The working environment is becoming increasingly complex to manage. The lines between working and non-working are blurring. There is a constant pressure to perform, and this is having a dramatic impact on the health of millions of Australian workers.
According to DHS, in 2016, absenteeism increased to 9.5 days per employee, at an average cost of $3608. (1) For an ASX-200 organisation, this could mean tens of millions of dollars paid to absent employees every year.
Furthermore, a national survey from Comcare found that “the healthiest employees are almost three times more effective than the least healthy, with the healthiest employees working approximately 143 effective hours per month compared to 49 effective hours per month by the least healthy.” (2)
It’s not merely sick-leave that damages organisations, it’s also health-related inefficiency.
A simple understanding of physiology makes this finding obvious: An unhealthy brain (and body) functions less effectively than a healthy brain.
To improve employee wellbeing requires more than just motivational posters and a fruit bowl in the lunchroom. Optimum health and fitness require a specific program designed by trained health professionals – one that educates staff on nutrition, exercise and lifestyle.
The evidence for large-scale wellbeing programs is coming to the fore. Comcare also reported “There is a wealth of emerging evidence indicating that successful health and wellbeing programs provide an excellent return on investment. For instance, one meta-evaluation looking at the economic return of worksite health promotion programs found on average programs (2):
> decrease sick leave absenteeism by 25.3%
> decrease workers compensation costs by 40.7%
> decrease disability management costs by 24.2%;
They concluded: “Global research has found that when employee health and wellness is managed well the percentage of engaged employees increases from 7% to 55%. This research also found self-reported creativity and innovation increases from 20% to 72%.” (2)
Considering the above findings, it’s clear there is a strong link between company success and the wellbeing of its employees. This is why I’ve partnered with my old cronies at 5th Element Wellness, to build the corporate world’s first holistic 12-week health and fitness program, The Ultimate Reboot.
Let’s dig deeper into the most important factors that promote employee wellbeing.
No topic on health is more controversial than the food we eat. The combination of emotional bias mixed with fad diets and marketing gimmicks means that navigating the world of nutritional science is more complex than ever. It’s important to receive advice from professionals who have achieved results with clients thousands of times.
The purpose of a nutritional program is not to starve the body with the old adage, calories in versus calories out. A well designed nutritional program attempts to increase nutrient density of the body’s tissues, which creates a much better environment for optimal physiology to occur.
Counterintuitively much of the time, the more nutrients we eat, the more body fat we lose. This is because we experience better hormone function, optimal neurotransmitter balance, enhanced blood flow and digestion and much more.
The primary focus should be on the right types of food, not just on how much.
With the perfect meal plan, we can expect to experience a focused mind, positive mood, better digestion, improved sleep, consistent energy levels and of course a trimmer waistline. The importance of good quality nourishing food is essential for optimal health for Australian workers.
Tip: Beginning a working day with a nutrient dense breakfast containing high fat and protein with minimal carbohydrates will ensure stable blood sugar levels throughout the day. Eating this way leads to enhanced focus, productivity and mood.
A Focused Mind
A focused mind means a worry-free mind. We know this intuitively. When someone is worried or troubled at work, it’s near impossible to achieve any major goals for that day. This is due to a critical survival hormone known as cortisol.
This corticosteroid hormone actively shuts down the prefrontal cortex and instead diverts blood to the amygdala and muscles of the body. When we are in a state of constant fight, flight or freeze, we experience an inability to make clear decisions or even communicate effectively. This can have a catastrophic effect if compounded in the workplace.
According to Medibank Australia, “Stress-related presenteeism (employees showing up to work when they aren’t psychologically fit) and absenteeism equate to 3.2 days lost per worker per year.” (3)
This means that on average, an employee will have over three days of zero productivity, simply because they have too much on their mind.
Often, this can result in poor sleep and a compromised immune system leading to further sick-leave or ineffective working.
