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Should one of your employees have a physical or mental health problem, I would argue that it is as much something for the employer as the individual to contend with.
A recent Philips study revealed that more than 80 per cent of patients believe employers bear at least some responsibility for preventing poor health — 88 per cent of healthcare professionals agree.
Compassion, together with contractual responsibility for one’s workforce, is a mark of a top employer. Every cent we invest in keeping employees safe and well in the workplace is as vital and considered as any investment in our business.
Given the amount of time employees may spend at work, it is not realistic for us to cram all our “healthy” living into our remaining waking hours.
Nearly a fifth of people surveyed in the study say “not having time” was the main reason for not doing more to manage their health. We need to enable employees, wherever possible, to capitalise on pockets of time during the day.
The study also shows just over two-fifths of people believe stress has the most significant impact on their health. Work can be stressful and the workplace should offer people chances to change and reinforce behaviour that supports a healthier life.
Small changes, over time, can make a difference. Employers can assist employees in looking after their health by giving guidance on energy management, sleep and healthy eating, working relationships and helping maintain a sense of purpose at work.
All are vital in wellbeing.
Many activities start on a very local level, often thanks to employees, and we highlight these in our other areas of operation around the world. This keeps things relevant for employees and helps meet their needs, wherever they live and work.
It helps to start simple and build on progress. A bowl of fresh fruit next to the drinks machine or water fountain may reap easy dividends. Organised strolls at lunchtimes or other company-sponsored events can get people outdoors. Once that fruit bowl needs refilling daily — or the lunchtime stroll becomes a regular event — a start can be made in offering employees things they need to more actively manage their health.
That might mean encouraging workplace exercise; offering sit-stand desks and flexible workspaces — or communal areas that encourage walking, face-to-face interaction and collaboration. Offer classes in movement and dance, sleep or nutrition and meditation, and take steps such as install a health kiosk — the kind that measures your weight, height, BMI and body fat ratio. Wherever Philips has installed the kiosks, more than half our staff have used them. Nearly the same number return for repeat tests.
We have seen that when people are valued at work, self-esteem grows. That is as vital as any gym or medical care programme. Mental health problems affect all of society but often remain hidden. So it is important to look beyond absentee or employee performance data to identify possible signs.
Managers have an essential role to play in this.
Large and small companies alike can establish employee assistance programmes that promote benefits like courses in mindfulness, working relationships, work-life balance, financial planning and emotional resilience.
It is vital that a company’s culture shows a willingness to invest in employee wellbeing, with no stigma or penalty attached to prioritising good health. The Philips study shows that almost a fifth of people who never visited a healthcare professional when they had a medical reason to do so said they were “uncomfortable taking time off work”.
For employers, this should wave an immediate red flag. Even given the wholly negative effect on morale, it is a reliable indicator that productivity will be suboptimal.
Concrete targets concentrate the mind. There is a saying that careers, relationships and health are like three balls each of us has to juggle. The career ball is made of rubber and can bounce back, even when dropped — the other two are of glass.
All of us have a duty to help our employees juggle with care.