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Walking and exercise

More than half of UK adults walk just a mile or less on an average work day, research has suggested. Whether it’s taking the stairs, getting off a stop early or encouraging employees to use local parks at lunchtime, employers have an important role to play in getting workers up and on their feet.
Employee health and wellbeing – employees need to be encouraged to love walking
On an average weekday more than half (52%) of UK adults walk a mile or less, and almost a fifth (17%) admit to walking less than a quarter of a mile, research from the charity Cancer Research UK has concluded.
As a result, during June, the charity set up a “Step Up Stop” at King’s Cross station in London to encourage commuters to sign up to its Walk All Over Cancer challenge, which encouraged people to take 10,000 steps a day during that month.
The main reasons given by respondents for failing to walk as much as they should was “a lack of time”, as cited by nearly a third (32%) of those polled, followed by “bad weather” (25%).
Katie Edmunds, Cancer Research UK health information officer, said: “These are worrying figures, as we know that being regularly physically active can have a host of health benefits, including reducing the risk of cancer.
“While our frenzied lifestyles can make it tough for people to find time to keep active, any level of exercise is better than none, so building some moderate activity into your daily routine can really make a difference,” she added.
Commuting and health
The figures chime with separate research from Britain’s Healthiest Workplace about the negative health effects a long commute can have on the average worker.
Its study of 34,000 workers found employees commuting less than half an hour gained an additional seven days’ worth of productive time each year, compared to those with commutes of 60 minutes or more.
Longer-commuting workers were 33% more likely to suffer from depression, 37% more likely to have financial concerns and 12% more likely to report multiple dimensions of work-related stress, it added.
They were also 46% more likely to get less than the recommended seven hours of sleep each night and 21% more likely to be obese.
So, what then should employers make of this?
First off, on the Britain’s Healthiest Workplace research, its findings do need to be caveated by what form the commute is taking.
As research in the BMJ earlier this year highlighted, UK commuters who cycled to work (perhaps unsurprisingly) reported lower rates of cancer and heart disease, compared to other types of commuters, especially more sedentary car drivers.
At the same time, it is self-evident that a long, stressful, tiring commute every day can take its physical and mental toll on health, especially if it means the employee is relying on often less than healthy station-bought food to keep them going.
But we can also make another link: activity. The Cancer Research UK study highlights that employees, whether on their commute or once at work, are simply not being active enough.
Getting out to the park at lunchtime
It is clear employers can play an important role in breaking this sedentary cycle. They can encourage workers to be more active during the working day – whether it’s just taking the stairs rather than the lift or something more full-blown such as access to a subsidised gym.
Employers can encourage employees to build more activity in their commute, whether through simply getting off a stop earlier and walking or ensuring there is the right infrastructure in place – both benefit-based (such as cycle-to-work schemes) and physical (cycle racks, showers and so on).
They can also take a step back and look at environmental and cultural factors. Is their workplace environment encouraging a long-hours culture; are workstations and meeting areas too sedentary; are managers modelling best behaviours around ensuring people take regular breaks from their screens?
Employers, finally, can also do more to encourage their employees to get up and out of the office in the middle of the day rather than grabbing a sandwich at their desk.
One route into this could be by embracing and promoting initiatives such as Love Parks Week, this year between July 14-23.
Employers can also support their local authorities to manage and maintain their parks through sponsorship (perhaps a bench or a specific garden or zone) or through volunteering activities, for example encouraging employees to get involved in sponsored park clean-up days.
Equally, it can often simply be a case of engaging with local authorities to say, “I’m here and would like to help”, and see what they say. For example, Leeds City Council has recently launched a “Business in the Park” initiative to encourage local firms to invest and joint work in their local parks.
As the Cancer Research UK research shows, not only can embracing initiatives such as this benefit your local community, they’ll help to burnish your local reputation and, crucially, send a clear message to your employees about the value you place on exercise and activity, both during and outside the working day. What’s not to like?
If nothing else read this

More than half of UK adults walk just a mile or less, and almost a fifth walk less than a quarter of a mile on an average work day
People with long commutes are more likely to suffer from depression, have financial concerns and to report multiple dimensions of work-related stress
Employers have an important role to play in encouraging employees to be more active, whether inside or outside work, or during the daily commute
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Dental health

