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Curing Sick Workplaces Mark Swartz, M.B.A. M.Ed.

About the Author

Mark Swartz, MBA, M.Ed., is Canada's Career Activist. His insights reach millions yearly as the Career Advisor, as author of the best seller "Get Wired, You're Hired," also as a professional speaker and coach on career/work issues. A former Toronto Star careers columnist, Mark's advice is forthright and practical. For Canada's biggest directory of free career articles, and for personalized coaching, please visit

Mark Swartz
Monday, December 11, 2006

Taking part in Canadas Healthy Workplace Week has become an annual affair for employers. However the bar is rising in terms of whats expected. Gone are the days of superficial solutions or platitudes. See what one of our countrys leading experts on this topic has to say about these initiatives.

Do a couple push ups. Eat your spinach at dinner. And don't forget to dust off your Adidas. In case you missed it, October 23 - 29, 2006 marked the annual observance of Canada's Healthy Workplace Week. It is, according to its organizers, a yearly celebration of workplace health in Canadian organizations So, is this something to be taken seriously? Or is it just another Band-Aid ® brand adhesive approach to genuine workplace wellness.

If nothing else, it certainly puts the spotlight on the effects of workplace hygiene. And not just the kind involving deodorant or accident reduction - though neither of these are to be sneezed at, and certainly not without covering your nose beforehand. In essence, the promoters of this event, the Canadian Healthy Workplace, are advocating a strategic, comprehensive approach to organizational health. What this boils down to is far more than merely scratching the surface with a wellness program here, some EAP access there, and a bunch of colourful posters that encourage workplace health. The real goal, as this year's theme enunciated, is to Make a Difference In Your Workplace. And it's not just a single person or group of employees involved. All staff, from CEOs to front line workers, can together make a difference and effectively contribute to how the organization operates and performs.

Pretty ambitious stuff. Then again, Dr. Graham Lowe, a Canadian expert on healthy workplaces and a driving force behind this initiative, is no slouch when it comes to breaking ground in this realm. He recently launched the Great Place to Work ® Institute Canada. What impresses me about Dr. Lowe is that he directly addresses the root causes, and not simply the symptoms, of an unhealthy workplace. There is a consensus among occupational health and safety, workplace health promotion and epidemiological experts that successful interventions must target underlying workplace and organizational factors, says Dr. Lowe, in an article from HR Reporter.

This jibes well with what scientists at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), in the United States, define as a healthy organization; one whose culture, climate and practices create an environment that promotes employee health and safety as well as organizational effectiveness. NIOSH emphasizes the importance of an organizational climate in which employees feel valued and are able to resolve group conflicts. Equally important are management practices that reward workers for quality work, supportive supervisors and strong leadership.

Wait a minute. Making employees feeling valued? Rewards for quality work? Strong leadership? Interesting concepts that used to be the preserve of HR or management alone. Yet now the leading authorities on workplace health are citing these as critical components in an overall wellness agenda.

Why the change? Likely because as the tempo of commerce speeds up, and demands on employees continually increase, the likelihood of accidents, injuries and stress related illnesses rise accordingly. This affects absenteeism levels and productivity. It could also impact your recruitment & retention efforts. Dr. Lowe sums it up when he says that According to the last 20 years of research, healthy organizations are good for employees, the business and the bottom line. It has become an accepted fact that healthy organizations have a competitive advantage...

Which is where five of his principles regarding health in the workplace come into play. They include:

- Providing a safe and healthy physical work environment to prevent occupational diseases, accidents and injuries

- Embracing work organization principles that prevent ill health and stress

- Providing a balance between job demands and control over the work

- Supporting healthy lifestyles and encouraging personal development

- Promoting active participation by all to help improve health and well being at work

A tall order for many organizations that are already running full out to keep up. Yet taking time to ensure that employees are safe and hardy pays dividends. The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety says so. And employers such as Purolator, Xerox, and the National Quality Institute, among others, are sponsors of Healthy Workplace Week. So if you'd like to learn more, head over to where Dr. Lowe and company will enlighten you further.

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