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Health and wellbeing: Empowering, educating, elearning

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Wellbeing at workNick Forgham suggests ways to ease employee stress and maintain their wellbeing during these current times of economic uncertainty.


A key challenge in the current ‘credit crunch’ is for companies and organisations to consistently achieve the balance between pressure to achieve the organisations goals and objectives, and optimum performance from their employees.

“The only lasting way to empower someone is to give them some new skills and the opportunities to use them.”

Too little pressure, and the organisation will under-achieve. Too much pressure and the effects of stress on employees will lead to reduced performance through increased absenteeism, lower productivity, failure to retain key staff, and possibly even a court case for stress with its impact on management time and resulting bad publicity.

How can this balance of organisational pressure against employee stress be achieved? How can employees be helped to maintain their health and wellbeing when work pressures may be increasing, during a period of economic stress and global insecurity?

Empowering

The solution is to empower employees to take some responsibility for their own health, without replacing the role of GPs and the NHS. By empowering employees to make some small changes in their lifestyle that are relevant to them, employers can exceed their statutory duty of care and help employees maintain their own health and that of their organisation. So, how can employees be empowered?

Educating

By educating them about stress, health and wellbeing. The only lasting way to empower someone is to give them some new skills and the opportunities to use them. (‘Empower’ – to authorise, to allow, to give power to, to make powerful). We often hear about this concept in a pure business context; now let’s apply it to the health of the very people on whom the organisation’s success depends.

One reason that the concept of ‘educating by empowering’ has not been applied to this critical area is the problem with traditional methods of educating people as individuals about their health and wellbeing. Seminars and training programmes are prohibitively costly, can be a logistical nightmare (especially with diverse locations, home workers, and employees in-situ at client sites) and lack any follow-up so seldom bring about a permanent change in habits and behaviour.

Elearning

The cost of delivery can be drastically reduced using the resources of the internet. Online questionnaires about employee health are becoming commonplace, as are the HSE guidelines and management standards, which are a useful checklist for stresses that directly affect the individual in the workplace.

The actual delivery of the content can also utilise the internet, via elearning. Current elearning products include multi-media functionality to help engage with employees, such as videos; MP3 clips; quizzes; links to external web sites; supplementary information available in pop-ups; and group-level reporting to monitor progress.

For specific problem areas, or to reinforce key message to specific groups, a ‘blended learning’ approach can deliver enormous benefits in a cost-effective manner.

For this approach to have the desired impact, the key is in the content.

Health and wellbeing

There are many, varied aspects to health and wellbeing, and there are many companies and services that focus on one particular aspect. For an integrated approach, the content of a health and wellbeing service, regardless of its method of delivery, should include areas such as the physical structure of the body, nutrition, education about how stress affects the body, the resulting symptoms and how to identify them before they become critical (just as we would with a business problem), and how to identify specific issues such as, for example, the link between adrenal burnout and those sugar cravings at 11am or 3pm.

“A ‘blended learning’ approach can deliver enormous benefits in a cost-effective manner.”

So an elearning service that aims to empower employees by educating them about stress, health and wellbeing should help employers to demonstrate a duty of care. This is because it provides support against litigation by demonstrating a pro-active approach to stress avoidance. That’s great for the stress issue.

But there is another opportunity here. Not only can employers address issues of stress, they can also aim to improve the health and wellbeing of their employees, and not just settle for ‘average’. The World Health Organisation definition of health is that it is a “complete state of physical, mental and social wellbeing, not merely an absence of disease or infirmity”.

So subjects covered could also include self-esteem, look at factors that age us and what we can do about them (if you want to age faster you’re reading the wrong article!), posture, relaxation and meditation. Here are a few condensed health tips:

