Nick 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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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:
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.