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Introduction to the Health↔Work Culture Tool

We know organisational culture is an important basis for how people act. Lessons from high hazard industries indicate that organisations with good safety cultures take proactive steps to ensure they go beyond their legal obligations. The result is fewer accidents, injuries and days lost due accident-related absence.


So why not establish a similar approach for common health problems?


Establishing a good culture around common health problems has many benefits. Culture pervades through an organisation and can make managing health a lot easier: If the culture is right, everyone – line managers, workers – will take it upon themselves to work towards minimising health problems and accommodating them when they do occur. With a good culture, you won’t need to rely on people complying with instructions issued by human resources, the occupational health department or senior management.


A good organisational culture for health will help create attitudes:

  • Good jobs can keep common-health problems to a minimum

  • When health problems do occur, they can be easily be accommodated with minimum fuss

  • People can usually manage their own health but can seek help if needed


It is good to share knowledge about what worked and what didn’t in managing health, both within the organisation and also with customers and suppliers. Sharing good practice with customers and suppliers is the right thing to do, and helping them to improve health can help you too.


The toolbox can help you identify areas in which you can improve your organisation’s culture so that health is easier to manage.


What do we mean by ‘culture’ in the workplace? Put simply, it refers to ‘the way things are done around here’



The Health↔Work Culture Tool


Consists of a few simple questions. To get the best out of this, answer as honestly as you can.

  • Consult with others in the organisation on what they think. This can involve members of the senior management team, workers, and anyone responsible for health and safety. If there are layers of management, unions or employee representation groups – consult with them.

  • Ideally, each member of senior management team should think about these questions before discussing them collectively.

  • Keep the discussion focused on improving things, not allocating blame for past misfortunes. Good cultures move forward, they don’t dwell on the past.


1. Do you already think that health = work and work = health?

If not, why not?


2. What are your organisational policies and practices like for health? Are they acted on?

If you haven’t got relevant policies, then you need to. But, having a policy isn’t much use if people don’t pay attention to it. If people don’t pay attention to policies, then you need to think about how to encourage people to do so. It's more than simply 'ticking a box'.


3. Are you mindful of health when developing other policies and practices?

Not all business decisions are relevant to health – but are you aware of the ones that matter? You need to be mindful of decisions that might impact on health, for example decisions that increase people’s working hours or change how they work. Also, be aware when developing new policies and practices that these can be opportunities to make developing good jobs and a supportive workplace easier rather than harder.


4. Do you treat people with health problems fairly?

Equal opportunities apply to all people, including those with health problems.


5. Do you communicate and openly discuss how to prevent and cope with common health problems?

Do senior and line managers take a lead in discussing health-related issues?

Do people challenge inadequate practice?

Do people let each other know about good practice?


Communication is important, and senior managers need to take a lead. For matters to improve, people must feel confident they can challenge inadequate practice where it occurs and be supported by senior management in doing this. People must also feel confident they can share good practice with each other, so that it is encouraged to spread across the organisation and onwards to customers and suppliers.


6. Do you believe that people with health problems can be productive?



Potential actions for improving workplace culture


What’s best for an organisation depends on things like it's size and the sector it works in. When thinking about what to do, take into account both the nature of the organisation and the people working in it. Changes you make should be:


Responsive to the needs of workers and the nature of their work.


Acceptable to workers, managers, co-workers and other people at work who may be affected by the changes.


Worth promoting by giving the best return on investment when all things are considered including impact on co-workers and other organisational practices.


Here is a list of actions that could be useful. You may already do some of these. If so, think about whether you could do them better. Of course, you might find better solutions than these – the list is really only intended to get you thinking.

  1. Establish discussion between workers and managers on the topic of common health problems, good jobs, and supportive workplaces.

  2. Include common health problems as a standing item in existing human resources, occupational health and safety meetings, and senior management meetings.

  3. Display organisational policies for health prominently.

  4. Display information on days lost to health in the organisation – this will help people keep a tab on improvements at work.

  5. Include health information in employee briefings and newsletters – make sure everyone has access to information on what workers and manager can do to improve health and minimise days lost due to common health complaints.

  6. Provide managers and workers with training on how to communicate effectively (that is, assertively but respectfully), so they can share good practice and point out problems.

  7. Encourage workers to engage in discussions around organisational operations and change, so that their views can be taken into account in how to ensure healthy working practices.


Remember the most important action is to show visible signs of senior management commitment to a Health↔Work culture



Improve Workplace Culture


Do emphasise that work is healthy, therapeutic, and can play an important role in recovery (while recognising that work can also be a hazard).


  • This means you need to provide advice and support wherever possible to help people stay in, and return to, work. And, that work should be safe and healthy.


Avoid thinking of work as a ‘risk’ and (potentially) harmful to physical and mental health.


  • This means you should avoid assuming that time off work is needed. Or, that you will be helping by ‘protecting’ the person from work.

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