The wellbeing gap at work: why and how should physical wellbeing stay high on the agenda?
The health of your employees is under more pressure than you might think. Besides mental wellbeing, which has taken a serious toll in recent years, physical wellbeing in Belgium also seems to be falling short. There is no doubt that all this has an impact on productivity also. So the question arises: what can you as an employer do?
Toll of feeling unwell physically
The health figures in our country amount to a sad record. Several studies show that 60% of the Belgian population is struggling with being overweight and 22% with obesity. 70% are underactive and get less than 150 minutes of exercise weekly, the general exercise guideline. "It is a good thing that attention to mental wellbeing is being given higher priority in business," Mrs De Vleeschouwer interjects. "Yet physical health also deserves attention. Not everyone knows that pain in the muscles and joints, also known as musculoskeletal complaints, are the second biggest cause of disability among Belgian employees. Scienscano also warns of an increase in chronic diseases: more than 25% of the population is affected! They are often the result of what we can term 'lifestyle diseases': just think of sleep deprivation, unhealthy diet and prolonged sitting."
Mrs De Vleeschouwer also warns employers about the impact these lifestyle diseases have on the productivity of their staff. "A study by Deloitte cited fatigue, stress, mental ailments and musculoskeletal complaints as the main causes of reduced productivity at work," she says. "The average productivity score is only 6.4 out of 10. Such figures simply cannot be ignored by employers.”
Wellbeing gap between employer and employee
Equally alarming, perhaps, is the well-being gap between employees and their managers. The latter think they are doing their bit, and doing it well. "Employers assume that their staff are doing fine, while the latter group really does not always see it that way," Mrs De Vleeschouwer believes. "Another Deloitte study shows that employers think that 89% of their staff are in good physical health, compared with scarcely 65% if you ask the employees themselves. Barely 1 in 2 employees assumes that managers do not care about their well-being in the least. What worries me most is that more than 9 in 10 of the C-suite nevertheless think employees feel their managers care about them."
Put another way: organizations clearly overestimate the general level of well-being as well as the extent to which they show they care about the well-being of their employees. According to Mrs De Vleeschouwer, there is some good news, though. "No fewer than 94% of employees want change in their well-being," she explains. "They show enormous willingness, especially in terms of energy levels, activity, weight, sleep and mental well-being.”
How you as an employer can offer real support
So how can this gap be closed? From her experience, Mrs De Vleeschouwer knows that self-discipline and lack of time are the highest barriers to working on one's own well-being. "Wellbeing is a shared responsibility," she points out. "Employees have to work on their own health, but as an employer you have to provide the necessary tools to that end. For example, bear in mind that mandating exercise is counterproductive. You are bound to achieve a great deal with scientifically proven techniques such as nudging, rewards and the like, instead. It actually boils down to supporting your employees in creating healthy routines, provided you make sure that initiatives are low-threshold, regular and under professional guidance. You must also realize that there are no 'quick fixes'. Science has shown that habit formation generally takes between 21 and 66 days on average."
This is also the reason why AG Health Partner has developed a bespoke programme so that you can make sure that your employees create healthy habits to become the best version of themselves. In just six weeks, they learn to make conscious choices for long-term results.
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