
Firstly, the organization should identify the impact indicators that should be used in the evaluation. This step will involve establishing the types of evidence that will help determine if the objectives of the health program have are achieved (Hertz, 2010).
For example; if the organization wants overweight members to reduce their weight through introduction of gym programs at specific hours, then frequently measuring their weight will help determine if the objectives of the programs are realized (Victorian Government Department of Human Services, 2008).
The second step involves determining the targets that the organization aims at achieving after implementation of the health program. This can be achieved by examining what percentage of the target group will have gained the knowledge or skill, advocated by a certain program.
In an effort to reduce accidental health related problem, an organization may initiate a health education program.
For example, by the end of three weeks ninety per cent of employees attending the health education will have gained knowledge on how to manage their blood sugar levels (Victorian Government Department of Human Services, 2008).
Thirdly, the organization identifies the information to be collected and methods that shall be used in obtaining the information. Methods such as qualitative and quantitative can help collect data that will be useful in the determination of the level of impact that the health programs have achieved.
Quantitative methods such as questionnaire responses and service utilization can help determine the level of relationship that has been developed between these health programs and impact made.
Qualitative methods such as the use of focus groups and interview can help collect accident related information that will help explain where this relationship between health programs and impact exists (Victorian Government Department of Human Services, 2008).
The next step involves establishing an evaluation methodology that is used to analyze the collected information. The importance of developing an assessment plan is to help in removing alternative explanations that may arise when information obtained is evaluated (Hertz, 2010).
In most scenarios, the standard design (used to assess the effectiveness of the programs launched to reduce accident occurrence in the workplace) involves using one group that participates in a particular program and compare it with another group that does not participate in the same program (Bluyssen, 2013).
This will help in determining if there is any change that comes with members being admitted to a certain program. If the group achieves the set target, then the program has been a success in promoting a healthier working environment.
If there is no difference between the two groups, then, the administrators of the programs should consider reevaluating the program to establish areas that need to be improved in order to achieve the set objectives (Victorian Government Department of Human Services, 2008).
The fifth step involves the implementation of the plan that has been developed to measure and evaluate the impact. Planning is part of the process however it is as important to implement the programs that are developed n in order to achieve results (Victorian Government Department of Human Services, 2008).
The final step in measuring the impact and influence of health programs in creating a healthier working environment is reporting what has been achieved. This will help motivate people to be more involved since if there is a positive change at the end (Victorian Government Department of Human Services, 2008).
Despite all these efforts, organizations should monitor the cost that they will have incurred in development implementation of these programs. This will help with future planning and also to ensure that these programs are within the sustainability level of the organization.
The Future of Leadership Involvement in Creating a Healthy Environment
Although the research has found out that there exist a gap between working conditions and the output of employees, a gap still exists that will need to be reduced moving forward. The full involvement and support of leadership in the organization will be significant in reducing this gap.
A healthier working environment will lead to better performance of employees and, thus, the reason leadership should commit to ensuring this happens (Schabracq, Jacques, & Cooper, 2003).
Moving forward in order to establish healthier working environments, there is a need for development of strategies that will be implemented both at leadership levels and employee’s level to achieve this (Lowe, 2010). The success of these strategies should have the support of all parties involved leadership especially.
The facilitation of the implementation of these strategies will depend on leadership. Also, the authorization for these programs to run in an organization still depends on leadership. This, therefore, will show the importance of leadership in the future to maintain and improve working conditions to be healthier (Grech, 2013)
In order to promote a healthier working environment, the leadership of the organization should always start by mobilization of individuals to form committees that are involved in management of how to improve working conditions and making sure they are healthier (Grech, 2013).
Leadership should also be part of those committees in order to provide guidance on strategies that are developed to be in line with the objectives and vision of the organization. These committees, however, should be formed by individuals who are committed to ensuring they achieve the set goals.
Leadership can also involve outside organizations who can evaluate the current working environment. These organizations after the evaluation of the current state, they should develop and recommend actions that can be taken by management to improve the current working conditions.
Leadership can also be involved with other organizations who want to improve their working conditions to funding research on how to promote healthier working conditions (Grech, 2013).
Leadership should also be involved in the assessment of what can be done to improve and the resources that are available in order to ensure the working environment is promoted to be better (Grech, 2013).
When the leadership gets to understand what can be done versus what they would like to do, they will need to consider the strengths and weakness of the organization. This will help in the formulation of the best strategies that can be implemented with the available resources.
This stresses the importance of involving all stakeholders in the organization in order to be able to promote a healthier working environment (Bluyssen, 2013).
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