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What can employers do to improve employee health?

What can employers do to improve employee health?

Hands up: how many of you have set health-related goals for 2019? Perhaps it’s to eat healthier or undertake more exercise. Perhaps it’s simply to be more physically active around the office each day.

If you’re one of those who has prioritised their health in 2019, you are not alone. As the line between work and life continues to blur, there are increasing demands for employers to take a more active role in offering health benefits to employees. Apart from a desire to be viewed as a “good” employer, there are compelling business reasons to justify this interest.

According to a 2017 survey by Direct Health Solutions, 9.7 days per employee per annum are lost to sick days, costing the economy $34.1 billion. In New Zealand, according to a BusinessNZ report titled “Wellness in the Workplace 2017”, the figure stands at 4.5–5 days per employee, costing the economy NZ$1.51 billion. If that’s not scary enough, these stats don’t factor in working while sick – usually referred to as “presenteeism”.

Clearly, there’s a business imperative – not to mention a moral duty of care – to help employees improve their health.

Unfortunately, unless changes are made, the future is bleak. The “Workplace Safety Futures Report”[1] by CSIRO’s Data61, in partnership with Safe Work Australia, outlined how six megatrends, underpinned by advances in digital technologies and shifting employment patterns, may affect work health & safety and workers’ compensation in years to come. Two of these megatrends in particular indicate worrying signs for a healthy workplace:

  • Rising workplace stress and mental health issues. Both Australia and New Zealand’s workforces are registering increasing levels of stress and mental health issues. New and intensifying uses of digital technologies in the workplace may exacerbate problems with mental health and stress, but technology also presents opportunities to manage these issues.
  • Rising screen time, sedentary behaviour and chronic illness. The amount of daily screen time has grown for both adults and children and there is a continued drift away from manual jobs towards sedentary jobs. Rates of obesity, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and other chronic illnesses continue to rise.

Fortunately, there are simple steps individuals and employers can take to improve matters.

ELMO Cloud HR & Payroll, for example, has made health & wellbeing a key part of its employee value proposition. In addition to regular yoga and meditation classes (suitable for all experience levels), healthy snacks are provided and participation in events like Tough Mudder and City 2 Surf is encouraged. The adoption of activity-based work spaces, including standing desks and collaborative spaces, has also ensured more physical activity is built into everyday work for ELMOnians.

Sometimes, it’s the little things that matter the most. According to Dave Hall, Chair of the APA Occupational Health, building movement into your working day can be a big step towards increased health and productivity.

In an article for HRD[2], Hall offered the following advice for maintaining movement in the workplace:

  1. The simple act of just standing up every half hour and having a five second stretch can make an immense difference.
  2. Take phone calls standing. In fact, use phone calls as a trigger to stand and talk
  3. Drink plenty of water. Better hydration means more frequent need to go to the bathroom, as well as the need to fill up the water glass (i.e. plenty of short burst walking).
  4. Build a coffee / tea break routine into your day, e.g. coffee 10am, tea at 3pm. The body likes routine and after a while you will crave these breaks, which means they in turn will become an integral part of your work day.
  5. Walk over to talk to a colleague rather than sending an email.
  6. Form a group to conduct some general exercise; from a yoga class to a quick 15-minute walk. Anything is better than nothing, especially when you’re just starting out.
  7. Move the bin and printer away from work station areas so you need to walk to them when required.
  8. Make your meetings standing or walking ones. Some organisations resist the idea of walking meetings because they need whiteboards or audio-visual aids. However, there are often aspects of meetings where walking, and a change of scenery, will be helpful – and possibly even more beneficial – to the meeting outcome. If notetaking is required, allocate this to someone with a small mobile device or tablet which is easily carried, meaning no one needs to be anchored to the spot just to take minutes.
  9. Walk to and from work or the train / bus stop, or park further away.
  10. Embark on a team building event such as an obstacle race or ‘steps-per-day’ challenge.
  11. If you’re an employer, create an office geared towards movement. Activity-based work spaces promote versatility, movement and collaboration in the work place. They may include meeting pods where people stand, more collaborative meeting areas, flexible work stations that permit more standing and movement, for example.

Hall’s tips come off the back of a new study[3] of around 8,000 middle-aged and older adults, which found that swapping a half-hour of sitting around with physical activity of any intensity or duration cut the risk of early death by as much as 35%.

The findings highlight the importance of movement — regardless of its intensity or amount of time spent moving — for better health.

So, stand up from behind your desk, get moving, and make 2019 the year you get in shape!

ELMO Cloud HR & Payroll is Australia and New Zealand’s leading integrated HR and payroll solution, available through one vendor, one dashboard and one user-experience. For further information, contact us here.