Tuesday 20 November, 2018

Why workplace wellness could be key to healthier society

Jamaica’s national healthcare bill is staggering: according to the World Economic Forum, our 2001 estimated cost (direct and indirect) for diabetes and hypertension alone was US$460,442,870 or 5.87 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product.

A World Bank study showed that the total economic burden on individuals, including indirect income loss, was estimated at J$47,882 million (US$641 million) annually during 2006 and 2007. Coupled with a failing healthcare system, this is a recipe for disaster.

The government has realised the need to turn things around, and has taken a few steps in the right direction. Their initiatives have included various public education campaigns over the years, the most recent of which is the Jamaica Moves programme. It’s a start, but we’re just scratching the surface, and the government can’t do it alone. All stakeholders need to do their part in this push for a healthier nation, and corporate entities are no exceptions. They must incorporate better health and preventative programmes that will support their most important assets - their employees, and by extension, their families. 

 

Workplace wellness is the key

Most HR managers I’ve interacted seem to equate workplace wellness with simply encouraging employees to eat better and exercise more. While they are not wrong, this is just the basics. Workplace wellness is viewed as “any health-promoting activity with the main purpose of encouraging employees to adopt healthy behaviour,” and while eating well and exercising are good behaviours,there’s a key area that is being ignored: the holistic aspect, which includes environmental, mental, emotional, spirituality, and social wellbeing.

Whether we want to accept it or not there is really no ‘home life’ and ‘work life.’ It’s all just ‘life,’ and our wellness is locked in an interdependent relationship. All the facets that underlie our state of wellness - mental and emotional, family life, relationships, spiritual, physical activity, experiences and values - accompany us to work, and they have some impact on our job performance. In the same sense, what we do at work affects what we do and how we are at home as well, ranging from stress levels, sense of wellbeing and purpose, to financial stability. When we can create some harmony and balance with both of these parts of life, our own individual wellness can be optimized.

The average person that is a part of the workforce will spend at least 90,000 hours working simply over a lifetime. If we also factor in the amount of time spent getting to and from work, we will realize that most of our time is indeed spent on the job. Improving wellness at work is now becoming a global movement, particularly in North America and Europe. Major companies like Johnson and Johnson, Google, Fitbit, Cannon, Virgin and Coca-Cola are among the pioneers.

 

 

Not a luxury, but a necessity

Wellness programmes do not have to be a big financial investment; neither is it only for large, publicly listed companies. Small and medium sized enterprises and those with limited budgets can also engage in employee wellness initiatives                                .

Workplace wellness is no longer being viewed as a luxury only for fortune 500 companies in first world countries, but it is now becoming essential for economic growth in all countries globally. Due to the hours spent in the workplace, it can be the ideal space to promote healthy behaviour and sustainable lifestyle practices, from improving eating habits, increasing physical activity, getting better sleep, and managing mental and social health. This helps employees to find that balance in a supportive environment. Just ask millennials, as several studies have indicated that they are no longer swayed by high salaries, but are seeking employment at entities that value their engagement and wellbeing. 

By providing education to employees specifically on how to improve eating habits, reduce stress, and increase healthy lifestyle activities like exercise, organizations will experience a myriad of benefits, including: reduction in chronic diseases, which accounts for 79 per cent of total deaths in Jamaica according to the World Health Organization; decreased health insurance costs, reduced absenteeism, increased productivity, increased efficiency and employee morale, and an enhanced workplace culture that may attract more talented employees and lead to less turnover.

“The numbers indicate that non-communicable diseases have the potential to not only bankrupt health systems, but to also put a brake on the global economy. Tackling this issue calls for joint action by all actors of the public and private sectors.” - Olivier Raynaud, Senior Director of Health, World Economic Forum

To chart a healthy future, local companies must recognise the need and take the opportunity to bring wellness to not just their employees, but customers and likewise other communities. Employees expectations are shifting as well, their consumption patterns and focus aligning with an improved quality of life. I predict that companies that can embed a culture of wellness will help to shift our society from a sickcare structure to a wellness and healthcare structure, while easing the burden on government.

Contributed by Meisha-Gay Mattis, founder of Bodhi, a Kingston-based holistic wellness company. She is a certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach and Personal Fitness Trainer. Email meisha@ourbodhi.com for more information or visit any of the following 

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