One of the most annoying things for a health and safety representative is to find that, after years of banging your head against a brick wall trying to get your employer to do something about preventing stress or back pain, you suddenly find that your boss has embraced “well-being” and is plastering the workplace with advice on smoking, drinking and exercise.
Now I am not saying that this is not good. I was a fitness instructor many years ago and have a background in health promotion, but why is so much effort being put into trying to change the behaviour of the workers when the real problem is the behaviour of management? After all it is them that create the stress, and the long hours and the bad working conditions.
The truth is that we all know about eating healthily. There are reasons we don’t. People don’t eat crisps and sandwiches because we deliberately want to die young. We often do it because there is little alternative when we are on the go all day and don’t have access to a canteen or a proper lunch break. If we need to eat something that is cheap(ish) quick and will fill us up then for a lot of people there is little choice but starchy high-energy food. What employers can do is give us a decent lunch break and ever bring back a few of the subsidised canteens we used to have.
Even more annoying is what employers are doing on stress. Some lucky office workers are getting offered on-site massage, yoga classes, or even on-line stress-busting programmes on their PCs. Are these really the way to deal with stress? Of course not. You remove the causes of stress in the workplace. It may be harder, but it is a lot more effective. Don’t get me wrong, I am not arguing against giving help and support to those suffering from stress, or even against putting on yoga classes. It is just that they are “as well as….” and not “instead of.”
Of course it can be hard to make these points without coming across as being negative, and often our members love it when the employer makes some effort in their direction. That is why the TUC has produced a guide to help you to work with the employer on well-being issues, but as part of an agenda that is genuinely going to promote a healthy workplace, rather than just papering over some cracks.
The guide explains what you and your employer can do and some of the pitfalls you might have to avoid. So hopefully it will give you some ideas of what you can do in your workplace. After all this stuff is not going away any time soon and I would prefer we were in there making it work.