Do workplace wellness programs help improve brain health? – HRM online

This article originally appeared in HRM

There’s a buzz in the air and it’s called workplace wellness. It’s easy to see why: There’s a lot wrong with the modern workplace, and the human cost of business is continuing to escalate at an alarming rate.

In 2015, the Australian Industry Group reported the annual cost of absenteeism to the Australian economy is $44 billion a year, or $578 per employee per working day lost, with a further $35 billion lost through presenteeism. Low morale, uncertainty of job tenure and increasing work pressure have all contributed to greater demotivation, cognitive fatigue, anxiety, depression and burnout.

While many of workplace wellness programs are full of good intent and high hopes, they are often fragmented and lack the holistic approach required to address the multifaceted problems many people face on a daily basis at work.

This is where adding cognitive health to the mix can make the biggest difference. Cognitive or brain health refers to the capacity to think well, even when under pressure, through having a fit and healthy brain optimised to work at its best. The three pillars of brain health leading to high performance thinking include:

1. Creating a fit and healthy brain

This is based on attending to the physiological needs of healthy nutrition, physical exercise, sufficient sleep and continual mental stretch. This provides the foundation for greater mental flexibility and agility.

2. Operating with a high level of focus

Meaning effective learning, greater mindfulness and healthy stress to help you work smarter – not harder – by adopting those workplace practices that use the brain the way it was best designed to be used.

3. Integrating, or getting on well with others

Great for collaboration, innovation, change ability and leadership. How we relate to others has always formed the basis of trust, empathy, shared values and beliefs.

How we feel is what leads to behavioural change. Telling people what to do doesn’t work; that’s why it is important to be clear about:

  • why a change is needed;
  • what benefit it will provide for them and the greater good; and
  • how to enable them to gain experience from that benefit.

Better brain health can be readily achieved by embracing the findings of the neuroscience that validate what has been shown to be effective and incorporated into every workplace wellness program. Better brain health and better thinking is the smart way forward for all brains at work.

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