Healthy workplaces “How do we create an organization where people are able and willing to do their best work?”

20151103_1559362 years of collecting and disseminating information, research, good practices and tools about the psychosocial aspects of work in general and stress in particular culminate today in the this closing event of the 2014-2015 healthy workplaces campaign.

This topic is extremely important for the business community. We want our workers to deliver a productive contribution; we want to see them engaged. We don’t want them to disconnect.

So the key question is: “How do we create an organization where people are able and willing to do their best work?” In answering that question, our views and approaches probably differ from what you read and hear in most of the campaign tools.

We would like to stress the importance of an approach that transcends health and safety and focuses on all aspects of work, now and in the future. When we organized our own campaign event as BusinessEurope, we approached the topic first of all from a scientific angle with a view on the future of work based on research analysis and metadata before focussing on successful and sustainable approaches in the field.

What was striking is the fact that success does not stem from a ‘technical’ approach with risk assessment, prevention measures and procedures, but from a much broader action that puts people in the centre.

Enthusiastic workers, people that work with deep affection and pride, that is where the win-win lies for companies and workers. We must strive to deploy people based on their talents and skills. Craft jobs around people’s capacities, taking into account their personal needs and aspirations.

No longer simply ‘command and control’ by management, but a facilitating work environment. Authentic leadership, servant leaders, that is the model of the future and a huge lever for healthy workplaces. It means leadership aimed at personal development and support. Traditional management and leadership is about arranging and telling, true authentic leadership is about nurturing and enhancing.

Forget about the collective approach, when it comes to psychosocial aspects; don’t be afraid of looking at the individual. No collective system, no risk assessment tool is capable of capturing the true needs, personality and aspirations of individuals. So, allow individual workers, within a certain frame, to decide when, where and how to work to get results. Design jobs for autonomy, meaningfulness, progress and competence. That is participation, involvement and engagement in the true sense of the words.

Avoid over focus on strengthening your workers’ weak points or points for improvement because such an approach consumes a lot of energy and causes stress and frustration. Focus instead on their strengths, allow them to further develop their talents, allow them to discover and bring out new competencies, unfold other talents that might serve your company. This could (temporary) take place with another employers or as a self-employed… Also design jobs for results or responsibility, focus on outcomes, not on input. Time, btw, is a terrible indicator of work.

It’s clear that this is a two-side story with duties and responsibilities for both employers and workers. Autonomy and participation also means that workers will have to reflect more on their talents and competencies, evaluate what they realy want and make choices in a continuous quest for a job, a function, tasks and an employer and work environment that fits them and this throughout their whole career.

If we want our labour force to be creative and innovative, capable of dealing with change and working longer, a climate of respect and trust is indispensable.

There is no miracle solution in order to keep workers enthusiast and productive. Stress has always existed and will always be there. Not my words, but coming from the scientific community! It’s clear however we can do better. And a lot of companies already do so. The award winners are just the tip of the iceberg; there are plenty of great places to work. At the same time, a lot is still to be done. It is clear, from what I said, from best practices, that putting the worker in the middle yields best results.

It’s not OSH, it’s all elements from the overarching world of work. Trust and mutual respect are the best soil for motivated, healthy and enthusiastic workers and sustainable jobs. The right man or woman on the right place, with an outcome based workload in balance with their capacities, sufficient autonomy, support and development possibilities in the company or on the broader labour market is the best prevention against stress. This does not imply naïve, frivolous freedom. Let go where possible, detain where necessary. And a vigilant surrounding. Because even workers given that autonomy, trust and support can derail by willing to be too good, going too hard.


2015 Healthy Workplaces Summit – opening statement Kris De Meester

Chairman BusinessEurope health and safety working group

First adviser Federation of Enterprises in Belgium

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