I am going to be a little bit blunt. I may come across a little harsh but the more I think about it, the more frustrated and infuriated I get. This should be a national concern not only to the current workforce but to future Australians.
Workers are working longer and harder than ever before. The technological convergence has removed the past distinct separation between the office and home as employees are constantly connected through smart phones and media devices. Traditionally, office staff worked Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm, a standard eight hour day. Nowadays employees arrive to work earlier, leave later and when they are at home are still connected to work, constantly emailing and communicating through the internet and smart phones. This has stretched out the traditional 40 hour week to new unimaginable lengths. New statistics depressingly show that one third of adult life is spent at work.
Workplace wellness programs are now more popular than ever before with workplaces offering benefits such as massages, gym memberships and extended holidays. It sounds rather pompous and ridiculous when it is put like that but over 1000 studies have confirmed the benefit and returns of employee wellness programs.
Currently, Australian workplaces are crippled by negative health effects mostly from poor lifestyle choices. Due to time constraints among other things, we are not sleeping and exercising like we use to which in turn has negatively affected the workplace. It is estimated that productivity is reduced by stress and anxiety alone by 13% and a lack of sleep reduces productivity by almost one third (30%). That is not including further decreases in productivity due to other lifestyle choices like smoking (10%), and obesity by 14%. Shouldn’t it be employees right to wellness sessions due to the physical and mental strain passed on from ridiculous workloads by employers.
Along with improved productivity workplace wellness programs benefit both employees and employers in many ways. Wellness programs resulted in fewer sick days, lower levels of stress, improved physical fitness and increased mental well-being. Additionally, the healthier the employee the fewer healthcare costs. So why isn’t every workplace participating in this costly but effective exercise? If employees are expected to work to such lengths shouldn’t companies want to reward them, if it turn it will further increase their productivity.
Chronic disease and the ageing population are significant future burdens to the Australian economy. The projected median age in Australia in 2060 is 59 years old, by 2100 it is expected to soar to 65 years old the current national retirement age. If we continue to progress this way the Australian workforce will astronomically decrease but the big question is who is going to pay for all of the nursing homes and healthcare costs? The fewer people working = less tax they are paying!
The big issue I want to focus on is chronic disease. The basic maths in the Australian budget is that 10% of the federal budget is spent on health ($100 billion). 70% of which is spent on chronic conditions caused specifically by lifestyle and behaviours and a tiny 1.8% is spent on prevention. In 2004-05, 33% of working age Australians (25-64 years old) had one of eight chronic diseases. Additionally, 96% of this population had one or more risk factor of one or more other chronic diseases.
It was recently released that Google employees have access to free food, bowling alleys and sleeping and relaxation zones. Why some may see this as an extreme Google is now one of the preferred places to work in addition to an extreme level of effectiveness.
Unknowingly employers have the tools to reduce many of the costs associated with ill health. The workplace provides an ideal setting for preventative strategies due to the fact that there is existing infrastructure, a captive audience.
The key to a successful wellness program is full involvement by all stakeholders. Absenteeism alone costs the Australian economy $7 billion per year and those who are not working to their full ability at work due to medical conditions (presenteeism) cost the economy a further $26 billion dollars. If workplaces make the smallest of changes which reduce these rates the economy will be exorbitantly affected.
As per usual Australia is behind the eight ball. Both the British and American governments have endorsed large wellness programs costing around US$15 billion each. After all of the research demonstrating the significant benefits of wellness programs a tiny 3.6% of employers in Australia offer health assessment and prevention programs. The metrics of wellness programs are statistically confirmed with healthier happier staff not only resulting in more effective and productive employees with fewer sick days but with increased customer satisfaction and fewer injury and workplace compensation claims. The long term effects not only affect the employer but reduced healthcare costs will transform the Australian economy.
So if the government knows about all of these benefits of workplace wellness programs, why doesn’t it do something about it? Why not make something like this compulsory in workplaces? They focus copious amounts of energy and tax payers money on pre-existing problems rather than small changes individuals can make that would have a drastic effect on the economy.
It is plain and simple it is going to cost us more if we do not act. The population is going to continue to get older and sicker driving healthcare costs through the roof. Whereas, if preventative measures were implemented, this would result in a decrease in the number of chronic diseases and future healthcare costs.
Public health promotion in workplaces is an extremely profitable avenue due to direct access to the target audience. If implemented effectively a reduction in copious health costs would revolutionise the Australian economy.
Why does the government and employers find this so difficult to quantify? The Australian government have a duty to shift their focus from healthcare expenses to prevention. The workplace is an ideal place to implement such programs and strategies. The benefits of workplace wellness programs are not only for the government but for employers, therefore if they work together a happier, healthier workforce and economy will result.
Article originally published at The Isthmus