During challenging economic periods, it’s unfortunate that employee wellness is often one of the first things to fall by the wayside. After all, if you’re a manager who has been asked to cut costs, it doesn’t seem like the ideal time to suggest a day out paintballing or a bimonthly team brunch. Instead, people are let go, and others are expected to pick up the slack without a promotion or salary hike. This can lead to stress that saps motivation, productivity and eventually revenues, resulting in tighter budgets as the vicious cycle continues.
We recently collaborated with global insurance provider Cigna to look at some common signs of stress and the harms of the always-on work culture. Check out the Cigna 360° Well-being Survey for more local and international insights on stress. In this article, we’ll focus on workplace wellness programmes – something 54 per cent of respondents in the Cigna survey felt are more focused on physical rather than mental well-being.
Why worry about wellness?
Is it an organisation’s responsibility to look after their employees’ well-being? “If companies don’t proactively work on a mental health strategy and address the well-being of their people, they will need to do it reactively,” says Dr Saliha Afridi, Managing Director and Clinical Psychologist at The Lighthouse Centre for Wellbeing. “Companies will have no choice but to focus on the well-being of their people because the way we are going is not sustainable.”
Sohaib Hasan, a Dubai-based HR consultant and career advisor with more than 300,000 LinkedIn followers, believes that organisations should frequently review the job description and work scope of each employee. “An employee signs an agreement and is sent to one department, where the manager adds additional responsibility, and the employee continues to struggle to sustain the job and to protect their face value.”
Team stress signals:
Amena Baig, CEO of Legacy Emirates Group, a UAE-based HR outsourcing company, says that regardless of whether an employee’s cause of stress is work-related or personal, it will eventually have a broader impact. “Apart from productivity being reduced, there are errors that will increase. Clients, candidates or employees are not called back on time as promised, turnaround times for conducting a service increase. In a nutshell, the employee begins to even look and act stressed.”
Gulneet Chadha, another freelance HR consultant and LinkedInfluencer, says: “As a manager, you need to constantly check on your team to make sure that you identify the early signs of stress before it’s too late. The main signs include frequent arguments within the team, impact on team relationships, absenteeism, turnover, reduced quality of work, tiredness and irritability, and other physical indicators, such as headache, fatigue and hypertension.”
Microsoft recently made headlines for trialling a four-day work week at its Tokyo office. Employees were given five consecutive Fridays off in August – and sales per employee went up 40 per cent over the same period in 2018. In addition, electricity costs were down 23 per cent, 59 per cent less paper was printed, and, most importantly, 92 per cent of the employees surveyed later said they were happy working a shorter week.
Designing the right programme:
Similar initiatives have been tried in various countries before, though we could not find any evidence of a company implementing or even trialling a four-day work week in the UAE. However, when it comes to workplace wellness programmes, companies seem to be getting it wrong. “Part of the problem is that we think we can put a Band-Aid on a knife wound,” explains Nir Eyal, behavioural scientist and author of Hooked and Indistractable. “Many times, these programmes are exactly that Band-Aid. When it comes to employee wellness programmes, we put a lot of onus on the employee without questioning the workplace culture.”
Hasan believes that a workplace wellness programme’s success hinges not only upon the participation of HR personnel – the ones organising such an initiative – but also upon a series of questions being answered before the programme is designed: “Will this wellness programme affect employees’ current duty timings while they participate in it? Will it be equally accessible and implemented across all employees in the organisation? Do we have enough resources to maximise the implementation and output of this wellness programme?”
While it’s easy for an HR manager to Google a workplace wellness programme and copy its framework, Hasan stresses that it’s important to involve employees and learn what they’d want out of such an initiative.
It’s something Chadha believes in too. Where Hasan’s questions are practical, hers are conceptual: “Why do you want to start a wellness programme? Write down a few pointers to understand the reasons (are employees going through some issues in the workplace?). Secondly, consider the nature of your workforce and their needs. What would interest them and make them happy to participate and enjoy your wellness programme? What is the budget, and do you need professionals to run the programme? Do you want wellness to be a benefit or company perk? In the end, how would culture be different a year from now? How do you plan to quantify the success?”
Ideas to start with:
So, after answering these questions, what are some effective measures companies can take? Baig offers a few options...
• Host smoking cessation programmes
• Bring in a wellness coach
• Encourage employees to take “work walk breaks” for 15 minutes to half an hour
• Make water and healthy fruits accessible
• Adopt flexible hours
• Desk exercise/dance for 10 minutes
• Weekly yoga sessions
• Competitions with prizes (especially fitness trackers)
Finally, companies concerned about their bottom line and the impact a wellness programme would have on it should heed Dr Afridi’s words: “For every dollar a company spends on well-being and mental health, they have a US$4 return on that investment – whichever way you look at it, it is in their best interest to be good to their employees.”
Cigna’s Stress Care initiative was launched to help raise awareness about the long-term impact of stress, and help reduce its prevalence in the UAE. Visitors to the Mall of the Emirates were able to see their live stress readings visualized in stunning colours through a Stress Portrait, thanks to Cigna’s collaboration with digital artist Sean Sullivan. Passersby had their brain waves, heart rate and skin response measured to produce the portraits. After that, they were invited to develop their own Stress PLAN – identifying a Period of time to unwind, a Location that is stress-reducing, an Activity to enjoy and the Name of a person they can talk to.