Abstract

This paper examines two health issues of crucial importance to practitioners and policy makers: the work environment and organizational factors that positively influence workers' health and well-being, and the relationship between healthy workplaces and productivity. Research in diverse disciplines agrees on the importance of supporting employees to be effective in their jobs in ways that promote, not compromise, their health. The ingredients include leadership that values employees as key assets, supportive supervision at all levels, employee participation, job control, communication, opportunities to learn, and a culture that gives priority to work-life balance and individual wellness. There is also evidence of causal links between working conditions, interventions designed to create healthier workplaces, employee health, and firm-level productivity. Studies suggest that successful healthy workplace initiatives are comprehensive in scope, integrated with other human resource programs, and have well-designed implementation strategies based on strong leadership, good communication and extensive participation. While significant knowledge gaps remain, these should not deter employers, employees and policy makers from taking action now to create healthy organizations.

This paper synthesizes the current state of knowledge about healthy work environments and productivity. Two questions guide the paper: First, what are the work environment and organizational factors that positively influence workers' health and well-being? Second, are organizations that support the achievement of good health for their employees also more productive? Current public policy concerns about human capital development, quality of work life, and population health form the broader context for the paper. These policy issues highlight the growing importance of healthy work environments for both workers' well being and the economic performance of the nation.

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About the Author

Graham S. Lowe (glowe@grahamlowe.ca) is one of Canada's leading experts on work. He is a Professor of Sociology at the University of Alberta, a Research Associate at Canadian Policy Research Networks and runs his own workplace consulting company, The Graham Lowe Group Inc. (www.grahamlowe.ca). His numerous publications include The Quality of Work: A People-Centered Agenda (Oxford University Press, 2000).