Creating a healthy work environment

Last updated on 22 February 2024

Creating a healthy work environment isn’t hard and by investing in your staff you can achieve positive long-term outcomes. [Source: Shutterstock]

What is it that truly creates a healthy work environment? Healthy work environments require investment from all levels of management to promote openness, well-being and communication. But taking that first step can be difficult.

Hello leaders is here to provide some guidance, with the help of Dr Natalie Flatt, Chief Mental Health Advisor at SuperFriend.

Define your values

It’s difficult creating a work environment when management and staff are not aligned. So you have to define your values – personal and company-wide – from day one. Your staff need to be aware of the environment they’re walking into, whether they’re the right fit, and if you can both achieve desired results together. Shared values and career goals will help you maintain the healthiest work environment possible.

Be transparent and trustworthy

Transparent leadership is a critical trait, but when you look at the bigger picture, transparency has to come from the very top. Staff cannot trust you if they’re not included in important conversations regarding the way they do their job.

There will be instances when you cannot divulge information, so when you can be transparent, include staff to help them truly feel like a trusted part of the team. Building trust through transparency also allows leaders to better understand their staff, which can lead to positive outcomes when staff are struggling.

“Getting to know your staff can create a sense of trust again. It also allows leaders to form a baseline of their employees’ well-being so can easily recognise signs and symptoms of burnout when they appear,” Dr Flatt told hello leaders.

“Some people have a higher tolerance to stress and burnout than others and that’s when having easy access to support systems, especially mental health resources or Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) is highly important.”

Design a healthy environment

A healthy work environment will be influenced by the space your staff works in. To create a healthy work environment, focus on elements that allow staff to really feel supported at work, such as:

  • Comfortable and ergonomic seating when working or taking a break
  • Access to healthy and nutritious food, particularly if there are no cafes or supermarkets nearby
  • Safe outdoor spaces where they can relax during lunch or a quick break
  • Quiet spaces for those who don’t want to socialise in a noisy environment
  • Modern breakrooms with indoor plants, good ventilation and relevant reading materials

If you have a work environment that really shows staff you want them there, then they’ll feel more satisfied and be encouraged to work harder.

Encourage positive communication

If you’re talking about transparency, you cannot ignore the element of positive communication. Encouraging, creating and sustaining a work environment where positive and constructive feedback is commonplace will result in great outcomes. 

Managers and team leaders need to provide feedback that recognises and supports staff. At the same time, you must create a healthy environment where staff can give you feedback and not fear retribution. Regularly support two-way feedback regularly by handing out surveys when new programs are introduced or routinely checking in with staff. 

Set goals and invest in employee growth

A positive work environment needs to be nurturing, encouraging and supportive, so invest in learning opportunities for staff growth and development. Otherwise, staff will leave if they are not afforded the opportunity to learn.

Encourage staff to take education courses – provided internally or externally – and explore options to accommodate staff requests for courses they believe are important for personal or professional development. Remember not to rest on your laurels as real development will need more than mandatory e-learning to really engage and nurture your best staff. 

“Explore what matters the most to staff, their purpose and even offering opportunities within the workplace that might enhance their purpose again provides a level of excitement and feeling that they are valued at work,” Dr Flatt added.

Protect mental health and well-being

Modern leaders are highly aware of the importance of staff well-being, but how exactly do you incorporate positive well-being into a healthy work environment? By setting the standard and investing in creative initiatives. For example, you could:

  • Promote and encourage the use of wellness programs and mental health/well-being days
  • Invest in discount gym memberships, team sports or yoga programs
  • Discourage working overtime or picking up extra shifts when staff are already fatigued or burnt out
  • Ensure staff take regular breaks to eat lunch and rest
  • Provide resources to help your team safely manage mental health 
  • Host regular social events and staff bonding opportunities

Reward and recognition

Do you praise your staff or recognise their achievements? Because without reward and recognition in the workplace, you have an environment that’s far from healthy. As the Harvard Business Review summed up nicely, ‘recognition is about what people do; appreciation is about who they are’.

Dr Flatt said it’s essential to be specific with recognition. For example, don’t just say thank you for doing a great job, actually explain how and why their behaviours have had an impact.

“With any kind of behaviour modification or positive behaviour change where we hone in on the actual behaviour, we’re more likely to do that behaviour again,” she said.

Reward and recognition comes in many forms, and it doesn’t always have to be a physical gift. It could be public recognition or a promotion for prolonged success. Whatever the action, it will show you truly value your staff and their contribution to a healthy work environment.

workplace culture
human resources
aged care management
work environment
positive wellbeing
healthy work environment
work culture
natalie flatt