Employers 'not focused on organisational health'

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Bad health harms work, and bad work harms health – so why aren't businesses looking for meaningful change?

Employers focus too much on individuals' health and not enough on organisational health, according to Paul Litchfield, chief medical officer for BT Group.

"Bad health harms work, and bad work harms health," he said, speaking at the Alliance Manchester workplace health and wellbeing 'Vital Topics' briefing. "But also, good work improves health, and good health improves work.

"However, a company might subsidise a gym membership for their employees, leave fruit, or teach mindfulness, then just leave their people to get on with it without bothering to look at the organisation. That is rubbish."

Litchfield also highlighted the dramatic shift in attitudes towards work over the last generation. "For a lot of people 'work' was a place you went to," he said. "You had set hours, and a set time you were meant to be there. You would be trained by the state or your employer, and you would realistically expect to leave 40 years later with your gold watch.

"But now my children only expect to be working for two to three years for any one employer."

Oliver Heath, TV presenter and founder of sustainable interior design practice Heath Design, discussed the benefits of incorporating nature in the workplace. "Often people see design as a way to show off," he said. "We do it to impress others, and to make ourselves look wealthy, clever or powerful – but good design can benefit your cognitive status."

Heath cited research that found workers can get into a state where they change function every three minutes, with it taking an average of 23 minutes for them to get back to the task at hand. "As you can imagine, that's very mentally stressful," he said. "Good design can reduce stress and promote creative environments."

He added that modern office spaces are not designed with human mental states in mind. "When we go on holiday we crave to be near water, in the woods, mountains or on a beach," he said. "When at work we might seek out a bench in a park to have our lunch outside. If you ask someone where they feel the most relaxed and creative it's rare for someone to say their office."

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