Toothache is costing the UK economy more than £105m each year in sick days, research has suggested. Dental health can also be a major issue for employees travelling abroad, whether for work or on holiday, and another reason why it can pay to offer dental care as an employee benefit.
Employee health and wellbeing – counting the cost of toothache, both at home and abroad
The charity the Oral Health Foundation has urged workplaces and employees to prioritise their oral health, and published research suggesting that toothache is costing the UK economy a jaw-clenching £105m each year in sick days.
The poll was commissioned as part of the foundation’s National Smile Month in May, and argued that around one person in 20 had been forced to take time off work in the last year because of oral health problems.
Dr Nigel Carter, chief executive of the foundation, said: “Bad habits such as irregular brushing and sugary diets are contributing to around three in every ten UK adults suffering regular dental pain and tooth decay. It is therefore inevitable that significant numbers of people are taking sick days off work and damaging the productivity of the UK economy.”
Dr Carter, of course, might also have mentioned that one of the barriers to good dental health in the UK is the perceived cost of access, including lack of access to NHS dentistry.
Check-ups ignored
This can mean regular check-ups being ignored or put off, and therefore greater chance of someone needing to take time off work because a more serious, and undoubtedly painful, dental issue has occurred.
One solution here, of course, is to offer access to a dental plan, often bundled together with an eyecare plan.
This can help to remove some of the perceived cost barrier as well as mean employers are more likely to remember (or be reminded, at any rate) when check-ups are due.
Offering a dental plan can also pay a dividend in an area you may not have thought of: international travel.
Toothache abroad
As anyone who has had the misfortune to suffer from toothache while abroad, whether for business or pleasure, will undoubtedly be able to vouch, finding and accessing a dentist while overseas can often be an expensive and painful challenge. The NHS, incidentally, offers useful advice here.
By offering a dental plan, you can ensure employees have regular their check-ups and maintain their dental health and hygiene, especially before any trips overseas. This, of course, isn’t going to insure against an unforeseen dental emergency – breaking a tooth and exposing a nerve for example.
But it will go some way towards ensuring that more routine dental problems can be identified and treated before they flare up when your employee is hundreds or thousands of miles away in a strange and potentially unforgiving environment.
If nothing else read this

Toothache is costing the UK economy more than £105m each year in sick days
One person in 20 had been forced to take time off work in the last year because of oral health problems
Offering a dental plan can be one solution, both for employees at home but also to keep expensive and painful toothache at bay for those travelling overseas
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Heart health

Anaesthetists have called for airlines should carry more medical equipment for dealing with in-flight cardiac arrests and for aircrew to be better trained. With defibrillators now a common sight in many public places, making education on how to use them available more widely – including through the workplace – could be valuable.
Employee health and wellbeing – the value of knowing how to use a defibrillator
Airlines should carry more medical equipment for dealing with in-flight cardiac arrests, doctors have said, and should also spend more time and money investing in training for staff in how to respond to a passenger having a heart attack.
About 1,000 people a year die from cardiac arrest in the air, according to data presented at a meeting of the European Society of Anaesthesiology in June.
As a result, a group of doctors (led by the German Society for Aerospace Medicine) drew up new proposals for cardiac arrest on plane journeys. These include that:

all planes to carry an ECG and automated external defibrillator (AED)
aircraft crew should request help as soon as possible by an onboard announcement after identification of a patient with cardiac arrest. This should state there had been a suspected cardiac arrest and also the location of the emergency equipment.
Two-person cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) should be performed if possible and the crew should be trained regularly in basic life support
The plane should be diverted immediately if necessary

Prof Jochen Hinkelbein. of the University of Cologne and president of the German Society for Aerospace Medicine, said: “This is the first guideline providing specific treatment recommendations for in-flight medical emergencies during commercial air travel.
“This is of major importance to recommend proper actions and procedures since the airplane environment as well as equipment will be significantly different to what can be provided for medical emergencies on the ground,” he added.
Public defibrillators
Clearly, these guidelines are useful and valuable in their own right, and will hopefully help airlines and airline crew respond more effectively to in-flight cardiac arrests.
But, arguably, there is a wider and equally important point to be made from this.
Nowadays, defibrillators are a common site in many public places and spaces, and rightly so.
But how many of us would know how to use one in an emergency?
The charity The British Heart Foundation has useful guidance here about how to do cardio-pulmonary resuscitation and on how to use a defibrillator.
But too often, like the teenager who saved her father with CPR learnt from an episode of the US medical drama House, relying on someone to know what to do in such an emergency can be a bit of a hit and miss affair.
Training and education
This is, surely, where employers could play an important role? Many employers do, of course, offer first aid training and, for any employer with a defibrillator on site, the Health and Safety Executive recommends that staff are fully trained in how to use it.
But there is an argument for employers, irrespective, to put this valuable training on the list of their health promotion and health education.
After all, the more people who know how to use what can be a daunting piece of equipment, especially in an emergency, the better for anyone who has the misfortune to suffer a cardiac arrest.
If nothing else read this

Airlines should carry more medical equipment for dealing with in-flight cardiac arrests, doctors have said
Employer-based training and education for employees in how to use a defibrillator in the event of an emergency could be valuable
If have a defibrillator on site, the Health and Safety Executive recommends staff are fully trained in how to use it

