Are workplace wellness programs the answer to sickies?
When’s the last time you took a sickie from work? On average, Australians take 9 days of sick leave each year. This doesn’t sound like a great number, especially when some companies allow for 12, but the big question is: are sickies about illness or unwillingness?
Do we just need an extra day out of the rat race? Social media has been responsible for dobbing in many not-so-sick workers after they’ve been tagged in photos at the beach or spotted ‘checking-in’ at an event or restaurant with Australians among the worst offenders.
But there is some good news.
In a 2015 survey of 97 companies, results showed a seven per cent decrease in absenteeism. That’s great, but sickies still cost the economy $32.5 billion in payroll and productivity loss per annum.
To help reduce this figure and increase employee productivity, worker health and well-being programs are on the rise.
In their 2014 Working Well survey, Buck Consultants found that 47% of Australian and New Zealand companies surveyed offered some sort of employee health promotion program.
Workplace Health Association Australia describes workplace health as “the combined efforts of employers, employees and society to improve the health and well-being of people at work.This is achieved through a combination of improving the work organisation and the working environment, promoting the active participation of employees in health activities and encouraging personal development.”
So, should all workplaces have a wellness program?
Jill Macnaught, psychologist and director of the Executive Coach says implementing a health and wellness program is not a cure-all for disengagement and absenteeism.
“Before choosing a wellness program, organisations need to be clear on what they are trying to achieve,” she says.
Macnaught says wellness programs show a lot of care for the employee but asks, will it guarantee the staff show up for work everyday?
“Sleep pods, yoga classes, and such, may not solve employee absenteeism alone, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a place.”
Sleeping on the job
MetroNaps have designed the world’s first purpose-built employee nap chair called an EnergyPod. The American company have installed hundreds of pods in hospitals, universities, fitness centres and offices around the world including Google, FMG, Virgin Fitness Centres and Huffington Post Media.
Metronaps CEO Christopher Lindholt says afternoon naps offer vital health benefits for the employee and employer.
“Napping boosts alertness by about 30 per cent. Regular naps, three times per week, reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease by almost 40 per cent,” he says.
The space-age looking pods are designed to re-charge your batteries in the optimal nap time of 20 minutes. First you’ll be lulled to sleep with soothing melodies and then gently nudged awake with lights and vibrations.
It sounds ideal but Macnaught warns managers that this type of incentive may be the perfect place for disengaged employees to escape.
“If an employee is having difficulty doing their job, a sleep pod is a great place to procrastinate. If they understand that a 20 minute power nap is useful to re-energise and re-focus, sleep pods are fantastic. At other times a brief discussion with their manager or a colleague might be more of what is needed,” she says.
Recharge the body, mind and soul
If a $17,500 dollar energy pod doesn’t make the budget, there are plenty of other health program options.
Workplace Yoga offers corporate yoga and mindful meditation classes before, during and after office hours. “Yoga helps reduce stress and maximise energy. It helps people be their best in the workplace,” says company director, Daniel Elrington.
Which is what every employer wants: for their staff to be their best at work. But yoga’s benefits aren’t confined to the workplace.
Yoga has been known to reduce anxiety, stress and blood pressure; induce calm, improve brain function, increase flexibility and even balances hormones.
Elrington’s favourite benefit is the self awareness it brings. “Yoga makes you more in touch with your heart and gives you a greater sense of well-being. In turn, you will build better relationships,” he says.
Turn that frown upside down
Laughter is another way to build better, more positive relationships. A good giggle can create happy, playful moods that are contagious. It’s even considered a medicine.
Laughter can reduce pain, blood pressure and stress. Work related mental stress costs Australian businesses $10 billion annually.
Can sharing a chuckle with the boss relieve work pressure and build better workplace relationships? Cris Popp, director of Laughter Works says it can.
“Laughter is great for bonding. It reduces conflict and helps us get over issues,” says Popp.
Popp and his team hold laughter sessions known as Hasyayoga, where they mimic the motion of laughter. He says this “cuts to the chase without having to watch a comedy or hear a funny joke”.
Popp recommends daily laughter to brighten your mood.
“Laughing is a simple and effective way to instantly change your mood. People are afraid of being too silly or being embarrassed. We have to remember, we’re not machines.
“We need to lighten up occasionally, and that’s okay,” says Popp.
Try it now. Look at yourself in a mirror and start laughing.
It starts at the top
Only half of the working Australians who took part in a 2013 stress and well-being survey said their employer valued their work and cared about their well-being.
Macnaught says employees are more likely to stay in their job and turn up to work if the boss is supportive, encouraging and respectful.
“Workers need an environment where they feel their work matters, where they get constructive feedback, where they are treated with respect and where a manager promotes a positive team environment.
“If that’s not happening, employee health programs may only have short-term effects. If all that is happening and things are good, workplace health programs can add value,” says Macnaught.
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