How to promote health in the workplace

A healthy workforce is usually a more productive workforce. And the range of health initiatives available for employers and in the workplace is ever increasing. Pamphlets, seminars, gym memberships, flu vaccinations, counselling and other programs all achieve varying degrees of participation…but why is health promotion in the workplace so important, and how do you get your employees to ‘get with the program’? 

The workplace can have a positive impact on our physical, mental, economic and social well-being, as well as those of our families. Promoting good health can be in every organisation’s best interests too: it boosts job satisfaction and morale, improves employee engagement, reduces absenteeism and staff turnover, and improves productivity. Increased productivity can help management meet performance goals.

About workplace health promotion

According to the World Health Organisation, workplace health promotion can be defined as: ‘the combined efforts of employers, employees and society to improve the health and wellbeing of people at work’ – and there are lots of ways this can be implemented.

Workplace health promotion goes beyond just reducing the incidence of workplace accidents and injuries and Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S). For an organisation to remain productive, it must pay attention to and maintain the health, job satisfaction and morale of its employees. Poor health is costly to business, so in this regard, the boundaries between health practices in and outside the workplace become blurred. This makes the responsibility for working towards better health a shared mission between the employer and employee, for the benefit of both.

In January 2011 the Business Council of Australia quantified the productivity loss associated with absenteeism at $7 billion per annum, while presenteeism was shown to be costing business in the order of $18 to 25 billion per annum. Add to this the significant increases in chronic diseases predicted based on known risk factors and current incidence – makes health promotion in the workplace of increasing importance.

Optimising workplace health initiatives

A good workplace health strategy will synergise with existing OH&S practices to form a two-pronged approach. For example, if employees are already offered sunglasses, sunhats and sunscreen when working outdoors to prevent skin cancer and other harmful UV effects why not go one step further? Offer an interactive workplace health program that includes skin cancer screening as a means of prevention within an even broader health check context. Also consider the costs of implementing an annual skin, blood pressure and diabetes check for employees over their working lifetime. Compare these costs against those for sick leave, absenteeism and staff replacement due to ill-health and even a single sick day saved may more than compensate for the cost of the health check.

Health promotion—the cost savings

Research has shown there to be a large potential opportunity for cost savings to business, government and society when risk factors are reduced and disease is avoided. Over the lifetime of the 2008 Australian adult population, opportunity cost savings were estimated at $2,334 million.

Estimates available from prevention
Financial Outcomes $ Million
Production gains/(losses) 473
Recruitment/training costs 79
Leisure-based production 110
Home-based production 248
Total production 830
Health sectors offsets 1,504
Total opportunity 2,334
Table reproduced with permission from VicHealth, copyright material. PublicationsandResources/Knowledge/Research%20Report_FINAL_July09.ashx, accessed 15 April 2011.


Bring health to your workplace.

A workplace health program must be tailor-made to suit your organisational needs, and be designed with your workforce in mind. Many factors will determine the health risks you need to be aware of, depending on:

  • where people work (indoors or outdoors)
  • how people work (physically or at desk jobs)
  • when people work (shiftwork, paid overtime or unpaid overtime)


Consider the WHERE, WHEN and HOW of your employees’ jobs when designing workplace health programs, to help maximise the impact of your health and wellbeing program:

Where When How


Inactivity can diminish productivity by 7%

Shift work/overtime?

Lack of sleep impairs work performance by up to 30%

Physical job?

Alcohol consumption can affect motor skills and have safety repercussions


Smoking diminishes productivity by 10%

Desk job?

Ergonomics are important as neck and back pain result in a 20% productivity drop

· Consider Implementing a GET ACTIVE program: provide bike rack or enroll a team in a corporate fun run.

· Start a QUIT-A-THON and support your quitters in their attempt to stop smoking.

· Try to schedule shift workers on a regular monthly schedule – rotating shifts can be particularly disruptive.

· Examine your rate of paid and unpaid overtime, and ask yourself if you are adequately staffed.

· Educate your staff on the dangers of working under the influence of alcohol, and implement a monitoring system if required

· Consider the design of your workspaces and seek professional advice – it may be as simple as changing height settings of chairs PCs monitors and desks.




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