The Health and Wellbeing Agenda: What Organisations can do to Help their Employees

Work is needed for psychological and physical health. It offers a prosocial environment where people can build relationships, work towards something greater than themselves, and be a part of a team. It is said that, without work, we become isolated, are predisposed to depression and anxiety, and have less life satisfaction and fulfilment. All in all, work is good for us.

That is, until it is bad for us. In some cases, work can make us ill. We suffer fatigue and exhaustion that can lead to burnout, a group of symptoms that the WHO have just labelled as a syndrome. Work can also lead to physical health problems such as musculoskeletal problems, carpal tunnel and repetitive strain injury. When working in an unsafe or ergonomically unsound environment, the physical health of the workplace can be compromised. Workers are put at risk from toxins, aches and pains, and psychological strain that can cost the organisation and economy billions.

Employees come in all shapes and sizes, so it is important that organisations don’t prescribe a one-size fits all approach to managing health. Organisations must ensure that they meet workplace health and safety requirements; the legislation which is set by each state. This includes adequate health surveillance to ensure that employees are not exposed to hazardous and toxic chemicals, as well as promoting healthy working practices. The new Mental Health First Aid, which trains staff members in how to identify common mental health disorders in the workplace, is an example of a positive change.

What Can Organisations Do?

An organisational well-being manager or consultant can be a helpful addition to any corporation. However, managers can also increase their knowledge of individual differences through ongoing training and development, ensuring they become more aware of the individual needs of their employees.

Employees work best in environments that suit their needs, and this alone should be enough to encourage organisations to make changes. To make the best use of the people in the organisation, I would advise managers to seek feedback from their employees about what works, and how their current practices support or detract from their employees’ ability to function optimally at work.

Fatigue and long hours lower workplace productivity, but so do self-medicating on booze or overeating to manage emotions. All of which many employees are prone to. By providing workplace training on self-care, sleep hygiene and nutrition, organisations can help their employees make healthier choices and take ownership for their wellbeing. That said, it is also important for organisations to work to remove structural level stressors at work, and not simply place the onus on their employees to manage health and wellness.

Fitness and Food and its Impact on Mood

Exercise and healthy eating are of paramount importance. Food is fuel. It also plays a fundamental role in our mental wellbeing. Without adequate nutrition, we’re prone to depression and anxiety, and simply cannot perform at our best. Lack of magnesium and B vitamins, for instance, can leave us feeling anxious and worried. Food, therefore, plays a pivotal role in mood. Without it, we can be prone to the classic case of hanger, turning from little miss nice into the incredible hulk.

Foods rich in the vitamins and minerals such as calcium, chromium, folic acid, iron, magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B16, vitamin B12, vitamin D, and Zinc are known for their happiness-boosting qualities and it is advisable to eat more of these. Exercise is also a good idea, as trials suggest that exercise has the same impact as anti-depressant medication on mild to moderate depression.

Exercise is known to switch on the ‘game on’ mode of our brain, which is linked to enhanced positive emotions, leading to greater productivity. The brain releases endorphins and Brain-Derived Neurotropic Factor (BDNF) is increased, resulting in better brain health, muscle tissue and the alleviation of symptoms associated with depression and anxiety.  Nutrients such as magnesium result in lowered stress and tension and the amino acid, tryptophan, is associated with serotonin synthesis, meaning greater overall levels of happiness.

Helping Staff Make Smarter Choices

Some of the ways you can encourage your staff to make healthier and smarter lifestyle choices are through the following:

Frequent meals: Eat little and often.

Choose friendly carbs: think oats

Protein: we need to ensure daily consumption of essential amino acids.

Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables: the more colourful the better.

Up your probiotic intake: this helps support gut health.

Recent studies have found a link between an unhealthy diet and mental ill health. Bad diets are therefore a risk factor in depression and anxiety, so supporting your staff is imperative to the overall wellbeing of your organisation.

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