What constitutes a healthy workplace?

A number of factors contribute to employee wellbeing. Acceptance, empathy, sensitivity and respect play a huge role in making one's workplace a healthy one.

Lalithashree Ganesh

Take a moment to think of what a healthy workplace feels like. Several thoughts might come into your mind: Can workplaces be healthy, happy, make you feel at ease and comfortable? Do workplaces really care for you? Will they load you with more work than you can take? Are you going to like this place? What is the atmosphere like?

While every employee has their doubts about the workplace, creating a healthy workplace is a two-way street. It requires both the employee and the employer to contribute towards making this a reality.  

Acceptance makes a huge difference
Lynette Nazareth, Program Director, Chestnut Global Partners (CGP) India is an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) partner who has been working with a number of workplaces. She conducts programs which address work-life balance, diversity and inclusion, and wellness for the physical, mental and emotional health of employees. Lynette says, “One of the biggest contributions a workplace can make for its employees is to be accepting of differences; whether professional differences, role differences, or personality differences. Just being accepting of these differences helps create a culture of acceptance.”

Workplaces can also implement a diversity and inclusion policy that will make a difference to the way people work. For instance:

  • Being more flexible by allowing people to work from home on days when they’re unable to come to work due to a physical, mental or emotional health issue

  • Employing people who have recovered from addiction, by equipping them with the necessary training to work

  • Training employees to reduce unconscious biases

  • Encouraging diversity in thoughts and ideas

  • Acknowledging all cultures and traditions

    The more inclusive the workplace, the higher the acceptance of differences.

Leadership is encouraged
It is important for workplaces to encourage leadership at every level so that employees can take on responsibilities in fulfilling their own roles. Managers can take the lead to help their team members, especially because employees who are trying to cope with mental health issues may need a special understanding. For instance, giving them a helping hand along with a tailormade framework within which they’re allowed to work can help them stand on their own feet.

Wellbeing and safety standards are met
When certain criteria for employee wellbeing and safety are met, then people are happy to come back to work the next day and are not in a hurry to leave. Their happiness is influenced by the nature of work, the job requirement matching the skill set, work ethics being practiced, and the physical comfort i.e., seating and ventilation which makes them feel comfortable.

A workspace that’s comfortable to sit in makes a world of a difference to all employees. More so for employees with physical health issues, physical deformities and emotional issues. Lynette says, “It offers employees the opportunity to feel cared for and they give 200% to the organizations that care for them.”

Workplaces with safety measures in place further make it safe and accessible for all employees. In addition, framing policies that are accommodative and friendly to all kinds of people enables wellbeing to flourish. For instance, introducing a work-life balance policy, a work-from-home policy, access to tools and work equipment policy, anti-harassment policy and an anti-sexual harassment policy.

They are genuinely inclusive
Workplaces are truly inclusive when a diverse set of people can work together without the fear of being stigmatized, harassed or bullied - those with a mental illness, physical illness, physical deformity, LGBTQIA+ community, women, people practicing different religions, people with a different ethnicity and people recovering from addiction. Acceptance, empathy and sensitivity are essential for providing the necessary support.

“If today we can talk about members of the queer community being accepted, and the whole changeover as far as the LGBT laws are concerned, then you know it’s just another kind of people who are oriented differently. That’s really what mental health is all about,” says Lynette.

Organizations also need to be open to people who can work but have their limitations. Further, giving people with mental illness an opportunity to do what they’re skilled at, by first recognizing them as human beings is essential in creating a healthy workplace.

Communication channels are clear and open
Defining a clear job role and setting expectations; encouraging employee engagement to carry on beyond the scope of just their work, sensitizing them to be empathetic to others, can keep them mentally happy. When managers are trained to identify people who are in distress/facing difficulties and encourage them to seek the help they need, it benefits everyone by reducing the attrition rate, increasing cohesiveness, happiness, productivity and wellbeing at the workplace.

In addition, encouraging positive thinking and appreciating people when something good happens is vital to a healthy workplace.

With inputs from Lynette Nazareth, Program Director, CGP India. She conducts client-centric programs which address work-life balance, diversity and inclusion, and wellness for the physical, mental and emotional health of employees.