  • If stressed over a period of time, the body can get stuck in ‘fight or flight’, where blood flow is diverted from the digestive system to power the main muscles in the arms and legs, so that the body is ready to fight, or flee. This can then cause food sensitivities to develop, bloating, reflux etc. So if you have these symptoms, recognise that ‘stress’ could be an important factor.
  • Always eat breakfast. Did you know your body is constantly regenerating? Your lungs completely regenerate every few months, and even the largest bones such as those in your legs completely regenerate every few years? What’s this got to do with breakfast? Your body regenerates when it is asleep, so you need to put some energy back in!
  • Up the protein. The typical Western diet can be very carbohydrate focussed (cereals for breakfast, sandwich for lunch, pasta for dinner) and lacking in protein, which is essential for breakfast. Eggs or fish on toast for breakfast anyone? Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it, but don’t go for the extremes of the Atkins diet either. Protein also helps to stabilise blood sugar levels, so if you’re yearning for that chocolate bar in-between meals, try a bit more protein such as ham, eggs or cheese, especially at breakfast.
  • A key factor in ageing us (apart from not eating breakfast) is not getting seven to eight hours’sleep a night. So take some time out in the evening, relax, make time for yourself and go to bed ready to sleep. You could try some simple meditation, where you focus on your ‘favourite place’. Get yourself in a relaxed position, make sure you’ve got no responsibilities (such as small children) and calmly focus on your favourite place.
  • To help with issues of self-esteem, be aware of programming, which are your learned experiences (from your parents, life, etc). Key words or phrases such as ‘must’, ‘I don’t deserve’ or ‘I should’ could indicate some programming, and the first step to address the issue is to be aware of it. Monitor your language and see if you use these types of words and phrases, and in what context. If you do, change the language!
  • A viable, cost-effective way to empower employees about their health and wellbeing is to educate them using the resources of the internet, and in particular elearning, to deliver tangible business benefits and beat the ‘credit crunch’.

    Nick Forgham is a health therapist at Wise About Stress.

    2 Responses

    1. Good Health is Good Business!
      As with previous comments the theme of this article certainly resonates with me and indeed the Tonic Team. As a provider of experiential wellbeing solutions – our mission is to provide the tools, support, education and just as importantly the incentive to help individuals and organisations alike to take control of their health and wellbeing. At a time when rapid demographic change, damaging lifestyle trends and incessant global competition are placing growing pressures on our workforce(s)- just as Nick says acting to prevent individuals from being ill is crucial to the nation’s physical, mental and financial health!

      Empowering, Educating and E-learning are absolutely KEY to sustainable behaviour change.

      For those who are not yet taking action, promoting wellbeing at work is fundamentally about recognising that good health translates into good business! With over half of the UK population spending 60% of their waking hours at work, the workplace has to be a major setting for promoting a healthy lifestyle!

      If any of your readers are interested in creating a healthy and active workplace culture to enhance organisational performance and minimise stress – but don’t know where to start then please give us a call – 0870 165 1475 – we are a helpful,enthusiastic and knowledgeable team embracing this holistic and yet cost effective approach – empowering, educating and elearning 4 health & wellbeing! Can you afford not to?

    2. More focus needs to be on sleep to imporve overall wellebing
      Nick, I thoroughly enjoyed your article and echo the sentiments expressed. At this time it is crucial that staff are able to perform at optimal levels and be able to spot opportunities as they arise.

      I run MetroNaps – a fatigue management company and through our products and services we can help deliver a number of the aims you outline in your article – specifically improved energy, productivity, profitability, absetenteeism, presenteeism, staff retention and reduced stress levels.

      We run integrated online (to address your point on cost-effectiveness) fatigue assessments and seminars that give composite group and individual reports and training addressing the answers to the questions in the assessment. Companies can gauge fatigue levels, educate staff on how to prevent fatigue and continually monitor progress through regular testing. Where it is deemed necessary we can also install control environments for mid-day napping to help improve productivity, reduce stress and improve health.

      We have helped customers look at shift schedules and best matching of shifts to individual chronotypes so staff are working when they are naturally at their best. We also help with identifying, diagnosing and treating common sleep disorders.

      Sleep is the third pillar of health (together with exercise and nutrition) but is probably the least known. We know to exercise for 30 minutes each day and eat 5-a-day but too few of us are sleeping enough and often sleep gained is poor quality. Tackling these issues will help with alertness and stress and as part of the positive cycle increased energy increases the propensity to take exercise and eat well – without reaching for high-carb or sugary foods.

      I recommend that any of your readers who would like to understand more and / or see the science contact us through our website: http://www.metronaps.uk.com.

      Wishing you all the best.

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