There are many useful ways to manage stress including:
Yoga, Qi Gong and Tai Chi
Spending time in nature
Maintaining a regular sleep pattern
Eating healthy food
Listening to music
Being around loved ones
Writing in a daily journal
While it sometimes may seem like a chore, it is essential for employees to engage in non-work activities they enjoy so that they can be more engaged and fulfilled in their work environment.
We have evolved over millions of years, interacting with nature, swinging from trees, climbing rocks and swimming. Today, however, we’re far removed from our natural human environment. We now sit in a chair, hunched over a desk, under artificial light, breathing stale air, wearing restrictive clothing and experiencing a cascade of stress hormones. Our food is grown, harvested, processed and packaged for us, often hundreds of kilometres away. Our need to walk hundreds of kilometres each week is outsourced to motor-vehicles and other transport. We no longer move how we use to.
Our society believes that spending three hours per week dedicated to movement is healthy.
However, this is not enough. Our best client results have come when they have moved more often. The more often someone is moving, the more body fat they lose and the more energy they have. It has become evident that the more movement you integrated into the day, the livelier you become.
So how do you approach including more movement into your life?
Start by walking more. Walk to work and back home; Walk to the supermarket; Walk while taking a phone call; Walk to pick your kids up from school. By walking more, you will stimulate your metabolism, flush blood through your body, open your lungs, deliver nutrients to every one of your cells and most importantly, take a little time to stop and smell the roses.
Insight: When you’re not moving, your blood flow slows down, which creates an oxygen deficit in your brain. Increasing the amount of movement, you perform each day can dramatically improve neurochemical balance, resulting in enhanced cognitive performance and feelings of positivity.
A Sound Night’s Sleep
The key to health is the circadian rhythm or our sleep-wake cycle. We have evolved to fall asleep just after sunset and wake up just before sunrise. In today’s modern world this normal rhythm has been altered, and we either don’t get the right sleep or don’t get the right amount of sleep.
How much sleep do you need?
Sleep regulates about 15-20% of your entire genome, meaning your genes can turn on or off with sufficient levels of sleep. When you deplete your body of sleep over the long term, you can experience severe ill effects ranging from lethargy and depression to psychosis and death.
Research has shown that a minimum of 7-8 hours is required for optimal brain function, sex hormone production, fat loss and prevention of certain diseases such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes. (4)
To support proper sleep rhythms one can implement the following:
Spend 5-10 minutes meditating or listening to quiet music before bed
Ensure adequate exposure to nature to promote healthy brain waves
Eat adequate amounts of food to stabilise blood sugar levels
Avoid social media, television and other forms of blue light exposure at night
Exercise and move often
Purpose and Engagement
87% of the world’s workers are disengaged. (5)
As humans, we have a sincere desire to feel needed and purposeful. Believe it or not, this adds to our sense of wellbeing and can dramatically affect our health. As we discovered previously, our health and wellbeing affect our engagement in work-related activities.
After years in a role, we may feel a sense of stagnation or lack of growth, which can affect our motivation and productivity. Thankfully, working toward any goal boosts our motivation in all other pursuits. This makes optimum health and wellbeing a worthy ambition for employees of large organisations.
To generate engagement, it is essential to focus on setting goals and measuring results.
This can be done with a daily journal coupled with moments of deep introspection. With a clear goal, or path, we have a direction and feel purposeful. By measuring our results, or progress, we continually remind ourselves of our ambitions and further increase motivation. It’s a positive feedback loop.
Case Study: The Ultimate Reboot partnered with Telstra to deliver an employee well-being program across many sectors. The program produced excellent results and lessons for all participants however the sector that performed the best had a greater sense of purpose and engagement. This high-performing group was led by an executive director of staff at Telstra. The team had a much more significant sense of program engagement because their leader was highly engaged and highly committed. It’s clear that leadership positions in the workforce play a substantial role in the decision making that impacts the rest of the staff. To ensure greater employee engagement, focus at the top.