Impact of Employee Health & Wellness on Work

Now more than ever, it is important to consider the health and wellbeing of employees.

They are people first, and looking out for their health and wellness is an onus a good employer should undertake for no other reason than it’s the right thing to do. But there is undeniably also a business case for considering the impact that adverse conditions might have on productivity.

Benefits of a healthy team

There are benefits to having a physically and mentally healthy team. The World Health Organization (WHO) elaborates on occupational health and the advantages of workplace health promotion by stating benefits to the organization such as improved staff morale, reduced turnover and absenteeism, improved productivity and reduced insurance costs.

Importance

Employee health and wellness should be valued regardless of whether the work is taking place at home or in an office. Not only is occupational health and safety beneficial to the organization and the employee, it can contribute fundamentally to public health, as per WHO. Research has shown that major ailments such as heart disease use workplace health programs as part of the disease control strategy. As seen over the last nine months, a collapse in public health can impact the whole economy.

Factor on health: Stress

Below is a look at a powerful factor on health – stress.

Impact on the employee:

  • As per Boschi, Trenoweth & Sheppard (2017), stress causes an increase in the hormone cortisol, which affects crucial cognitive functions such as memory, attention and decision making. Constant disturbing and distressing news updates and uncertain futures during a pandemic has likely caused cortisol level to spike in most people due to the associated stress.
  • High levels of cortisol in the body can have short term affects such as irritability and fatigue, difficulty concentrating, headaches and digestion issues. Long periods of increased cortisol in the body can lead to more dramatic health impacts like a suppressed immune system, weight gain, anxiety and depression (Boschi, Trenoweth & Sheppard, 2017). Absenteeism as a result of stress can have an adverse affect on an organization.
  • Stress causes an increase in muscle tension, which interferes with normal coordination and motor function. Depending on the nature of the work, this can directly impact productivity if work is physical, or can more indirectly affect productivity in the long term by contributing to physical complaints like back pain, neck stiffness and/or wrist issues.

Tips to help:

  • Are you typically a more anxious or calm type of person? Being familiar with yourself and what makes you stressed is a good way to begin controlling stress so that it works for you, not against you! Workplace Strategies for Mental Health provides an abundance of self assessment tools for stress and exercises for stress reduction and deep relaxation. This resources also provides suggestion for healthy break activities, categorized by goals (calming, energizing or relaxing), so you can select depending on what you need that day.
  • Being open about the increase in stress due to the pandemic between colleagues can help employees realize that everyone is feeling the impact, maybe just in different ways. Encourage open dialogue amongst teams.
    • Starting team meetings off with quick check ins is one way to do this.
  • Promoting stress relief techniques such as frequent breaks, social interaction and physical activity. It’s known that cardiovascular exercise releases endorphins in our system, which is a natural way to relieve stress.
    • One way to do this: encourage your team to go for walks!
  • It is valuable to consider the ergonomics of an employees workstation or tasks, particularly important to review if staff are shifting to home offices for the foreseeable future. The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) provides a clear but thorough infographic to outline ergonomic recommendations that can be applied to a home office.
    • Try supporting your team in making ergonomic changes with a one-time home office allowance
  • CCOHS reinforces the connection between physical health and preventing pain, specifically low back pain which can develop from sedentary behaviour, prolonged sitting and/or poor ergonomics. They have created a FAQ sheet and exercise demonstration for healthy backs.
    • Share with your team!
  • Although stress can typically initiate a negative response, sometimes a little stress can positively impact productivity and output. For an individual who lacks motivation, a little stress might give the adrenaline he/she needs to really get engaged at work. From a work performance perspective, being totally stress free can mimic boredom and will likely also result in a decreased performance.
    • Encourage self-awareness in your team to understand their own stress better; finding balance is key!

Conclusion

To conclude, a restatement of the first sentences of this blog will suffice:

Now more than ever, it is important to consider the health and wellbeing of employees. They are people first, and looking out for their health and wellness is an onus a good employer should undertake for no other reason than it’s the right thing to do.

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