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Why focusing on employee wellness is good for business and how to create a healthy culture in the workplace

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In Australia, over 90% of workers’ compensation claims involving mental health conditions are linked to work related stress. The most common causes of work related stress are work pressure; workplace harassment or bullying; exposure to workplace or occupational violence; exposure to a traumatic event; vehicle accidents; being assaulted and sexual or racial harassment.

Paul Henshall, CEO of ActionCOACH New Zealand and Australia, says that there are associated costs for business owners when they, or their employees, suffer from stress or mental health conditions related to it.

“Performance and productivity suffer when people are stressed, unwell or disempowered. In addition, there is greater absenteeism including sick leave, people tend to withdraw, culture and morale can be impacted, and staff turnover can increase.

“It is a vicious cycle when unhealthy work environments, create unhealthy employees who are expected to be productive, but find they can’t be. This impacts business. It is important for business owners to understand the link between employee wellness and a healthy, productive and well functioning workforce. Likewise, they should also be aware of their own stress levels and state of mental health, and how these affect their wellbeing at work, interactions with customers and staff, and their ability to run their business.”

Paul Henshall, CEO of ActionCOACH New Zealand and Australia

What should businesses do about employee wellness?

With the recent World Mental Health Day (10 October 2019), Henshall encourages business owners to put the spotlight on workplace wellbeing, not only this month but every other month of the year as well.

“A culture of health requires compassionate, engaged and positive leadership. When absenteeism is up, people are smiling less at work and there is a general lack of motivation, it is time to look at the environment and open up the lines of communication. Check in with your staff to find out if they are struggling with anything, be it physically or emotionally.

“There are psychosocial assessment tools available to companies that can help them to identify and manage issues that could affect employees’ health and mental wellbeing,” he says.

He recommends establishing a wellness committee to help open the channels for employees to discuss their issues and concerns, get their hands on useful information, and access resources for improving their health and wellbeing.

Often people have concerns or questions about their physical health, fitness and emotional wellbeing but they don’t have the motivation to consult with the relevant professionals about it. People also incur stress and trauma without knowing where to turn for help.

These issues can weigh heavily on people, affecting their personal relationships, productivity and general quality of life.

“Sometimes, all it takes is for someone to point them in the right direction,” says Henshall.

He offers these ideas for creating a healthy culture in the workplace: 

  • Confirm working to job descriptions to avoid role conflict.
  • Take the time to have informal conversations with colleagues. These help to build a sense of belonging and connectedness which promote wellbeing.
  • Promote preventive care by offering on-site flu vaccinations, for example.
  • Recruit experts to speak to staff from time to time about aspects of nutrition, exercise, physical health and emotional wellbeing.
  • Encourage employees to take their lunch breaks. Everyone needs time away from their desks to regroup.
  • If there is a cafeteria or lunchroom, make sure healthy options are available.
  • Keep hygiene top of mind by for instance providing soap in staff toilets and posters encouraging hand-washing.
  • Make fresh, cool drinking water accessible. This will help to encourage employees to drink more water and avoid the afternoon slump often brought on by dehydration.
  • Encourage employees to get up from their desks to walk and stretch for a few minutes a day. Sitting too long has a detrimental impact on the muscular skeletal system.
  • Recommend resources to help empower your employees make lasting changes to their lifestyles.
  • Implement programmes or incentives to entice employees to get active. This can be as simple as arranging entries to walking, running or cycling events for groups of employees to participate in.
  • Keep the thermostat temperatures on air conditioners within a 10-degree range of the temperature outside. Where possible allow windows to be opened to allow fresh air to circulate.
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