Who is responsible for employee health? What are the health effects of flexible working environments? How do companies develop a culture of health awareness?

HR representatives from a range of organisations and fields, businesspeople and health representatives came together at a SYNNECTA round table on March, 30 2017 in order to discuss these and related questions. The location was ideal: the Tajet Garden yoga centre in Cologne provided the perfect atmosphere as well as healthy food, and our positive mood was further boosted by the fine weather.

The danger of self-exploitation

In times of increasing digitalization, flexibilization and agility, managers have less direct influence. Employees need to engage in more self-management. The fear that reduced manager control would result in employees working less proved unfounded. In fact, the opposite is the case. Flexible work places and work times appear to be a motivation for employees to work even more and to ignore their own limits (of resilience and capacity). Hence we are seeing a rising number of cases of mental illness and exhaustion syndrome.

We need new skills

Employees in agile structures need to have new skills that enable them to self-manage whilst remaining aware of their health. In order to take on responsibility, employees need to be informed about health and about the correlations between body, spirit and soul. Working environments without limits require that employees are able to set their own limits. This includes staking out boundaries in the face of demands that are conducive to illness. It is increasingly important to be able to approach lack of clarity, contradictions, critical pressure situations and stress in a constructive manner. »Resilience« is a key skill in a VUCA environment.

This new health skill needs to be developed together now. The organizational conditions offered by a business have to enable flexibility and agility as much as health orientation. Employees can provide input and feedback to enhance this aspect of culture.

The significance of the organisation

Companies can enable health-oriented behaviour among their employees. Doing so involves the transfer of knowledge and information by a range of means, such as, .e.g, training sessions and lectures as well as digital channels (blended learning is gaining ground). Even management that takes a less active role can still motivate employees to act in a manner that does justice to their health, encouraging newly acquired behaviours in daily work routines.

Corporate culture has to go beyond merely permitting »healthy living«, it needs to foster it. We are currently seeing especially positive experiences being made in those teams that integrate new modes of behaviour into their work routines communally. One example are the customer support teams of an insurance group and of an energy supplier. The teams jointly decided on and introduced team rituals. In both cases, the number of incapacity days dropped and the atmosphere at work improved as a result.

Bernd Burkhardt-Patzina