According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the number of people suffering from chronic disease is increasing. In fact, 78% of all health spending in the US is attributable to chronic illness, most of which is actually preventable. In addition, the workforce is ageing. Employers who can afford group health programmes spend more and more each year. In the US, there are 5 214 work-related fatalities, and nearly four million occupational illnesses and injuries each year. This translates to $87.6 billion in annual employers’ workers’ compensation costs.
Work affects employees and their communities in profound ways, such as their health care options, emotional wellbeing, and family life. To fully address health and safety in the workplace, we have to address both what happens at work and outside of work.
Workplaces are opportunities for wellness. As well as the recognised hazards from which you must protect your employees, such as chemical exposure and lifting hazards, it is advisable to also (voluntarily) establish ‘wellness’ or ‘health promotion’ programmes to address employee health. This will give employees the opportunity to engage actively in efforts to:
- prevent disease
- promote better overall health
- lower costs
- increase morale and productivity.
In fact, the WHO states that the workplace ‘has been established as one of the priority settings for health promotion into the 21st century’ because it influences ‘physical, mental, economic and social wellbeing’ and ‘offers an ideal setting and infrastructure to support the promotion of health of a large audience.’
Where do I start?
Choosing and implementing a meaningful wellness programme can be daunting, as there are many different types of these programmes, with varying degrees of effectiveness. There also are a number of legitimate concerns, ranging from cost and privacy to how comprehensive or holistic the programme design is.
A common and important concern is that these programmes do not address workplace hazards, but rather focus only on individual factors. Evidence suggests that wellness programmes that emphasize correcting workplace hazards show greater participation rates than those that only focus on changing individual behaviour. Therefore, your wellness programmes may have a greater chance of success if you integrate it with your occupational health and safety (HSE) efforts. But how do you integrate wellness and OHS effectively and responsibly?
Why is integration important?
We all benefit from a healthy workforce. Employers see lower workers’ compensation, and higher productivity and morale are often also the result. And when workers are healthier, so are their families. Society will also bear a smaller burden of general health care costs in terms of supporting people with preventable disabilities, chronic illnesses, and injuries. A healthy workforce benefits society’s moral, economic, and overall wellbeing. There are multiple health hazards at home and in the workplace that overlap:
- Stress that results from work can intrude into our family lives and vice versa.
- Eating nutritious foods makes for a healthier, more productive workforce, yet access to healthy foods is often difficult in the workplace.
- Chemical exposures on the job can be brought home inadvertently on work clothes and expose family members.
These points of intersection suggest that our health cannot be fully addressed if we ignore either area of our lives. We may have an excellent opportunity in the workplace to influence overall worker health by addressing not just workplace hazards, but also general health issues. At the same time, ignoring workplace hazards in favour of individual health factors is not effective in addressing overall health. There are a number of ways to promote good health, but let’s start small with these eight basic tips to communicate to your employees or colleagues for healthier living.
Employee wellness: 8 tips for healthy living
Tip #1: Get physical
Exercise not only helps you build muscle, lose weight and gain self-confidence, but it's vital in maintaining a healthy heart. And, don't think you need to spend hours at the gym to achieve a new physical you. From strength training and cardio workouts, to walking the dog or taking the stairs – anything that gets your heart pumping will benefit your health.
Tip #2: Don’t let stress make you a mess
Over time, stress can lead to serious health issues, such as obesity, depression and even death. Wellness experts suggest that when you start seeing red, instead think blue – as in blueberries. Antioxidants found in the tasty fruit fight stress hormones. Also, don't forget to breathe. A simple technique of inhaling a deep breath for five seconds then exhaling for another five seconds can help clear your mind and enhance blood circulation.
Tip #3: Laugh out loud
Build your immune system through laughter. Health-increasing hormones, such as endorphins are released into your body when you laugh. Additionally, laughter works your abdominal muscles.
Tip #4: Eat healthy
We know we should eat healthy, and with new online tools it’s a no-brainer. A variety of online apps and programmes will help you to choose the ideal proportions or foods and food groups to eat according to your body size and structure. Alternatively, visit a recommended nutritionist or dietician for advice.
Tip #5: Get plenty of rest
Between work, family and extra activities, it’s sometimes difficult to get the necessary six to eight hours of sleep per night. Be sure to avoid caffeine or exercise right before bed. Instead, try reading a book or meditating.
Tip #6: Go to the doctor
Going to the doctor only when you’re sick isn’t going to cut it. For both your physical and mental wellbeing, it’s wise to have a routine annual physical examination, especially if your family has a history of health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes or high blood pressure. Getting regular check-ups can help prevent or detect serious health issues.
Tip #7: Yoga-tta do it
Yoga, an ancient practice of stretching and breathing techniques, has become a popular exercise for both men and women. In addition to releasing positive energy, yoga prevents injuries, promotes flexibility and can add relief to a stressful day. In fact, according to the book, Real Men Do Yoga, PGA golfer David Duval practices yoga every day. So, if it’s good enough for professionals, it may be an excellent addition to your weekly stress-relief routine.
Tip #8: You have the right to recreation
You schedule meetings and appointments each week, so why not schedule time for recreation? Be sure to set time each week for activities you enjoy. Whether it is dinner with family and friends, or taking the phone off the hook and curling up with a good book, be sure to block out time on your calendar with activities that you enjoy and will rejuvenate you.