As consultant in workplace wellness for well over 17 years, I’m amazed that even now, relatively few companies implement at least some basic wellness interventions for their employees. After all, employees are any company’s most important assets!

We live in a rapidly changing world – from the economic and social changes around us, to personal health and relationship challenges. The workplace is about making a profit, return on investment and the bottom line. If care is taken to provide employees with sustainable wellness tools and techniques, what better return on investment could there be?

This would equip them with techniques to manage their stress on all levels, learning how to access ways and means to manage their emotions effectively, and provide them with coping skills to become more resilient. This will ensure that employees who are productive and creative, use both sides of their brains for whole brain thinking and acting.

Stress and Wellbeing

We all know that work stress doubles our risk of dying from heart disease. Traditionally, we’ve been advised to stop smoking, cut down on drinking, eat healthily, and exercise regularly. More recently, research suggests that the prevention, mastering or management of work stress is just as crucial.

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in modern society. Employees with job strain, a combination of high demands at work and low job control, have excessive stress levels and more than twice the risk of death from heart disease, compared to employees who have low job strain.

The stress levels and risk for employees with effort-reward imbalance (low salary, lack of social approval, and few career opportunities relative to efforts required at work) were 2.5 times higher. High job strain also showed an increased total cholesterol at the 5-year follow up, while effort-reward imbalance showed an increase in body weight.

Can something be done about this?

Work stress is bad for your health. So is personal, financial and relationship stress. Not only does it double your risk for getting heart disease, long-term unrelenting stress can be the cause or exacerbating factor in almost any of our modern-day chronic diseases or ailments: from infections, cancer, skin problems, premenstrual tension, severe menopause, and back problems, to chronic fatigue, digestive system problems and lung disease.

Stress management is of the utmost importance to maintain health and wellbeing and restore a sense of serenity and peace while maintaining a creative, productive, healthy and happy lifestyle.

Expected results when implementing health and wellness programmes include improved productivity and creativity, higher levels of company morale, reduced absenteeism and presenteeism (employees being at work, but not optimally healthy or well), and improved day-to-day quality of working life for the employer and employee.

Many studies show that psychological and physical factors in the workplace, such as intense deadlines, poor interpersonal relationships, poor ergonomics, absence of a stimulating work environment and healthy work culture, as well as inadequate job descriptions, are also major contributors to employee absenteeism and increased health risk.

Mental health in the workplace

Depression affects more than 100 million people worldwide, being the second leading cause of disability among individuals aged 15 – 50. The World Health Organization (WHO) projects that by 2020 depression will be second only to ischemic heart disease as the leading cause of disability for all ages and both genders.

Aligned with this, research by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found that one in five workers has a mental illness, such as depression or anxiety. These conditions increasingly affect productivity in the workplace as many struggle to cope.

People with mental illness are often off sick from work, and between 30 – 50 % of all new disability benefit claims in OECD nations are now due to poor mental health. Policy makers need to find new ways to tackle the social and economic problems of mental illness because trigger factors, such as job insecurity and pressure in the workplace are likely to increase in the coming years.

The OECD further advised that most common mental disorders could be addressed, and employment chances could be improved, with adequate management. Health systems in most countries, however, were narrowly focused on treating people with severe disorders such as schizophrenia, which accounted for only a quarter of all mental diseases. The OECD commented that taking more common disorders more seriously would boost the chances of people staying at, or returning to, work. About 50% of people with severe mental disorders and more than 70% of those with moderate illness currently get no treatment at all.

The OECD urged policymakers to focus on providing good working conditions which would help employees reduce and manage stress and develop resilience. Systematic monitoring of sick leave and presenteeism will increase productivity and employee health and sense of wellbeing, while also helping employers to reduce workplace conflict and avoid unnecessary dismissal caused by mental health problems.

Proactive solutions

Wellness programmes empower the individual to recognise the danger signals of overdoing it and of living an unhealthy lifestyle, and educate employees about taking preventative measures to reduce the harmful effects of their habits and behaviour. Wellness educator training is a wonderful wellness intervention to achieve this through all layers of the workforce.

For further enquiries about Wellness Educator Training and Stress Management Programmes, contact Dr Arien van der Merwe on 067 116 6111 or Hermanus@DrArien.co.za, or visit www.DrArien.co.za

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