No gimmicks – let’s really sort wellness

We’ve long heard about the ticking time bomb of workplace stress. New figures suggest detonation. 

Because a new Office of National Statistics report confirmed that UK employees missed a total of 141.5m workdays – an average of 4.4 days each – due to sickness in 2018. It’s a ten-year high. Away from long-term sickness, we’re losing a frightening number of days to minor illnesses (one in four absences) and mental health issues (one in eight absences).  

Minor illnesses and mental health issues are at the core of the UK’s wellness crisis. What does this mean? It means they’re avoidable

Health and wellbeing costs have been quietly eating our economy for decades. Awareness equals progress so we are waking up, yet businesses continue to sleep on the job. Solutions still look an awful lot like gimmickry as employers present teams with fruit bowls, gym cards, stand-up desks and links to meditation apps.

Thin and disconnected measures are flawed, and unworkable at scale, because they put the onus on employees to climb ourselves out. The assumption is that we have the innate ability to change our wiring ourselves – we simply lack tools. In 2019, we certainly don’t lack tools. 

If a person can sustainably turn their consciousness around without intervention and support a) they’d be a statistical outlier and b) well, they’d have done it by now

Making and maintaining lifestyle changes require consistent, personalised, 360-degree support and guidance, not ten more minutes at lunch. 

We know – but do we know?

Change requires understanding and support. It also requires knowledge to connect the dots between our habits and those minor illnesses. For example, coughs and colds – everyone gets them and they can’t be helped right? Wrong. 

Fruit, vegetables, sleep and water are anyone’s first line of defence against low-level illness, yet modern workers are generally deficient in some or all of the above. Pile stress and inactivity on top of a weary mind and body and we have the perfect cocktail for recurring, low-level sickness.

It’s not our fault, either. Decades ago, the UK government told us we need Five a day portions of fruit and vegBut in Japan they promote 13 portions. The only reason we hear Five a day is because our government believed we couldn’t handle any more.

Gut health is the ‘new health’ and the engine room of our immunity. Fruit and veg support the best bugs in our gut and a happy gut supports our immunity. Unlike other food groups (fats, carbs), there’s really no recommended upper limit to how many portions of fruit and veg we can eat in a day. Let’s just say it’s more than five. 

The same goes for water. We need litres of the stuff every day to enable our metabolism. Almost every bodily chemical reaction relies on water. But too few of, know it or do it. 

We’re sleeping on sleep

In the modern day, many of us see sleep as wasted time, as an annoying thing that gets in the way of our productivity. As a country, the UK has started to scrape by on sleep.

We’re sleeping 20 percent less now than we were a lifetime ago. But human sleep patterns were formed over millennia and it’s a significant dent in a short timeframe that we’re not built to handle.

New age business culture tell us stories of entrepreneurs and politicians who function on six hours sleep or less, yet 10,000 different research papers agree that the percentage of adults who can do this and show no impairment is technically 0 percent. In other words, the six hours a night myth is nonsense. Still, many believe the hype.

Sleep is the body’s temple of recovery, it’s where we learn, heal and grow. Insufficient sleep literally suppresses the release of growth hormones. It physically weakens us. Good sleep supports good immune function, reducing both the risk of both the flu and common cold

Even if we do head for bed early, we’re into bad habits now. Yes, gadgets. A TV episode or five before nodding off is hugely detrimental to our sleep. Bedtime is supposed to be about darkness and silence but as time goes by we’re filling it with light, noise and colour. Gadget blue lights suppress melatonin (the sleep hormone), delaying the onset of deep sleep. Incidentally, the jury’s still out on whether blue light filters make more than a negligible difference.

Working at mental health

All the above represent damaging habits, and they’re kicking in during a time when the UK has never been more workaholic. 

According to a five-yearly study charting changes in our working lives (a joint effort by the universities of Cardiff, Oxford and University College London), nearly half (46%) the British workforce now strongly agree that their jobs are intense compared to less than a third (32%) who said the same back in 1992.

Interestingly, the UK ranks 8th in the world in workplace happiness – worse than Austria, Spain, France, Germany, even Romania. In 2019 the World Health Organisation finally recognised burn-out as a legit medical condition: an “occupational phenomenon” that alone is responsible for 10 million lost working days in the UK each year.

Damaging habits, lack of knowledge, lack of support. It’s a toxic mix and it’s putting more and more of us out of action.  

If we have to live with heavier workloads, we have to learn to cope without the side effects. We’re at a crossroads. No quick fix or gimmick is fit for the task, as employees and human beings there’s a long road ahead to improve our wellness and the aggregate. 

Mental health costs UK businesses big: £500 per employee per year. The cost to business is up at £40bn and cost to the economy over £100bn. Employee physical and mental health is a crisis that should be topic #1 in the boardroom

1,000 miles, a single step

CorLife is a new workplace tool that allows employees to take control of their health. Using Google nudge app-based technology, CorLife helps people, as unique individuals, reach goals and milestones through a fitting combination of knowledge, motivation and real-world support. Importantly, the focus is on the employee not the employer; it just so happens that both win by adopting. 

The last thing we want to do here is look like a cheesy six-week-six-pack billboard, complete with before and after shot. CorLife users have surnames; they’re living the benefits, day to day, of sustaining new physical and mental health goals with the support and knowledge of a team glued together by academia, science, medicine and data.

“My weight is constantly low. My body fat must be even lower than your last measurement.
Myself and my wife Heidi are still following almost all behaviours we learned from you.
Thank you for a class that made us healthier and stronger.”
~ Christoph Breucker, CorLife user

Isn’t it time every organisation started to look after their employees with more than a mouse mat and a gym membership?