Workplace Wellness

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When your employees are healthy and fit, they are less likely to be absent from work due to illness and more likely to be engaged in what is going on around them. This module will explore the concept of workplace wellness and how to promote it in your organization.

Wellness Behaviors

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When you apply techniques to your own life that model wellness, your employees notice. There are three important wellness behaviors that we should all focus on: 

  • Healthy eating
  • Exercise
  • Life-work balance 

Of course, managers can be just as far off the “healthy living” track as anyone. Just remember that your people are watching you, and that whatever behaviors you do exhibit, they will note.

Wellness Trends

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Wellness is not just about feeling good, and it isn’t about the employer taking full responsibility for their workforce’s health either. However, people are looking for workplaces that respect that they have a life outside of work, and that also make efforts to keep them healthy. 

Wellness addresses the psychological, cognitive, and physical health of your workforce. This includes issues that can originate at work and at home.

There are two major concerns for workplaces right now. The first area of concern is preparation for pandemic illness such as influenza. An example is the SARS outbreak in 2003 where the World Health Organization and health care providers around the world have researched, planned, and established pandemic plans. Workplaces must be prepared for pandemic illness on many fronts, since an outbreak of any magnitude can have significant implications on their business. 

The second area of concern within the scope of wellness is mental health. People tend to use the word “stress” very casually, and yet the effects of negative stress, over time, can have tremendous impact on people’s lives, and the work that you are trying to complete. While positive stressors can enrich our lives, the ongoing presence and pressures of negative stress can lead to mental and physical illness.

The Case for Wellness

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Why worry about workplace wellness? Well…

  • Wellness programs, by their nature, can result in improved employee engagement and morale. A happy and healthy workforce is more productive. 
  • Increased wellness puts less demand on expensive benefit programs. 

Disability programs are demonstrating a shift from paying claims for primarily physical causes (for fractures, cardiac issues, or cancer, for example), to paying for mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. In addition, the cumulative effects of stress can have both physical and psychological effects. 

As people – our workers – continue to foster sedentary lives that are fraught with quick, processed food, and as the realization sets in for some of them that their lives need improving, the need for support provided by the workplace becomes more apparent. 

What can you do as an employer?

  • Focus on health promotion and prevention (for example, healthy food options and activity programs)
  • Provide training and education for supervisors and managers so they have tools to recognize when employees are at risk
  • Promote your EAP/EFAP
  • Undertake Health Risk Assessments
  • Maintain contact with absent employees and let them know they’re missed

What can you do as an employee?

  • Make your health a priority
  • Remember that you have a duty to be prepared for work
  • Participate in and comply with treatment 

Also consider: 

  • Is your employee (or, are you) in the right job? Are there needs for lifestyle or career changes that will help you to be successful? 
  • Of the five key stressors in life (relationships, work, health, crime/violence, and personal finances), the personal finance issue is five times that of the health stressors. (Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development [CIPD], 2003)
  • Up to 20% of the workforce is actively disengaged, meaning that they may be at work, but really not that into it. 
  • Early intervention, which includes recognition of issues, is very important. 
    • Talk to your employees, and more importantly, listen to them
    • Encourage employees to seek assistance
    • Be supportive
    • Be clear about concerns and expectations, and flexible with solutions 
    • Work with the employee to set goals; turning things around can be easier than you think
  • Your EAP/EFAP provider should be a tremendous resource. Many of them provide more services than just counseling, including:
    • Financial planning
    • Assistance with locating childcare
    • Nutritional counseling
    • Retirement planning
    • Wellness programming for the workplace

Case Study

Dean and Caitlin were the owners of a successful aerial photography business and had recently employed several new photographers and administrative staff members to help them achieve their goals. They travelled extensively in West Africa and were discussing their employees’ wellness needs and whether the Ebola outbreak would prove a serious threat to their business. Caitlin suggested they create a plan for managing wellness should a pandemic occur, and Dean agreed. He included the need for managing stress and mental health in their employees and themselves. Together they set up plan for managing employee health and safety and were happy they had this aspect of their business covered should worst come to worst at any point in the future.