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The Occupational Health & Safety Pie: Understanding All 3 Slices



Earlier in the pandemic, I dedicated much of what would normally be work/business travel time in my schedule to reading the zillion articles I’d bookmarked over the past couple of years. I finally had time to catch up on new research in the world of mental health, best practices in psychological health in the workplace in other countries and other things I find genuinely interesting (being a true geek for my work!). As always seems to be the case with online reading, I soon ended up deep in the proverbial rabbit hole. Quite early on, the focus of much research and journalism in Canada was the pandemic’s impact on our mental health. While the world focused on safeguarding our physical health by quarantining, research began to emerge that indicated the added stress and lack of social interaction actually ended up having a detrimental physical effect for many. Stress can have a domino effect on our immune system and other physiological processes. As time went on, I began reading more about predictions of the “mental health pandemic” that would ensue following the coronavirus pandemic. (Check out The Star’s writeup on this HERE.)

Workplaces often think of mental health as an issue that’s separate from traditional occupational health and safety concerns. Now more than ever, it’s vital to understand how the different components of health are interwoven, with one impacting the other and so on. When delivering training I talk about the “Health Pie”: three equal “slices”, or dimensions of health, which are physical, mental and social wellbeing. If a person is struggling with one of those slices it almost certainly impacts one or both of the other two.

The term “social health” might bring to mind human-to-human contact. This is one important part of social wellbeing, but it’s even broader than that. Having good social health is about feeling like your role on earth matters. For many of us what we do for a job feeds our social health. Having meaningful professional and person relationships with a sense of reciprocity is another component of social health. For example, our role within a family unit or a romantic relationship ideally feels balanced with giving and taking. A socially healthy individual feels satisfaction and is confident in their ability to contribute to the world around them through various means. Something as simple as shoveling your unwell neighbour’s driveway, making small talk with the cashier at the grocery store or doing a random act of kindness for a stranger might feed your social wellbeing.

Taking good care of one aspect of the Health Pie can support the other two slices. When I’m conscious of eating a well-balanced diet, getting my regular runs and yoga practice in a few times a week and getting enough sleep (the physical health slice) I definitely reap rewards with respect to my mental and physical wellbeing: I’m in a better mood, have more energy and find it easier to be fully present and engaged in my interactions with others and in my work tasks. On the other hand, when we struggle with one of those slices the other two might be negatively impacted: if I’m physically unwell, my mood and stress level are likely affected (mental health) and from a social health perspective I might struggle with feeling uncomfortable or even guilty that a family member is taking care of me. Do you someone who has a really hard time letting other people do things for them? Feeling like we’re only able to receive support in a personal relationship without giving back in a way we see as making things “even” can leave us feeling disconnected, like a burden to others.

In a workplace context, feeling disconnected from coworkers usually means morale is poor and that cooperative tasks aren’t done as efficiently as they could be if folks had a better working rapport with one another. Having distracted and disengaged employees statistically leads to not only more errors in work tasks but also more physical injuries on the job. Smart employers understand that the three slices of the Health Pie are inextricably linked, and significantly impact productivity and therefore the organization’s bottom line.

How has your workplace incorporated physical, mental and social wellbeing into its health and safety policies and into organizational culture and day-to-day practice? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below – I’d love to hear from you!

Thanks for tuning in, my friends. See you next time!

Elizabeth Eldridge is a Psychological Health & Safety Consultant based in southern New Brunswick, Canada. In addition to keynote speaking and corporate training on workplace mental health she is the owner/operator of Arpeggio Health Services, Atlantic Canada’s largest provider of public mental health trainings. Learn more at elizabetheldridge.com, summitcorporatewellness.com and arpeggiohealthservices.com.

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©2019 by Elizabeth Eldridge Consulting & Professional Speaking Services