Workplaces across sectors have been forced to digitalise fast over the last two years. While this has brought new opportunities for many, it’s undoubtedly having an impact on our life inside and outside of the office, as our HSE and Wellbeing Lead, Shelley Douglas discusses. 

Today, we are never more than a few clicks away from work. There is a growing recognition of the mental health impact of this increasingly connected world. While this impact falls under health and safety more widely, the effects can be more subtle than the physical injuries most of us would associate with this sphere. Over the pandemic, issues like employee burnout came to the fore as part of a great drive to protect wellbeing during lockdowns.

What the current rules cover
Regulation often moves a lot slower than innovation, usually being developed in response to a perceived issue or problem. As a result, health and safety requirements often haven’t kept up with these newer types of health and safety risks.

Luckily for health and safety professionals, they don’t have to start with a blank canvas when it comes to addressing wellbeing issues at work. Psychological safety has always been legislated under the HSAW act 1974. Albeit, its brief mention is often not in proportion to the balance of health risks in an office environment.

A secret epidemic
The pandemic placed issues like burnout and toxic work cultures under the spotlight. But these issues were not new. Rather they had been bubbling away unnoticed – part of wider numbers like high staff turnover rates, which could be attributed to other factors.

Building a company culture that supports openness about wellbeing issues is crucial. Collating information is key – from regular surveys into how people feel about work, to the creation of ‘safe spaces’ such as anonymous feedback portals.

No more ‘tick box’ approaches
While the law makes clear that some procedures need to be in place to safeguard mental health and wellbeing, the ‘light touch’ approach has led to bad practices. Some employers still have a knee-jerk reaction to draft a policy, save it on the system – and do nothing more. But it’s increasingly clear that this ‘tick box’ approach doesn’t work. So called “bluewashing” is steadily becoming an anathema in the health and safety space.

As the C-suite increasingly understands the impact of wellbeing on the bottom line, there will be increasing pressure to quantify which initiatives are making a positive difference and there are clear signs that this is starting to happen.

Health and safety, work culture heroes?
The ability to engage all employees in a preventative and proactive approach to wellbeing is key to building a company culture where employees will thrive and stay for the long-term.

The alignment of wider functions with HR and operations teams can make a huge difference to the successful implementation of wellbeing policies. Where mental health risks are identified, HR can help make sure they are addressed, and workplace design altered.

But this groundswell of engagement also needs to be matched with top-down efforts. Without their full engagement, most change will only ever be patchwork or surface-level – risking a relapse into a ‘tick box’ mentality.

The key is to prioritise progress over perfection, which starts with building an open and honest culture that delivers a holistic view of wellbeing in the workplace.

We are working in the mind age – psychological safety is as important as physical safety. Businesses need define a clear strategy which protects, promotes and treats all aspects of workplace health, equally.

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