Wellness in the Workplace

wellness

ˈwɛlnəs/

noun

the state of being in good health, especially as an actively pursued goal.

 

 

The recognition of wellness as a vital prerequisite to a healthy workplace is that which has risen in importance in recent years. There has been much in the news regarding those who feel overwhelmed and anxious about their time at work, with studies from companies such as Vitality Health and PwC examining this.

The former’s 2017 findings on Britain’s healthiest workplace painted a distressing picture of the stresses on Britain’s workforce. It found that:  

– 31 additional productive days per year was lost due to moderate or severe depression (an increase from 23 days over the past 5 years).

– 30.4 days were lost each year in the U.K. due to absenteeism and presenteeism.

– Nearly 30% of U.K. workers slept for less than seven hours each night.

Depression is a medical illness that impacts your day-to-day life, causing feelings of sadness and/or disinterest in activities once seen as enjoyable. Relaying this, or any mental health symptoms to anyone can be hard, but doing so in the context of a workplace is difficult, given the risk of doing so.
A report published by PwC in 2017 noted that 2 in 5 employees said they had taken time off work due to their health concerns, however ‘of those who had taken time off work for health reasons, 39% said they did not feel comfortable telling their employer about the issue’. The politics surrounding sensitive work conversations is stifling, quashing the need for support and honesty when dealing with issues such as an employee’s mental health. Doing so runs the risk of one’s health to deteriorate further, and only perpetuates the cycle of painful silence.

Anxiety and depression go hand-in-hand; both offering the sufferer a place of mental discomfort and stress. Anxiety is what partly causes both absenteeism and presenteeism. The former is when an employee stays at home without a ‘valid’ reason (e.g: doctor’s appointment), whereas the latter is where said employee comes to work but is unproductive. A presentee employee is one that fears job insecurity, making an effort to stay behind after work in order to seek affirmation and reassurance.
The unspoken pressure to over-perform at work is growing increasingly prevalent, something that has been perpetuated and sustained by the startup culture. Said culture encourages a ‘work hard’ and ‘sleep faster’ mentality – one that is lonely and, at times, crippling.
A blog post by James Routledge, founder of Sanctus, went viral when he spoke of the need for mental health to be accommodated for in startups, as 90% fail within the first year. As a result, there is an increased pressure to succeed; a pressure that is ‘bestowed’ upon its employees, as securing partnerships and funding is all the more important as failing to do so could signal the end of the company.

Researchers at think-tank Rand found that employees who slept less than six hours a night lost ‘six more working days through absenteeism or presenteeism each year’, than those who slept seven to nine hours a night.
The percentage of those sleeping for less than 6 to 7 hours has increased from 26% in 2014 to nearly 30% just four years later shows a growing pressure for workers to stay ‘on’ once they’ve left the office. Companies have made more of an effort to dissuade their employees from doing so, but the use of smartphones and and an instantaneous culture means that sometimes it can be difficult to truly leave behind work once one has left the office. Large companies have gone some way to reverse this, through discouraging its employees to send after-work emails, and opening spaces where individuals can nap, rest or just escape from the intensity of desk work.

 

Wellness and ways of practicing it are not privileges, but rights; rights that all companies regardless of size need to have as part of their ethos. The long-standing stigma surrounding mental health, perpetuated by wider society, coupled with the expectations of work/lack of open dialogue within the office has led to the concerning statistics featured above.
It is clear that a change in attitude, behaviour and culture is so desperately needed to avoid a society that has inadvertently subscribed to the ‘burnout’ culture, if we haven’t already done so.