Honourable bosses address worker wellness (with video)

31/10/2013 - 12:36

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The corporate sector has a social responsibility to implement health and wellness strategies, according to speakers at this week’s Success and Leadership breakfast.

Honourable bosses address worker wellness (with video)

The business case for workplace health programs is strengthening as ongoing research finds the sedentary nature of many work environments is negatively affecting the bottom line.

Statistics that show healthy workers are three times more productive and take nine fewer sick days a year are driving momentum among the state’s employers to achieve improved outcomes.

And those leading the charge say employers not only have the improved productivity argument for motivation, they have a social responsibility to play a role in reducing chronic disease.

At a Success and Leadership breakfast forum this week, business leaders spoke of their personal experiences in recognising the need for health and wellness in the workplace.

HBF managing director Rob Bransby said he recognised the negative health impacts of a poor diet soon after his first stint working away from home.

“I drank lots of beer and ate lots of roadhouse food,” Mr Bransby told the Business News event.

“Of course I thought that was all terrific until I came back to Perth and someone took a photo of me and I looked at it and thought, ‘is that me?’

“Not taking away from my personal responsibility … I’d crept up to 18 stone (114 kilograms) and I sat back and thought that maybe my employer had some obligation to show me the right way.”

Now, HBF is helping businesses implement health and wellness strategies and has launched an index tool that ranks companies on their health and wellness performance (see below).

HBF corporate wellness leaderboard

  1. Fremantle Dockers
  2. Wood Group Kenny
  3. GESB
  4. Sinclair Knight Merz
  5. HBF
  6. Department of Mines and Petroleum
  7. Birchman
  8. Perth Airport
  9. Murdoch University
  10. Western Power

Mr Bransby said HBF research on its own workforce showed employees took 3,000 steps per day compared to 7,000 about 20 years ago, which was reflective of the increasingly sedentary nature of office work.

That, in turn, has increased the spread of obesity, which today affects 63 per cent of Australians (according to federal government research).

“And that’s what flows on to the big health issues. That’s when diabetes kicks in, when heart disease kicks in, mental illness kicks in; so obesity is one of the biggest issues … and the flow-on impact it has in the workplace,” Mr Bransby said.

From a business perspective, obesity is estimated to cost Australia $6.4 billion a year in lost productivity.

Fiona Wood, director of the WA Burns Service and a consultant plastic surgeon, said concerns about obesity and reducing its effects went beyond the individual or employer.

“Working in the health sector I can see the (obesity) tsunami coming,” Dr Wood said.

“We have one of the best health systems in the world, but will we have that in 20 years’ time when it’s creaked and broken under demand that should have actually been prevented?”

Dr Wood told the forum it was heartening to see the groundswell of motivation for healthier workplaces in the corporate sector, which was leading to employees making better choices and working to reduce the load on the healthcare system.

“It’s really important because this is a runaway train which does not have many years to pass before we see the quality of services delivered start to go down,” she said.

“We spend a lot more time at work than we don’t, so it’s really important to get it right in the workplace.”

The National Heart Foundation’s director of cardiovascular health, Trevor Shilton, said just 30 minutes of exercise a day could cut the risk of heart disease by 30 to 50 per cent, risk of diabetes by 30 per cent, colon cancer by 30 per cent and breast cancer by 20 per cent.

“If exercise were a drug, we’d all be taking it and the doctors would all be prescribing it,” Professor Shilton said.

The challenge, he said, was incorporating exercise into lifestyles that are increasingly sedentary, which was where initiatives such as ‘sit-standing’ workstations became valuable.

Professor Shilton said research showed those employees who used sit-standing workstations took more steps during the day because they were already on their feet.

While HBF was introducing such initiatives, Mr Bransby said one of the most significant drivers of change was creating a workplace culture dedicated to health and wellness.

“The amazing thing about an organisation when it embraces the culture and starts to change – leading it from the top – is that the changes just happen naturally. You start to see a watershed, people start following,” he said.

Delivering worker wellness

ABN Group managing director Dale Alcock is considered one of Perth’s most active business leaders, with his dedication to swimming three mornings a week an admirable commitment.

He said encouraging people to engage in the culture of an organisation was important if flow-on effects were to benefit the wider community.

“You have to ensure that there’s buy-in to what you’re organisation is about; you have to describe your strategy and where you’re going with your organisation and the communication and feedback should be constantly ongoing,” Mr Alcock said.

He said employers also needed to take a longer-term view of their social responsibility to improving employees’ health.

“Here we are discussing people’s health, which is really a long-term issue,” Mr Alcock told the forum.

“But as soon as there’s a bump in the road the first thing to go are your employees and those (workplace health) programs are out the window.

“How can we be truly committed as businesses if there’s not a long-term arrangement there or at least some cushioning; if we’re truly investing in our people, that means you don’t just shed (staff) as a commodity.”

He said the business community had a role to play in coaching emerging leaders on how to perform in a high-pressure environment.

Speaking about his own diagnosis with an overactive thyroid, Mr Alcock said he also had to learn how to cope with mental wellness.

“Mental health almost precedes physical health; if your mind is pretty sharp then the physical health will flow from that,” he said.

“The one thing that’s really imperative to (my employees) is their self-confidence and self-belief and that they don’t let people mess with it … because it’s the one thing that you’ve got that separates you from being top of your game from someone who’s all at sea.”

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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