• Ali H.

The how to; for the workplace as a priority setting for health promotion

Updated: Jun 2, 2020

Our modern working environment is changing rapidly, along with the expectations of our workforces. Key health challenges such as mental ill health and non-communicable disease remain two of the key health risks seen in today’s workforces. Yet despite the significant effort to raise awareness, little work is seen through practical interventions that demonstrate a level of operationalisation and replication. So, what is the impact of the problem and how do we start to explore workplace health improvement?

The scale of these challenges is proving problematic at a global level. As such, non-communicable disease and mental ill health are a global workplace health priority. Moreover, there is substantial impacts involved to employers and the economy; annual cost estimations to businesses of mental ill health of up to £45bn, comprising £7bn in absence costs, £27bn – £29bn in presenteeism costs and £9bn in costs of staff turnover. Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) account for 41 million deaths each year, 71% of all deaths globally are related to NCDs. Tobacco use, physical inactivity, unhealthy diets and the harmful use of alcohol all increase the risk of dying from an NCD.

Using a considered data driven approach, we can collectively start to explore the effective design and promotion of workplace health and wellbeing interventions that could ethically influence employee behaviour and effect change to impact the global burden of disease. Wellbeing as a sustainability initiative!

Culture of health improvement

Many organisations and employees will recognise a strong culture of ‘risk management’ or ‘safety’, however we rarely hear of strong health and wellbeing cultures. To effectively drive change, we need to establish purpose for our health improvement, and this needs to be met at an individual and organisational level. Engraining a culture of health improvement can be achieved through aligning health and wellbeing with CSR. We discuss this in more detail here.

Data Driven decision making

Wellbeing initiatives can often fall short through an absence of data driven decision making. To drive actionable health improvements that we can evidence at an organisational level, we must be able to effectively evaluate any intervention work. By developing a health and wellbeing data blueprint, organisations can agree on their organisational health performance indicators. However, this is no easy task, each organisation is different. Each organisation will have its own unique; culture, data metrics, offering, stakeholder experience, workplace norms and overall strategy. As such, each will have its own organisational attitude towards health and wellbeing.

Intervention Design

For any organisation wanting to intervene, understanding the factors that link work and health are imperative. By recognising the factors of work that are negative, we can start to disrupt the links that impact workforce health and wellbeing. In addition, we must look to understand at what level we are trying to disrupt this link; is it at the primary level, secondary or tertiary, or equally does it cross multiple levels.

By using grounded theory and our performance indicators, we can start to construct our intervention. Asking questions that help us determine the right theory; what factors of the workplace need to be adjusted, what is preventing our workforce from engaging in health behaviour, can we reduce the demands placed on employees, do we know that certain roles are exposed to increased psychosocial demands, or do we need to adjust organisational policies to facilitate health improvement.


The design and effectiveness of interventions is just a component of a successful intervention; there are many factors that designers should consider. For example, affordability, practicability, effectiveness and cost-effectiveness, acceptability, side effects/risk and equity. Before any intervention reaches implementation stage, firstly consider the APEASE criteria it could save you a lot of time!

Implementation & Ongoing refinement

Guess what, now that you have implemented, this is not going to be a quick fix. Embedding interventions that result in meaningful and lasting change take work, which is why health promotion should be embedded in organisational culture, and part of continuous improvement. By easily accessing your data strategy, you will be able to see what is working and what needs refinement. Equally, long term evaluation should look to understand if this is supporting both the organisational strategy, and if the improvements are transferable to support the wider global health agenda.

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