Healthier, happier and hard working

THE demographic shift in the make-up of the nation’s workforce is placing a greater importance on the way employers approach their employees’ health.

Wellness programs are being adopted by many Perth companies that are not only trying to increase employee morale and loyalty, but are also aiming to keep employees fit and healthy.

Fremantle Port Authority human resources officer Mike Cadden said the FPA had run health and wellness programs for about five years but introduced health checks this year to combat the effects of an ageing workforce.

“The program looks at improving the health and wellbeing of our employees and there is a flow on effect to the FPA,” he said.

“We introduced voluntary health assessments this year. It covers a full blood screening and fitness level, tests for diabetes, cholesterol and other diseases. We pick up the cost until diagnosis and it’s up to the employee if they want to continue.

“We have an ageing workforce and if we can identify, early on, medical conditions that may other-wise go undetected, it is beneficial to the employee and us.

“If they have to go out and have tests they can do that on the port’s time. The information is completely confidential. There have been some people who have come back to me and said the tests picked up medical conditions that we’re life threatening. They were able to get treatment and make lifestyle changes.

“We also have skin cancer screenings that have picked up a number of cases.”

Curtin University has long been a promoter of health and, according to Curtin Healthy Life-style Program Coordinator Jillian Woolmer, giving staff time off to work on health had beneficial outcomes.

“A health and fitness policy was first introduced in 1990. This included granting time off to staff members to enable them to participate in healthy activities on campus,” Ms Woolmer said.

“Up to two hours per week and 30 minutes for any one day is given to staff to encourage them to participate in healthy activities and improve their health and ability to cope with everyday stress.”

She said studies had linked stress to various ailments including depression, substance abuse, low self-esteem and cardiovascular disease.

“All of these conditions place an enormous financial burden on the workforce through loss of productivity, absenteeism, in-crease in accidents and injury, increased insurance premiums, low morale and staff turnover and cost of retraining,” Ms Woolmer said.

Mr Cadden said the authority’s employees were afforded time on the job to cater to their health needs.

“The health assessment checks take, on average, about one hour spread over a couple of days to complete,” he said.

“The time invested in health is time well spent because it enables employees to monitor and be pro-active about their health.

“We have had great feedback from people in operations right up to senior management.

“We make the program available to partners and children and it makes employees aware that we are not looking after just them, but their families too.”

Mr Cadden said that, while the company did not receive individual reports on employees, it did get a list of how many people were suffering from different conditions.

“We then look at targeting those through awareness sessions, like healthy eating and the Climb to the Top promotion,” he said.

Perth Natural Medical Clinic director Peter Gibbons said that while businesses were becoming more aware of the benefits of health promotion, full program implementation usually resulted from a senior manager’s personal experience.

“Some people put their toes in the water and do the novelty one-off thing. Others find themselves stressed out and come to clinic and discover the benefit. They usually say: ‘If it works for me it will work for my staff’,” he said.

Mr Gibbon said in-house health care was going to become increasingly important to employers.

“It’s a growing trend. There are a lot of legalities and people don’t want to get sued for making their people sick,” he said.

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