The world we live and work in is changing at a rapid pace. Technology has reshaped everything we do from how we perform our jobs to how we interact with others. More and more it seems that technology is controlling us. Whilst there is an undeniable symbiotic relationship between us and technology, unfortunately this relationship comes at a cost. To appreciate this, we must recognise that although the human species was created to evolve to suit environmental conditions, we are not equipped to adapt at the rate of change commanded by our current environment, evolution takes millions of years.
Despite this, our body does it’s best to cope as we try to juggle all of life’s priorities; being a good parent, eating well, staying fit, socialising, studying, all while holding down a full time job with a growing expectation of 24/7 availability. It’s little wonder we are constantly ‘wired’ and that we struggle to unwind or find time for the simple things in life like admiring the blue sky, or breathing in some fresh air as we rush between meetings whilst simultaneously responding to the multitude of unread emails on our smart phones. The problems arise when this stress continues and our body’s Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) also known as the ‘fight or flight’ system (historically called upon only for short periods i.e. to flee from predators), becomes overactive and eventually dominant. SNS dominance takes a toll on the body, eventually presenting as physical and/or mental imbalances e.g. poor digestion, high blood pressure, anxiety, palpitations and insomnia to name a few and if left untreated may lead to more serious conditions.
This increasing human fall out is evidenced in Australia’s health statistics which highlight the increasing prevalence of lifestyle diseases and mental disorders. According to the Hunter Institute of Medical Health (2014), it is now said that each year one in five Australians will suffer a mental disorder.
So how do we help stop this trend? Unfortunately, there is no simple solution, but what I do know and that research backs up is that we need to find ways to support and improve our overall wellbeing. Whilst I am a big believer in people taking responsibility for their own wellbeing, I also believe that responsible and caring Employers have a critical role to play in this solution. Why? Because we spend one third of our adult lives at work and what used to be termed work-life balance has become a challenge of mutual work-life integration, making it more difficult for employees to achieve wellness goals in ‘their’ own time.
But why should an employer take a genuine interest in the wellbeing of their employees? There are many reasons, however I will focus on three:
Reason 1 – A proven link between happiness and success – Wellbeing or wellness is much more than the absence of illness, it is about the mind, body and spirit being in balance. Wellbeing can be defined as the state of being comfortable, healthy or happy but still today, many people are of the mindset that success is a precursor to happiness. In his book ‘The Happiness Advantage’ (2010), Shawn Achor clearly demonstrates that the opposite is true, he writes ‘Happiness causes success and achievement’ (p.42), in all aspects of life. Achor goes on to state that ‘positive emotions broaden the amount of possibilities we process, making us more thoughtful, creative and open to new ideas’ (p.44). Therefore Employers who can cultivate a culture of employee wellbeing and happiness are set to reap the benefits.
Reason 2 – Investing in health and wellbeing makes good business sense – Healthy workers are more productive than unhealthy workers (Comcare, 2012). Productivity however can be difficult to measure particularly when a worker is physically at work, however due to illness, other medical conditions or disengagement, is not fully functional – also referred to as presenteeism. It is estimated that presenteeism costs more than absenteeism (Toten, 2014) and reduces productivity by up to a third; however the true cost is difficult to measure. Unlike absenteeism, with presenteeism it is near impossible to tell whether or how much an issue is hindering someone’s performance, particularly when the matter is of a psychological nature. Furthermore, the impact on the health or satisfaction of fellow workers or customers also needs to be considered when estimating the full cost of presenteeism. Employers who genuinely support and invest in employee wellbeing will not only see an increase in productivity and a decrease in costs associated will ill health, other benefits such as a positive impact on workplace culture will ensure the returns extend beyond just a positive impact on the bottom line.
Reason 3 – Employee wellness programs are a pre-requisite for being an employer of choice – Becoming an employer of choice is something many organisations strive towards. Whilst a competitive salary remains a relevant factor in employee attraction and retention, employees are looking for much more from their workplace. In a recent national workplace health index survey, nearly 80% of respondents indicated they would rather be employed by an organisation that provides wellness support and programs. But be warned, simply introducing a few wellness initiatives such as a policy around flexible hours or reimbursement for gym membership fees just to tick a box won’t go far towards creating a culture of wellness and achieving the far reaching benefits that accompany a well workforce. Employers must offer genuine support and commitment to their employee’s wellbeing if they are to see a worthwhile return on their investment.
By Donna Benjamin – March 2016
Donna Benjamin is the founder of Holistic Human Resources and The Mindful Mob. Holistic HR specialises in corporate wellness and employee engagement and the Mindful Mob provides individual Wellness Coaching for those looking to achieve greater balance. Contact Donna now on 0490 324 250 to discuss how Holistic HR or The Mindful Mob can assist you and your business.