It's not news to anyone that we’re all too busy, we’re time poor, we’re too sedentary, we don’t get enough exercise and many of us don’t get enough sleep or eat well. We’re constantly bombarded with information about what we should and need to do to improve our wellbeing and health but for some reason we’re not doing it.
What is even more interesting to me is that despite the recent reports from PwC and Australian Psychological Society, that clearly indicate the strong financial return on mental health, corporate health and workplace wellbeing programs, employers are still slow on the uptake to make changes in their businesses and make the sound investment of backing their most valuable asset - their people.
The Australian Psychological Society’s Stress and Wellbeing Survey 2013 indicated that Australian workers had significantly lower levels of wellbeing and significantly higher levels of stress and distress, and depressive and anxiety symptoms than in previous years. More than seven in ten Australians reported that their stress impacts their physical health and working Australians reported significantly lower levels of job satisfaction and interest in their jobs.
PwC’s report ‘Creating a Mentally Healthy Workplace’ shows that for every $1.00 spent towards improving employee mental health, a company receives on average $2.30 in benefits. Its hard to understand why more companies, especially those where their employees are in high stress roles, are so hesitant to change their culture and to start creating the kind of workplaces that foster health and wellbeing for their employees and in return a better bottom line on the Profit and Loss.
Not only are companies missing out on the return of investing in their people, they’re also exposed to high attrition rates, increased recruitment costs and workplace accidents and injuries that result from workplace stress and unhealthy employees. Medibank Private reports that each employee is absent a total of 3.2 days per year as a result of workplace stress and unhealthy employees are estimated to take on average 9 days more sick leave compared to healthy employees.
I recently approached a major industry body with the idea of providing a short corporate wellness session, that would occur within a ‘Wellness Lunch’ event that they were organising. Their event was hosting several high profile speakers who were talking about wellbeing, the stressful nature of the industry and, I quote how to bring about 'paradigms shifts, strategies and coping mechanisms and more’ in respect to wellness in the Property Management industry.
Interestingly my idea wasn’t embraced with open arms as I anticipated. I had thought an industry event advocating wellness would be the perfect opportunity to practice what they were preaching, to walk the talk…so to speak. The feedback I received was that they didn’t want to make anyone ‘feel uncomfortable’ or place anyone ‘outside their comfort zone’ by presenting a session that may be seen as unconventional or unusual. I wasn’t proposing that we all stand on our heads or break out yoga mats and take to Warrior 1, my sessions bring Mindfulness and Movement together, based on Qigong and Tai chi, combining slow stretches and gentle flowing movements, all of which can comfortably be done in business attire from a standing position. I was informed that the idea of asking everyone to stand and to raise their arms above their heads would be seen as too ‘alternative’ and that they (the industry body) were worried about how they would be perceived and the potential repercussions of advocating something ‘different’ like what I was suggesting.
This would be laughable if it wasn’t so sad. What we need is for industry bodies and people in leadership positions to help to lead the way to wellness, by not only advocating for it and talking about it, but by participating and being willing to pioneer new activities, practices and models into the workplace. It is rudimentary to simply talk about wellness, wellness comes from behaviour change and active participation. We need to start thinking about wellness as a verb not just some buzz word to throw around and have high profile speakers talk about at over indulgent lunches.
On a brighter note there are some organisations empowering their employees and teams from a grassroots level. There are self organising groups at Telstra that gather regularly to practice Mindfulness Meditation and corporate giant Ericsson have just partnered with Vimcore, a corporate wellness benefits tool that enables employees to seek wellbeing advice and find healthy local services.
We are spending more time than ever at work and the expectations and demands of our jobs and careers are now taking up the majority of our time. Studies show that bringing health and wellbeing practices into the workplace gives employees a better sense of work/life balance, better equips them to handle stress and helps them to better connect with their colleagues and clients. If companies want to get the best out of their most valuable asset its time to do away with the archaic model of all work and no play in the workday and begin bringing life and health into the everyday workday through approaching wellness as a verb.
Nicole L Betts
Nicole Betts is an internationally accredited Qigong & Meditation Teacher, Fitness Instructor and Holistic Health Coach.