Re-inventing our workplaces by integrating and applying interdisciplinary sciences to achieve worker health and psychological well-being. We do this by focusing our activities around four roles:
Welcome to our website and to our organization!
Healthy Workplaces enables you to find timely and scientifically sound information to help you create workplaces that enable people to flourish at work. We have a unique approach to health and well-being: we examine all known science across disciplines including social science, medicine, occupational health, technology, public policy, in order to build a new organizational template for healthy workplaces. We want people to really flourish at work. This means people want to come to work and are able to do their best work while experiencing physical, psychological, social, and emotional health and well-being. HealthyWorkplaces is dedicated to giving employers and the public in general information they need to lead healthier lives at work. We welcome your comments, thoughts, inspirations, and feedback!
Cristina G. Banks, PhD
Director of HealthyWorkplaces
How We Started
The Interdisciplinary Center for Healthy Workplaces (“HealthyWorkplaces” or ICHW), founded in 2012 by Cristina Banks, Senior Lecturer at the Haas School of Business, and Sheldon Zedeck, Professor Emeritus of the Department of Psychology, was created in order to respond to the growing health crisis among members of the US workforce. Both independently observed through their work with hundreds of organizations over the years that the workplace was making people mentally and physically sick, and there did not appear to be clear and effective approaches to addressing this problem. They believed that by gathering all known science across disciplines regarding employee health and well-being, they could create an integrated, holistic solution for employers to implement in their organizations that would result in improved employee outcomes. With $15K from Graham Fleming, the Vice Chancellor for Research, and space within the Haas School’s rented offices off campus, they began the hard work of creating something out of nothing.
We began by bringing experts together from a wide spectrum of disciplines to share their knowledge and to note where their expertise and interests overlapped. Participating disciplines included business, economics, public health, public policy, nutrition, human factors/ergonomics, real estate, architecture, interior design, industrial hygiene, technology, psychology, law, medicine, occupational health, and human resources. Building on insights from each of these fields, we developed a new conceptualization of healthy workplaces through meetings, “sandboxes,” “mixers,” and conferences, which provided the fuel for understanding where sources of ill health resided and how advances in workplace design, operation, policy, and culture could help to mitigate or reverse ill health and promote health.
We noticed when reading relevant literature and talking to experts that often interventions or changes were introduced into the workplace in the hope of achieving positive health effects without an explicit discussion of why the employees facing these changes. Prior to 2013, the research literature was dominated by studies that showed very limited or weak results of workplace interventions. Many scholars concluded that single-pronged approaches were not effective and pointed to the need for holistic solutions. They also concluded that understanding the experience of the individual employee was key to finding the right solutions. In response, we set out to articulate a theory of change that linked individual experience with broader contextual factors.
We looked at the literature and realized there was a plethora of evidence that connected health and well-being to important personal and organizational outcomes, and connected need satisfaction to health and well-being. Some literature suggested that certain environmental and work factors were connected to need satisfaction, as well as personal and organizational outcomes. We integrated these findings into a Healthy Workplaces Model that was built on an understanding of the interaction between the employee and his/her work and workplace.
Our fundamental proposition is that worker health and well-being is built on an understanding of the interaction between the worker and his or her work and workplace - specifically, how the work and workplace affect a worker’s basic physical and psychological needs. We are advocating for a shift from single variable models of wellness to an interdisciplinary model of well-being that focuses on physical and psychological states that correlate with and give rise to sustainable worker health and well-being.
Our model recognizes how the employee is embedded in multiple, overlapping work environments, and these environments affect an employee’s basic physical and psychological need satisfaction. Positive need satisfaction results in positive health and well-being, and the absence of need satisfaction or dissatisfaction results in negative health and well-being. Thus, promoting employee health, well-being, and ultimately performance and productivity is best achieved by creating physical and psychological conditions within the work environments that promote basic need satisfaction. The solution, then, is to implement changes in the workplace that have the result of satisfying important employee needs.
Elaborating our understanding of the role of need satisfaction in healthy workplaces, we have extracted from the scientific literature nine basic needs that, when satisfied, contribute positively to health and well-being. Likewise, when satisfaction of these needs is impeded, the employee avoids that environment or it contributes negatively to health and well-being. The basic needs are: positive emotions, belonging, meaning/purpose, autonomy, competence/mastery, engagement/achievement, personal growth, safety, and physical vitality. The Healthy Workplaces Model is a novel extension of existing needs-based models. Christina Maslach and Cristina Banks published their findings connecting psychological needs to health, well-being and productivity in the Routledge Companion to Wellbeing at Work (2017).
The Model inspired us to develop a framework for identifying qualities in work and the work environment that “drive” need satisfaction. This means that the presence of a particular quality in the work environment creates an environment where an employee’s need can be met. For example, having flexibility in the workplace (e.g., where and when tasks can be performed) provides a sense of control over work demands and resources, and feeds the need for autonomy. We identified seven such qualities (called “drivers” of need satisfaction): comfort, connection, predictability, flexibility, safety, equity, and privacy. The importance of these “drivers” is their ability to translate the satisfaction of needs directly into specific things—physical objects, workstation design, compensation and benefits, programs, policies, practices, and cultural attributes—in order to create a work environment that satisfies important employee needs. The “drivers” also enable the development of assessment tools for evaluating the degree to which a work environment meets employees’ needs.
How We Operate
We build relationships with researchers, practitioners, policy makers, service providers and corporate representatives by holding conferences, meetings, workshops and other gatherings in order to learn about the ways health and well-being issues are addressed and the barriers to achieving greater progress. We review and evaluate research studies for their quality and scientific-soundness and add those we believe meet established scientific standards to our knowledge repository. We also review and evaluate interventions, programs and practices to identify ones that hold promise for improving employee health and well-being. We support new research and case studies to further our understanding of this area. We write about and communicate our findings and recommendations for the public through various channels: conferences, publications, presentations, social media, public workshops, and our website.