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Why the Workplace Is THE Solution to Population Health Crisis

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  • The workplace represents our BEST chance of affecting population health
  • Team efforts are more successful than solo ones
  • Good health is just as viral as poor health

The problem

Poor physical and emotional wellbeing has become a national and organizational crisis.

According to recent reports, 66% of adults are overweight or obese and up to 75% of the working population are chronically stressed - but why should businesses care?

Whilst HR departments have a pretty good idea of how much health can affect absence levels and health care costs, this represents just the tip of the iceberg.

Poor emotional and physical health can lead to a variety of performance crushing outcomes: chronic back pain, poor concentration, low energy levels, high anxiety, low confidence and ultimately low resilience and lower productivity.

There is a clear business case for making our unhealthy, healthy, but the benefits do not stop there.

A great majority of any workforce are failing to meet their potential - neither too ill to be absent or underperforming, nor well enough to thrive - this oft ignored majority will also be significantly impacted by a team based workplace wellness intervention.

So from an economic perspective, wellness in the workplace compels - but from an ethical perspective it provides a far more profound reason for a call to arms.

Heart disease, diabetes and cancer are responsible for almost 50% of total deaths worldwide - that includes your people and it needn't be so.

  • 80% of heart disease is avoidable
  • 80% of type 2 diabetes is avoidable
  • 40% of cancer is avoidable

There is a simple answer to reversing this trend AND increasing productivity, innovation and profits.

  • More physical activity
  • Smoking cessation
  • Better nutrition

The logical debate is very compelling - quit smoking, eat well and exercise and you will look better, fell better, perform better, sleep better and live longer - so why are people not doing it?

Because behavior change is hard - and even harder without support, trust, guidance and clarity.

This is where the workplace can steal a march.

Why the workplace

Isolated and unsupported attempts to change are easily abandoned when the first hurdle arises- and this is where the workplace provides the supportive network that can drive more effective participation and consistent engagement.

Humans are social by nature and respond positively to team based events and challenges, some like the competition whilst others like the support and shared experience a team event offers.

A team is greater than the sum of its parts and nobody understands this better than a business - where high morale and team spirit drive greater levels of innovation and productivity.

There are three key challenges within a behavior modification attempt, all of which can be better addressed within the work environment:

Participation, engagement and maintenance

Workplace driving initial participation

Getting started on a health plan is often the first barrier - but lack of education, motivation, confidence and awareness are all hurdles that can be overcome within the work environment.

Awareness

Lunch and learn workshops and targeted communications can raise awareness of numerous key health issues whilst representing an opportunity to build trust in the wellness approach and demonstrate care for employee health levels and work/life balance.

Excitement and fun

The natural network of a workplace enables you to build excitement around events and challenges - a key driver in participation levels. When an event or a challenge is exciting and co-workers are taking part this massively increases the likelihood of participation.

Advocacy

Health is viral - once initial workplace participation has created results, advocacy spreads through the organization and participation rates will continue to rise rapidly.

Guidance and clarity

People are more likely to participate in healthy lifestyles when they have support from peers and employer and guidance from trusted experts.

The workplace driving engagement

Encouraging the workforce to participate in a healthy lifestyle challenge or intervention is the first goal, ensuring they stick to it is the second.

With a workplace wellness you have several differentiators that make continuing engagement far more likely.

Accountability

The accountability you feel towards and from your peers for having committed to a life change together drives engagement where otherwise it may fail.

Support

Having the support of those around you, as well as being able to offer your support towards a shared objective propels engagement.

Reminders

Constant reminders via other participants, results seen in others, and continuing communication of the intervention ensure participants don't make health another tomorrow problem.

A shared experience drives the urgency, accountability and community that ensures continuing engagement is a far more likely reality.

The workplace driving maintenance

Health is like taking a shower - you can't do it once and forget about it.

Once people have reached and achieved a level of health it is crucial that the new healthy behaviors and habits don't fall away and once again the workplace offers the perfect environment to drive maintenance.

Communication

Consistent and targeted communication can keep health at the forefront of peoples minds. Reminding people of what they have achieved of how much the business cares about their health and areas of health focus keeps health at the forefront of peoples minds.

New initiatives and challenges

People get bored of the same routines - the workplace has an opportunity to consistently breath new life into wellness and health to ensure people stay healthy one they get there.

Conclusion

Changing habits and developing new behaviors is a difficult task - but an isolated and often insulated approach to change does not play to the social strengths of human beings.

Provided a wellness initiative can deliver relevance and individualization within a group framework - this represents our greatest chance of successfully modifying population health.

It is no secret that our national culture has become an unhealthy one, but an organization holds a unique opportunity to foster a viral culture of health that will benefit employees, the bottom line and even the strained NHS budget.

As a collective, we are greater than the sum of our parts. If we are to become healthier as a nation and more productive as a workforce, we need to use our greatest advantage. Each other.

The workplace is the perfect setting.

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