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6 steps to a healthier working environment

Improving workplace wellness can deliver commercial advantage and is one of the keys to building a sustainable and profitable business, says one mediator and educator.

Catherine Davidson, who works as a mediator, negotiation expert and workplace wellness educator, said there are numerous ways to promote positivity and productivity, thereby bringing out the best in people in the office.

Doing so, she said, “can deliver commercial advantage and is one of the keys to building a sustainable and profitable business”.

Ms Davidson outlined six steps that she said can help build a more collegiate, hospitable working environment:

Conduct an organisational health check

“Before you introduce any kind of workplace wellness program, it’s worth discovering your employees’ biggest concerns,” she said.

“Are they, for example, stressed by a difficult relationship with a manager or colleague? Do they have more work than they can complete within working hours? Are they worried about leaving work on time to meet other commitments? How confident are they to disagree with their boss?”

“It’s important to understand what your employees are worried about so that you can help address their concerns.”

“Once you understand the stressors staff are facing, you’ll be in a better position to design a working environment where they are able to relax and do their best work.”

Invest in your people

Forward-thinking companies, such as Google and Atlassian, are renowned for their employee benefits and wellness programs, Ms Davidson continued, and noted that initiatives might include staff kitchens with healthy food and drinks and exercise and relaxation classes.

Ms Davidson’s approach, she outlined, is about providing people with a skill set and capacity to work through workplace conflict and issues, not just providing “things’’. More companies are embracing this well-received, proactive approach.

“Investing in employee wellbeing pays dividends – with fewer sick days, lower staff turnover and higher levels of employee engagement, which in turn leads to greater productivity and therefore profitability,” she said.

Encourage people to be themselves at work

“People are most likely to be engaged and do their best at work when they feel accepted and valued. Employers that actively promote a culture of acceptance and inclusion can help reduce employees’ stress levels and keep them healthy and happy at work.”

“Employers should allow people to bring their whole selves to work and encourage them to say what they think and take risks. Making mistakes and sharing them enables the entire team to learn from the experience and offers up psychological safety,”, she said.

Embrace difference

Embracing difference means understanding and appreciating that different people bring unique personality traits, skills and perspectives to the workplace, and that the mix is enriching, Ms Davidson noted.

“Meeting and working with people with whom we don’t perhaps have a lot in common can be the best way to learn to collaborate, innovate and thrive. Instead of fearing difference, we should look for what we can learn from it.”

Understand that conflict can be constructive

Any group or team of people is bound to disagree from time to time, she mused, and those disagreements can be the best way to improve on the status quo, generate new ideas and, ultimately, to foster growth.

The key to extracting benefit from conflict, she posited, is to develop effective communication and negotiation skills to help ensure people communicate and engage with each other – and work towards effective solutions.

“Conflict is normal, inevitable and potentially creative – yet most organisations see it as a problem and put in place people and systems to manage and deal with it. I advise people to explore and embrace the opportunities that exist in the space between difference and disagreement – there can be a huge amount of value there.”

Create a company culture where disagreement is safe

Employees need to know that disagreeing with colleagues and management is sometimes not only normal, but also essential for a healthy working environment, she said.

“Encourage people to develop communication skills that enable them to share new ideas and suggestions that might be perceived as critical in a positive and respectful manner.”

“Talking about conflict management in the workplace is quite a narrow way of looking at things. In fact, conflict resolution skills are essential life and wellbeing skills and something we should all nurture and develop.”

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