Workplace health: Australian workers’ perspectives

by FM Media
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New Medibank research seeking the views of over 5000 workers has revealed that 44% of employees feel their work impacts negatively on their mental or physical health. Medibank shares the results of this research, as well as steps that can be taken to combat this issue.

Medibank understands the importance of engaging and supporting employers and employees in creating healthier workplaces. As part of our commitment to improving workplace health and wellbeing, Medibank commissioned a survey of over 5200 workers from across 13 industries to further understand the factors that impact on the health of Australian workers.
Results of the Medibank Workplace Health Survey from across all industries surveyed indicate that:

  • more than one in two respondents think their work has an impact on their physical health
  • 40 percent think that their work has an impact on their mental health
  • 72 percent of workers who participate in workplace health initiatives think that their health and productivity improves as a result; and
  • most surveyed think that their employers have a role in supporting their overall health and wellbeing, including subsidising private health insurance for those who choose to have it.

More specifically, concerning workers from the construction industry, 403 workers from across the construction industry in Australia were surveyed in relation to how their work impacts on their health and wellbeing. The survey group had a higher percentage of males to females (64 percent male, 36 percent female), however these figures represent a greater proportion of female workers than are actually employed across the industry (88 percent male, 12 percent female). The primary age of survey respondents was between 25 and 54 years, which is consistent with industry employment trends.

WORKERS’ PHYSICAL HEALTH AND WELLBEING
Workers in the construction industry generally perceive themselves to be somewhat less healthy than the general Australian population (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2010), although 87 percent of workers rate their health as either excellent, very good or good. 13 percent of workers perceive their health to be fair or poor. Younger workers tend to report their health as better than older groups of employees.
Workers in the construction industry rate themselves as generally fit, with 85 percent describing themselves as moderately or slightly fit, 8 percent as very fit, and 11 percent as not fit at all. Most workers (65 percent) in the construction industry who work in a physical capacity are happy with their health status. Health issues for the remaining 35 percent include:

  • wanting to lose weight
  • increasing physical activity
  • eating better; and
  • lowering cholesterol.

In terms of their physical health:

  • 41 percent of workers think their work exposes them to a high risk of physical injury or harm
  • 32 percent think their work has a negative impact on their physical health; and
  • work is perceived to affect health through physical strain and not having enough time to exercise.

Construction workers engaging in physical activity for their job generally perceive the impact on their health to be less pronounced than those workers who have office- or desk-based roles. Slight differences in physical health are apparent according to workplace locations, with more workers in metropolitan and suburban locations reporting that work negatively impacts on their physical health.
Respondents from the construction industry report similar rates of absenteeism from work due to health concerns (3,57 days) when compared to the average rate of respondents from all surveyed industries (3,74 days).

WORKERS’ MENTAL HEALTH AND WELLBEING
Nearly one third of workers in the construction industry think that their work has an impact on their mental health in either a positive (45 percent) or negative (55 percent) way. Things that positively impact on mental health are:

  • positive relationships with colleagues
  • feeling appreciated
  • achieving goals
  • flexible work hours; and
  • good work/life balance.

The most commonly reported ways in which work has a negative impact on workers’ mental health are:

  • feeling stuck in a rut
  • having a negative relationship with their manager
  • repetition of tasks; and
  • lack of control over what they do.

SUPPORTING WORKERS’ HEALTH
The type and level of focus on employee health is important to workers in the construction industry. When deciding where to work:

  • 58 percent of workers indicate that a company’s focus on health and wellbeing is an important factor
  • 78 percent feel that their employer should offer workplace health programs and/or invest in the health and wellbeing of their employees; and
  • 60 percent think that their employer should subsidise their private health insurance.

One of the ways in which workers in the construction industry feel their health and wellbeing is supported is through workplace health initiatives:

  • 55 percent of construction employees take part in workplace health initiatives when they are offered.
  • The most common workplace health programs available are work injury treatments, employee assistance programs and periodic medical assessments.
  • The main reported reasons for not participating in workplace health programs are “already exercising out of work hours” (41 percent) and “not interested in the activities offered” (27 percent).
  • Construction industry employees with access to workplace health programs report most wanting regular workplace health screenings (34 percent), exercise/physical activity initiatives (31 percent) and on-site health classes (30 percent).

A majority of workers (82 percent) who have participated in workplace health programs consider that participation improved their health and wellbeing, while 46 percent think that participation reduced their absenteeism and 51 percent report improved productivity. Reported barriers to participation in workplace health initiatives include that activities were offered at inconvenient times and employees reportedly not being interested in the activities offered.

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