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Is your health and wellbeing important to you?

Maybe you’ve been told there’s a new health and wellbeing program on offer at work. Eight out of ten organisations globally now offer at least one element of wellness at work.

You’ve received the memos and the flyer telling you about the new initiatives and the CEO has advised how health and wellbeing is now a top priority for the organisation.

But you don’t know much about it, you’re not sure what it entails, and you’re not convinced that this isn’t just a way that the leadership is making themselves feel better for being seen doing the right thing.

Because while you know that getting your cholesterol level checked is important but what’s really worrying you is the amount of daily stress you’re facing, outmoded processes and being treated like a machine rather than a human.

You tell yourself that with work currently so busy, you doubt you would have the time or the energy to participate anyway. By the time you get home each day, you’re bushwhacked and the thought of going to the gym makes you feel even more tired.

You tell yourself you’ll start getting involved soon. Your best friend has already told you she’s enjoying the challenge to eat more healthily, get more exercise and is feeling better for it.

But somehow this just adds to your guilt and makes you feel more disinclined to investigate what’s on offer.

Workplace health and wellbeing is nothing new.

Workplace health and wellbeing is already a US$50 billion-dollar industry forecasted to grow to US$66.2 billion by 2027.

Legislation has been steadily introduced over time to keep employees physically safe. More recently legislation has added recognising and taking the appropriate action to rectify and mitigate the impact of workplace psychosocial hazards.

This is all good, however, many existing wellness programs continue to focus on the physical aspects of health only. While advocating for better self-care and healthy lifestyle choices do matter, they are insufficient on their own to counteract the major workplace challenges of loneliness, chronic high stress, mental exhaustion, burnout, and mental mood disorders including anxiety and depression.

The reasons for disappointing ROI on health and wellbeing programs so far include:

  1. The leadership assuming they know what their employees need and want
    But assumptions aren’t always correct. A few years ago, I met a CEO who had decided to provide his employees with a state-of-the-art yoga studio to be used before or after work to help alleviate their stress.
    The studio was much admired.
    And remained unused.
    The CEO was perplexed and frustrated.
    Until he realised that most of his employees were parents with small children who needed to be involved in school pickups and other family activities. They simply didn’t have the time to indulge in yoga, even if they’d wanted to.
    If he had asked what they needed, he would have learned that flexibility of start and finish times and having earlier access to next roster would have been far more helpful and a lot less expensive.
  2. An unsupportive culture. Giving a directive that health and wellbeing is now a top priority but without the time or opportunity to participate without being made to feel guilty are lip service to what is needed.
  3. A lack of trust in the system. If you enjoy your work and do your best, but any mention of having a mental health issue leads to a stony silence and inaction, you know you’re on your own to sort things out. Sadly, this can lead to further feelings of isolation, ongoing stigma and spiralling down of symptoms. 

A holistic approach is needed

The biggest obstacle to workplace wellbeing is the existing culture and the work itself.

If your boss is a jerk, did you know that can have ramifications on your risk of heart disease?

If you’re operating in a toxic environment, this not only can affect your performance and decision-making ability, but it can also put you at greater risk of developing a mental mood disorder.

If you’re now permanently working from home, feeling disconnected from the rest of the team, loneliness has been shown to be as bad for your health as smoking, drinking too much and not getting enough exercise

It requires leadership and a collective strategy

As humans, we love to be with people we like and consider like us.

Undertaking wellbeing activities on your own isn’t nearly as much fun or a challenge as doing something that includes your colleagues.

That’s why activities such as doing push-ups to raise money for charity, volunteering a couple for hours as a team to help at your local Foodbank builds social connection and promotes other healthy behaviours.

Leaders can lead the way by encouraging time-out, so everyone gets the downtime they need outside work, taking a mental health or recharge day when needed and time-in for regular conversations to chew the fat, voice concerns and share stories. When sharing emotions and experiences in a safe place becomes the norm, you get to tap into the existing wisdom and collective support of your colleagues.

Issues that might have initially appeared insurmountable, now feel less so.

It’s the daily actions taken that count.

Health and wellbeing matters. A lot.

Workplace health and wellbeing is good for people and good for business when undertaken in a sustainable and holistic way that recognises that a generic one-size fits all, won’t cover everyone and that everybody needs to have their voice heard, so they can contribute to the greater good of all.

Practising the art of kindness, being inclusive, seeking connection and showing empathy provide the foundation to creating a workplace founded on looking out for and caring for each other.

It’s the small things we do each day that often make the biggest difference.

What will you be doing today to take good care of yourself and your colleagues?

Dr Jenny Brockis

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and internationally board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, workplace health and wellbeing consultant, keynote speaker and best-selling author. You can now pre-order her new book ‘The Natural Advantage’ due for publication in October 2024.

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