As more and more companies are beginning to recognise that only a healthy, qualiﬁed and motivated workforce can achieve success in a globalising marketplace, a healthy ofﬁce environment has become a competitive advantage.
Managers and owners review and recognise if and when their office needs a health makeover. A stress and wellbeing survey released by the Australian Psychological Society in November, revealed 75 per cent of Australian workers believed stress was negatively impacting their physical health, while 68 per cent reported stress affected their mental health.
An arising new problem is sitting for long periods of time, which is now widely regarded as the new smoking. A study, published in 2012 in the journal Circulation, looked at 8800 Australians over several years and found those who sat and watched more television were associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and death, and suggested chronic disease prevention strategies could focus on reducing sitting time.
Excessive sitting, set at nine hours a day, was said to be a lethal activity. It’s a warning for white-collar workers, and it’s having an impact on the bottom line. Absenteeism, much of which is due to health and stress issues, is estimated to cost the economy $28 billion in lost wages and productivity each year.
Ken Buckley, chief executive of workplace health and fitness group Healthworks, says the key challenge for companies is making a business case for the health makeover. “What drives a business is dollars,” states Buckley. “The makeover has to be driven by the fact that it’s impacting on productivity, performance and morale, and the evidence is that if you put these programs in, it does have an effect.”
A lot of it is not only driven by the bottom line. Many companies are now realising it’s a way of attracting young talent. “The younger generation coming through is not prepared to work 50 to 60 hours a week,” Buckley said. “They want some kind of balance where their health and well-being is taken into account and where they do offer those kinds of programs.”
Management plays a crucial role, he continues, “If you have a toxic workplace, you can have the best wellness program in the world, but if people are expected to come in and work unrealistic hours and achieve unrealistic goals that will have an impact on mental health.”
“We will tell a company we will help with the wellness program, but they also have to look at the culture. You can’t put a wellness program into a toxic culture or a culture that doesn’t support this kind of thing. It needs to be supported by management, not just dollars-wise, but also participation,” says Buckley.
There are many different strategies on offer depending on the budget of your business. Low budget measures include flexible work hours, supporting physical activity breaks during the work day and promoting walk routes close to the workplace. Other effective low cost ideas include posting signs at the lifts encouraging people to use stairs, providing bike racks and liaising with local fitness centres to get people discount memberships.
For something a little more extensive and a larger budget, activities include providing onsite fitness classes, setting up a gym or exercise facility, bringing in an exercise physiologist to perform simple fitness tests, classes or give regular motivational fitness talks onsite. Other methods might include promoting frequent breaks. Stepping away from a difficult problem or project for a moment can clear the mind and allow the employee to refocus.
Alternatively, companies can also consider cutting back on long hours or introducing more flexible working times, increasing ventilation (because air quality has a big impact on concentration, disposition and overall health), running stress management classes or investing in ergonomic chairs.
In today’s busy world, health cannot be put on the back burner and companies must be more aware than ever of their employees well-being needs. Managers and owners need to review their current strategies to see if absenteeism, productivity levels and stress are affecting their business’ success. Implementing a wellness plan, will not only improve the quality of life for your workers but also boost workplace moral and motivation. It’s really an investment in your company’s future as you are ensuring your employees will be happy and healthy in their work environment.