Wellness is a word that we hear almost on a daily basis. A quick check on Instagram reveal almost 16.5m posts with the #wellness hashtag! Given that most people spend the majority of their time working, how does wellness fit in, both figuratively and practically? Does wellness actually have a place at work?
Gradually, organisations are becoming aware that healthy and happy employees have an impact on their bottom line, and that investing in the wellness of staff can actually be an investment in the productivity and success of the organisation as a whole. Research is showing that stress costs Australian businesses more than $10b per year and overall, mental health issues have a cost impact of around $11b per year due to sick leave and reduced productivity. Of course, mental health issues are not the only concerns when it comes to wellness. Physical illnesses result in huge increases in absenteeism as well as presenteeism, where unwell workers feel that they must ‘soldier on’ due to the culture of the toughened Aussie employee who, rightly or wrongly, feels almost indispensable.
Are wellbeing programs really beneficial?
A Comcare study conducted a few years ago found that workplace health and wellbeing programs “provide an excellent return on investment”, specifically a saving of just under $6 for every $1 invested. Benefits included decreasing sick leave taken, reducing workers’ compensation and disability management costs, as well as additional benefits in increased productivity, reduced turnover, reduced presenteeism and increased employee engagement levels.
The times have changed and so have our expectations
As more and more women have entered the workforce over the last half century and the role of the traditional house-wife is now almost unheard of, women are no doubt leading the charge to ensure a better work-life balance for all workers, both female and male. Why is this the case? Because as well as demanding equal pay and harassment-free workplaces, women are starting to demand freedom from the overwhelming mental load of being all things to all people. Women are spending more and more time at work but the expectation that they will continue to run the typical household has not lessened. The 2016 Census showed that Aussie women typically do between five and 14 hours of unpaid domestic labour per week, whilst men do less than five! The time spent doing this repetitive, boring, yet necessary work is one thing but the mental load of having to think about all the things that need to be done is even more taxing.
To help with managing this additional mental workload, women are demanding that workplaces, where they get paid for their work, put a higher value on wellness for both themselves and their male colleagues. Women I spoke to typically said they managed work-life balance by doing things such as working school hours only, negotiating work from home arrangements with their employers for either themselves and/ or their partner and taking other steps like outsourcing household chores including cleaning and child-minding.
Scheduling was critical in the management of this balance, almost always managed by a woman, and shouldn’t be forgotten as a factor in mental load! Households even had scheduled ‘me time’ for each partner, and date nights, and meals were planned so that cooking and cleaning was minimal and not cutting into ‘family’ time. Personally, I totally count the cooking and cleaning up as family time, with my older son becoming increasingly interested in cooking a meal and everyone pitching in with the cleaning up before we reward ourselves with Netflix!
How to inform yourself about various workplaces
Glassdoor provides information about organisations from the point of view of employees and gives ratings based on all aspects of how an organisation performs as an employer. It is designed for prospective employees to get an objective picture of what it would be like to work somewhere. This website ranks organisations on benefits including working from home, reduced or flexible hours, available childcare and leave given to care for dependents. This is congruent with what I have detailed above that was valued by women in helping them to improve work-life balance.
What are other things that organisations do to make wellness a part of their culture?
It tends to be larger organisations with bigger budgets, and especially those in the tech industry, that make more overt gestures of valuing wellness by providing staff with access to free massages, yoga, meditation, pilates, gyms, healthy snacks, and even sleeping pods or private contemplation rooms. Flu jabs, Employee Assistance Programs (psychology or counselling) and annual health checks are also provided in a bid to improve the wellbeing of staff. However, it is often these ‘perks’ that are the first things to be cut when the purse strings need to be tightened!
So, it would seem that women most benefit from a workplace wellness culture that is less about big, grand gestures and more about valuing them as whole people who have important roles to play both inside and outside of their workplace.