Keep Calm and Carry On: Workplace Wellness and the Work-Life Balance

By Mia Casey

Many companies have workplace wellness programs, designed to help staff stay healthy and maintain a high level of productivity in the workplace. Unfortunately, many employers (and employees) see these programs as a ‘ticking the box’ exercise that undermines many of the benefits of such initiatives. And this comes at a time where ‘76% of the world’s workers still admit to struggling with their overall wellness’. This struggle with wellness is costly too, with absenteeism costing Australia roughly $7 billion a year, and presenteeism (where people go to work but cannot perform to their full capacity due to health issues) costing an estimated $34 billion a year.

A failure to properly provide for staff wellbeing can also be costly in terms of productivity, innovation, and staff retention rates. If employees are working without properly balancing their stress and wellness, then they are more likely to burn out, suffer adverse health effects, or feel that they need to move on from the company. Further, issues of stress and illness leading to absenteeism means increased pressure on remaining staff members which further exacerbates the issue. This shows just how important it is that we change the conversation about workplace wellness, shifting it from ‘is it a waste of time?’ to ‘how can we make this worthwhile for staff?’


Read more: Are Students Suffering in a Changing Job Market?


For students or recent grads looking to enter the full-time employment world, having an understanding of workplace wellness initiatives can help narrow down which organisations you might want to work for. It’s also a good idea to keep up to date on reports regarding the best places to work, so your decision of where to apply is also informed by the workplace culture (not simply the work itself).

So, who are most at risk of poor wellness outcomes?

Some employees are more at risk of falling into ill health or burning out than others. This can be due to a number of factors, from home life to a predilection to illness. However, there are a few categories of employee that may be more at risk than others.

According to Martine Beaumont, CEO of Select Wellness, ‘It’s often the highest functioning employees who drive themselves in often-unsustainable ways that are the least likely to make use of employee assistance programs and general wellbeing offerings’. This is particularly true if the programs are seen as unhelpful or a bad fit for the company itself.

“They are too busy for the workplace yoga class or mindfulness session and are annoyed if forced to attend”. (Beaumont, via Collective Hub)

Employees who have more introverted personalities may also struggle finding benefit in wellness initiatives. Some programs encourage more collaborative, group-based activities (such as yoga classes, some charity work, or mindfulness classes) that may make employees who prefer to work on their own uncomfortable. These particular activities are often based around the idea of relaxation and building team bonds, so if a person already struggles in these types of settings then such outcomes are unlikely to be achieved.


Read more: How to Manage Stress in the Workplace


Further, any employees with pre-existing illnesses or accessibility issues may struggle with some of the common wellness initiatives, such as standing desks, walking meetings, or treadmill desks.

Students are also vulnerable to poor wellness outcomes, particularly as their time is often stretched between university, work, and home commitments. Many part-time jobs students undertake while studying provide limited wellness initiatives, putting them at a disadvantage to other employees. Sound like you? Check out our recent post on student stress for some tips and resources on how to thrive in tough times.

How do workplaces ensure that wellness initiatives provide the desired outcomes?

It is the employer’s responsibility to ensure that any wellness initiative they implement are not done so via a simple ‘cut and paste’ approach. For example, the recent trend of introducing hot-desks may not be appropriate for many workplaces, with employees noting issues with ‘marginalisation, indifference and inattention to co-workers, loss of identity and decreased organisational commitment’, alongside a variety of other problematic outcomes.

Programs need to be tailored to the workplace and employees themselves, so as to best reflect the needs of those working for them. In addition, how such programs are introduced is also important – staff should know that any changes made have been done for their benefit, and because of a genuine respect for their wellbeing. As such, consultation with staff members can be a pretty effective approach.


Read more: Work Stressing You Out? Here’s How to Deal


What are some common workplace wellness initiatives?

There are a number of wellness initiatives that employers can implement in their workplaces which can prove to be very effective when tailored to their staff. Examples include:

  • Flexible working hours
  • Charity work
  • Standing or walking meetings
  • Stocking the kitchen with healthy snacks
  • Wellness tools’ including standing desks, treadmill desks, or sleeping pods
  • Mindfulness classes
  • Group yoga lessons

It is important to note, however, that any group activities should only really be undertaken in workplaces where there is already closeness between co-workers, or else ‘it can be seen as a placebo’.

What can we do to improve our health?

Aside from undertaking tailored workplace wellness initiatives at work, it’s important that we monitor our own wellbeing, and be sure to maintain a healthy work-life balance. This is particularly important if you’re still studying, while trying to juggle work and a social life at the same time!

Aside from negatively impacting your home life, bringing work home can actually have a physical effect on your wellbeing. By continuing to work once you get home, you’re maintaining a level of stress in an environment where your body would otherwise go into relaxation mode. This means that you can’t recharge and recover from the activities of the day – increasing your risk of health issues:

‘It sends a message to your body to send out cortisol and other chemicals, and this tends to increase your appetite for sugar and fat, and decrease your ability to exercise’.

With some jobs, it can be near impossible to leave work and work. If this is you, ensure that you set a limited amount of time to spend on it, and complete the work in your study or another space that you would normally use for work rather than relaxation. Setting up this mental disconnect between your relaxation and work spaces at home is an important element in maintaining your work-life balance (especially when you’re in a situation where you need to bring work home on a regular basis).


Read more: How to Achieve a Great Work and Study Balance


Remember, it’s alright to take time out for yourself, regardless of how busy work (or study) gets. Workplace wellness programs still sometimes get a bad rep, but they are designed to help you set time aside for yourself, or make little changes that could prove pretty beneficial in the long run. If you’re a recent graduate and are currently looking for employment, keep in mind how well the companies you’re applying for treat their staff – there is more to consider in a potential employer than the industry they’re in or work that they do.

For UTS students who are currently struggling with the work-life balance, Batyr and ActivateUTS have teamed up for University Mental Health day to bring you UTS Timeout Day. With puppies, tarot readings, yoga, massages, and much more, it’s the perfect excuse to take some time for yourself and relax. We look forward to seeing you there!

 

Featured image courtesy of Pexels.

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Author: Mia Casey

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