How healthy is your workplace?


Did your parents tell you it is a sign of weakness not to be on top things all the time, if so then they were wrong! It is perfectly normal and OK not to be OK.

Health, in particular mental health, is one of Australia’s National Health priority areas. Last month on September 15th was RUOK Day that you hopefully all participated in. Monday 10 October was designated World Mental Health Day, with this year’s theme being ‘Investing in Mental Health’.  These days are designed to raise awareness and encourage open dialogue inside and outside organisations.

Every year more than one million Australians experience depression, anxiety or related substance-use disorders. About 2,100 people annually die by suicide and a further 30 is the estimated attempt to take their own life. These numbers are increasing at an alarming rate, so what is going on?

Workplace stress has been reported to be a large contributor to these statistics. Around 7.7 million people spend up to a third of their life at work, so it makes sense for many organisations to start to focus on overarching wellness, including mental health strategies if they are not already doing so.

In July 2011, Medibank released a discussion paper called “Sick at Work – The cost of presenteeism to your business and the economy”, which presented the following alarming statistics:

  • In 2009/10, the total cost of presenteeism[i] to the Australian economy was estimated to be $34.1 billion, growing by a further $1.7 billion by 2050.
  • On average, 6.5 working days of productivity are lost per employee annually as a result of presenteeism
  • Presenteeism as opposed to Absenteeism[ii]equated to a 2.7% decrease in 2010 GDP compared to a ‘no presenteeism’ scenario.
  • Private consumption – household spending on all goods and services – which accounts for 76% of total consumption in Australia – decreased by 3.3% ($22.6 billion) due to presenteeism.

The World Health Organisation reported 29% of Non Communicable Diseases (NDCs), such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes occurred before the age of 60 in low – middle income countries.  This number is on the increase due to the high levels of usage in tobacco, harmful use of alcohol, unhealthy diet, insufficient physical activity, overweight/obesity, raised blood pressure, raised blood sugar and raised cholesterol. Did you realise that 80% of premature heart disease, stroke and diabetes can be prevented?

Hot off the press this week from the Australian School of Business (ASB) is also an interesting read “When Your Job Makes You Sick: Employees Find Little Leverage in Today’s Workplace”.

So let’s look at this report presented as the 4 main causes of Presenteeism:

  1. Unhealthy Lifestyles
  2. Workers with illnesses going to work
  3. Allergies and asthma
  4. Poor work-life balance and high levels of job related stress.

So what can we do about it?

Solution Ideas for Organisations:

  1. Offer education forum for employees to grow awareness.  Potential topic areas could include healthy diet, regular exercise, benefits of not smoking and moderate intake of alcoholl
  2. Wellness Programme
  3. Relaxation techniques and tips
  4. Policy to send unwell colleagues home
  5. Health Risk Assessments
  6. Flu Vaccinations
  7. Regular communication and programmes
  8. Importance of a good nights sleep
  9. Campaigns, formal programmes and regular communication that support prevention of presenteeism.

Solution Ideas for Individuals:

  1. A healthy diet, regular exercise, not smoking and a moderate alcohol intake can decrease the probability of a chronic health condition.
  2. Send unwell colleagues home.
  3. Get serious about work/life balance and make a commitment to your family and friends that you will reform bad habits.
  4. Take regular short breaks and annual leave.
  5. Meditation, yoga or gentle stretching exercise

Have a confidant discuss matters with doesn’t judge you and offers a different perspective for you to consider.

By investing in preventative initiatives and focusing on the health and well-being of your employees, organisations can improve productivity and the bottom line profitability via reducing presenteeism and absenteeism.

This is a call to action for organisations and individuals to get into the wellness game. Everyone has a role to play in their own health, their family and friends, workplace colleagues and the community as a whole.

The old saying like breeds like, can easily translates to health and wellbeing.

Remember you are what you eat and what you think!

So how healthy are you? What are you going to start to do differently to become a healthier you?

[i] “Presenteeism is defined as the lost productivity that occurs when employees come to work but as a consequence of illness or injuries are not fully functioning. Presenteeism is largely thought to arise through fear of loss of income or employment. Employees that work when ill are more prone to injury and, if contagious, increase the risk of passing on an illness to other employees”.

[ii] Absenteeism is the habitual failure to go to work due to personal injury or illness. Reasons may include work related stress, chronic pain or chronic illness. Work-related stress accounts for one of the longest stretches of absenteeism.

  • As Interstate Removalists between Adelaide – Melbourne – Adelaide we move more than our fair share of offices / businesses between SA & Vic. One of the trends which we have seen first hand is the increasing number of businesses which encourage their employees to use the stairs instead of the lift. One company we moved into the 5th floor of an 8 level Melbourne CBD building even went as far as suggesting that when employees came to work in the morning they took the stairs up to the roof and then came back down to level 5. I’ve emailed them a link to this article in case they want to comment on how well their new “exercise at work” policy is working.