Workplace wellness – making the workplace a healthy, happy space

Corporate Wellness Week is observed in the first week of July (1-7). With this in mind, Paula Pienaar explains why workplace wellness is of vital importance.

What is corporate wellness?

Corporate, employee or workplace wellness refers to the physical and mental well-being and health of employees, their work environment and workplace culture. Understanding the significance of this concept begins by addressing the health needs of our working population.

State of the nation’s health

Recent data from Statistics SA show that 56% of all deaths annually are attributed to chronic diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes and stroke. In fact, Type 2 diabetes mellitus is now the second most common cause of death in South Africa (5,4%), after tuberculosis (7,2%)1. The prevention and management of such chronic diseases can be largely accomplished by managing associated health risk factors which include hypertension, high blood sugar levels, high cholesterol, excess body weight and lifestyle behaviours, such as smoking, physical inactivity, poor dietary habits and poor sleep health. One estimate is that eliminating these health risk behaviours would make it possible to prevent 80% of heart disease, stroke, and Type 2 diabetes mellitus, and even 40% of cancers2.

Using the workplace to improve the nation’s health

Recent economic statistics show that 44% of South Africans are employed3 and on average, South Africans who work full-time spend more than one-third of their day, five days a week, at their workplace. It is therefore not surprising that the workplace provides an opportune setting through which a large part of the population can be helped through workplace wellness programmes. Employers have a responsibility to provide a safe, hazard-free workplace for their employees and also the opportunity to foster a happy, productive working environment by promoting a healthy lifestyle.

Workplace Wellness programmes (WWPs)

Healthy employees are more productive and have the lowest cost to organisations. WWPs therefore aim to prevent the development of chronic diseases and support employees with existing chronic medical conditions. Another way in which employees can be supported is by creating a work environment that encourages healthy lifestyle behaviours, such as having quality short breaks away from the desk, physical activity, good nutrition and no smoking. Successful, effective WWPs therefore have significant benefits to the organisation and to employees.

Workplace wellness is beneficial to:

The Organisation

The Employee

Reduces productivity loss. Reduces risk for premature death.
Reduces risk for short-term disability. Reduces risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancers, back pain, and high cholesterol.
Enhances mood and job satisfaction. Results in greater job satisfaction.
Enhances work performance. May increase annual income.
Reduces healthcare spending. Lowers debt.
Lowers employee turnover rates. Lowers long-term unemployment.

Workplace wellness – the key to a healthy, happy and productive workforce

Workplace wellness is among the most vital investments that a company can make. Businesses that start WWPs aren’t only investing in the physical wellness, safety, and mental health of their employees, but are also taking preventive measures by creating a healthier environment. A recent scientific review concluded that well-designed, comprehensive WWPs have the potential to improve heart health and to reduce mortality and disability resulting from cardiovascular disease and stroke4.

5 evidence-based strategies that have shown to work in successful WWPs:

  1. Wellness screening days (height, weight, waist circumference and finger prick blood tests).
  2. Healthy lifestyle programmes (e.g. smoking cessation, weight loss, fatigue management, and diabetes programmes).
  3. Covering or minimising co-payment of lifestyle-related health programmes.
  4. Onsite exercise facilities and informative health talks.
  5. Fully covered flu vaccinations.

Making workplace wellness enjoyable

Participation in workplace wellness initiatives may often be poor. However, research has shown that by involving employees in the roll-out of such programmes through interest-based surveys and good communication strategies, companies can play a significant role in changing employees’ attitudes to work from a dreary obligation to an exciting health-enhancing part of their day.

Strategies that organisations can take to improve 3 pillars of performance – nutrition, physical activity and adequate rest:

  1. Nutrition
    1. Review the catering menu and vending machines to gently introduce healthier options.
    2. Coordinate a ‘healthy snack of the month’ club.
  2. Physical activity
    1. Arrange for bicycle racks and provide ‘bike to work’ promotional materials.
    2. Make the area around the office building conducive to walks and try to move your meetings from the boardroom to walking paths (walking meetings).
  3. Sleep and fatigue
    1. Invite a sleep health professional to a ‘lunch and learn’ session.
    2. Create a workplace with adequate natural lighting and low noise levels.

For more information, please visit eohworkplacehealth.co.za

MEET OUR EXPERT - Paula R. Pienaar

Paula R. Pienaar
Paula R. Pienaar (BSc (Med)(Hons) Exercise Science (Biokinetics)), MSc (Med) Exercise Science) is the scientific advisor to EOH Workplace Health and Wellness, and a PhD candidate at the University of Cape Town. Her scientific research relates to sleep health and managing daytime fatigue to improve workplace productivity and lower the risk of chronic disease. Her thesis will identify the link between sleep and cardiometabolic diseases (Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease) in South African employees. She aims to design a tailored sleep and fatigue management workplace health intervention to improve employee health risk profiles and enhance work productivity. Contact her at [email protected]

References:

  1. Statistics South Africa, Mortality and causes of death in South Africa, 2015: Findings from death notification. 2017: Pretoria:SSA.
  2. Lloyd-Jones DM, Hong Y, Labarthe D, et al. Defining and setting national goals for cardiovascular health promotion and disease reduction: the American Heart Association’s strategic Impact Goal through 2020 and beyond. Circulation. 2010;121(4): 586-613
  3. https://tradingeconomics.com/south-africa/employment-rate
  4. Fonarow GC, Calitz C, Arena R, et al. Workplace wellness recognition for optimizing workplace health: a presidential advisory from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2015;131(20): e480-e497.