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  • Writer's pictureKathy Miles

What is Employee Wellness?


Hands up who has 'Wellness Strategies' at their organisation? A few of you I'm sure. Now keep your hands up if those strategies cover things like your mental, emotional and financial well-being? Chances are that the majority of you have now put your hands down.

So often I see that organisations have these fantastic 'wellness' strategies in place such as free gym membership, biometric health assessments, flu-shots, lunch-time walk/run groups or even fitness trackers that they provide (such as a Fitbit). These strategies are proudly advertised and discussed in the interview process.

Don't get me wrong, there is a lot of research showing the link between increased exercise and improvements in mood, health and well-being. The fact that we are focusing on wellness at all shows how far we have come. Organisations are finally seeing the benefits of assisting their employee's to maintain and improve their health. My question though is this, as an employer, shouldn't we be doing more? Shouldn't we be focusing on more than one aspect of an employee's well-being?

In my opinion, wellness is about the physical, mental, emotional and financial well-being of our employees. We look after an employee's physical safety through the use of Health and Safety Programs, but I believe we should be taking a more holistic look at our employee's safety and well-being. Here are some startling facts for you:

Mental Illness:

  • An astonishing 1 in 5 people (that's 20%) of Australian's will experience some form of mental illness every year.

  • Beyond Blue states that "depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide. In Australia it is estimated that 45 per cent of people will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime. In any one year, around 1 million Australian adults have depression, and over 2 million have anxiety."

  • The Impact of Depression at Work: Australia Audit conducted for SANE Australia by IPSOS Australia showed that "almost 50 per cent of Australian workers who had taken time off work because of depression kept the reason hidden from their employer." They also go on to explain that "Almost 1 in 2 who hadn't informed their employer (48%) had felt they would put their job at risk if they told their employer the reason for time off."

Mental illness is one of the toughest struggles that a person can have. It is isolating and debilitating, not just for the person suffering from it but also for their friends and family.

Emotional Well-Being:

  • Startling information from Mindframe shows that in Australia "Over a two year period from 2009 to 2013, the average number of suicide deaths per year is 2,461."

  • Suicide Prevention Australia advises that "Most deaths by suicide are among people of working age. Suicide is the leading cause of death for males ages 25 - 44 years and females ages 25 - 34 years."

  • ABC News reported that "Suicide Prevention Australia has also drawn attention to a doubling in the rate of self-harm among young women in little more than a decade."

  • According to Relationships Australia "Around one in five Australian women and one in twenty Australian men have experienced violence at the hands of an intimate partner." They also explain that "In 2012 an estimated 25% of all women aged 18 years and over and 14% of all men aged 18 years and over had experienced emotional abuse by an intimate partner since the age of 15."

Financial Pressures:

  • According to the National Centre for Longitudinal Data "more than 12 per cent of all Australians have trouble paying utility bills on time because they are short of money" and "young families are a little more likely to have trouble paying bills on time (16 per cent), but only 3 per cent sought assistance and 2 per cent went without meals."

  • Despite extremely low interest rates, the Supreme Court data shows that "more than 935 properties have been recovered by lenders since June 2014."

  • Information from Homelessness Australia shows that "on any given night in Australia, 1 in 200 people are homeless."

  • A poll distributed to 1700 of the Salvation Army's clients shows that "52% have gone without meals and 29% cannot afford a decent meal at least once a day...33% cannot afford heating."

What strategies are in place at your organisation to address these startling figures? According to Business Insider Australia, the average person spends approximately 90,000 hours at work over their lifetime. This is the majority of a person's life. It seems only right that a person's workplace takes some responsibility for the well-being of their employees.

Some potential strategies that you can consider adopting are:

  • Access to personal financial advice/planners/support;

  • Financial well-being training;

  • Budgeting advice;

  • Access to personal legal support;

  • Mental health coaching and support groups;

  • Life skills coaching;

  • Resilience training;

  • Emotional Intelligence training;

  • Team building events;

  • The ability to work from home;

  • The involvement of spouses/family members in health & well-being initiatives;

  • Access to nicotine patches;

  • Access to medical services;

  • Discounts on health and well-being products; and

  • Implementing a mentoring program which involves all employees.

Finding out what is right for your workplace and your employees is the first step in putting together a Wellness Strategy that is targeted and is likely to be more beneficial to all involved.

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