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Sun safety

More than a third of Britons admit to having been sunburnt in the past year while in the UK (let alone while on holiday), highlighting the value of making “sun safety” a key part of your summer health promotion communication.
Employee health and safety – sun safety messages are important for all employees, not just outside workers
Wimbledon fortnight is here, so chances are the heavens will now open and the rain will come sheeting down. But, given that we’ve already had some of the hottest weather this summer for 40 years, now is a good time to be revisiting your “sun safe” health promotion communications.
Sun safety is, of course, a vitally important message to be getting across to any employees who are working predominantly outside during the summer months.
Recent research from the Canadian Occupational Cancer Research Centre by the Canadian Dermatology Association, for example, has highlighted that some 7,000 skin cancers were attributed to occupational exposure in 2014, and outdoor workers have a 2.5 to 3.5 times greater risk of skin cancer than indoor workers.
The Health and Safety Executive also highlights that skin cancer is one of the most common types of cancer, with sun exposure a key cause – and has this useful guidance.
It is also worth being aware of resources such as this from the TUC, and this from Cancer Research UK.
Sunburnt three times or more

But it is also important to communicate the importance of protecting yourself from the sun’s rays to your office-based or inside-based employees.
After all, hurling yourself down in the park for an hour at lunchtime in the blazing sun can still result in serious sunburn. And, of course, at this time of year even a sunny yet hazy day can still be burning.
In fact, a poll by the British Association of Dermatologists (BAD) has suggested that more a third (35%) of Britons admit to having been sunburnt in the past year while in the UK, let alone while on holiday. Of those, a worrying 28% said they had been sunburnt three or more times
The poll was published by the BAD to mark its Sun Awareness Week in May but is, if anything, even more valid at this time of year.
Even more worrying was the BAD finding that a full 88% of those polled said they were aware of sun awareness messages, and yet still managed to get sunburnt.
Those who have suffered sunburn were asked by the BAD what factors they felt had contributed to this.
Top of the list was not realising how strong the sun was (61%), failing to reapply sunscreen after long periods (43%), and not reapplying sunscreen after sweating or swimming (30%).
Cultural reasons also played their part, including “the desire for a tan” (19%), alcohol consumption (8%), and “falling asleep in the sun” (13%).
Dr Nick Levell, president of the association, said: “Too many people are ready to laugh off sunburn as the inevitable price of enjoying the summer, but it shouldn’t be. It’s possible to enjoy the sun, and summer, without suffering sun damage; it just takes a bit of care.”
What, then, should be the message here for employers?
Tackle sun-safety myths

It’s pretty simple, really. Get out there and communicate sun-safe messages to all your employees, including tackling common sun-safety myths; make it a core part of your health promotion activity during the summer months, and keep on reminding people.
On top of this, of course, there is a debate to be had about heat in the workplace during the summer months, especially if this summer does turn out to be a full-blown 1976-style scorcher.
Certainly, the high temperatures we experienced during June led to number of calls for employers to relax uniform rules and the need for a maximum working temperature to be legislated for, as well as a minimum.
This blog isn’t the place to be having that specific debate, but the temperature of your workplace and its impact on productivity and performance is certainly a discussion to be having.
Dress codes and hot workplaces

All workplaces will, naturally, have different dress codes and expectations of how their employees should look at work.
While many workplaces are becoming more relaxed about this, not least the Houses of Parliament, it does have to be recognised that, for many employers, their workplace dress code is an important part of their brand and image.
Within those parameters, however, it is important to consider whether temporary relaxation of formal dress codes is simply common-sense during extremely hot weather and whether basic measures – such as providing fans if there is no air conditioning – might also be a good idea.
After all, as an employer, ultimately what you want is for your employees to be performing and productive to be the best of their ability.
If they’re feeling uncomfortable and distracted, it stands to reason performance is likely to suffer. Whatever the weather.
If nothing else read this

• More than a third (35%) of Britons admit to having been sunburnt in the past year while in the UK, let alone while on holidays

• Sun-safe messages are important for all employees, not just those working outside

• Also consider how to protect productivity and performance during hot weather, perhaps by temporarily relaxing dress codes
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Work Related Stress

Work-related stress
Nearly two thirds of UK employees say they experience stress in their jobs, a new has argued. The good news is nearly half of employers say they are proactively trying to do something about it, such as stress management training, seminars, counselling and more time off. The bad news is this still leaves more than half who, it appears, couldn’t care less.
Employee health and wellbeing – rolling up your sleeves to tackle workplace stress
Nearly two thirds (63%) of UK employees say they experience stress in their jobs, according to research into workplace happiness by analytics company Happiness Works on behalf of recruitment firm Robert Half UK.
Of those who said they found their roles demanding, nearly one in ten said their job was “very” stressful, the poll added.
While such high levels of stress are, of course, worrying, the good news is that many employers do appear to be being proactive in how they respond and introducing a range of wellbeing initiatives to support the physical and mental health of employees at work.
Nearly half (48%) of businesses polled said they offered tools designed to promote wellbeing in the workplace, with one in seven providing stress management seminars or training and annual leave for personal and mental wellbeing.
Counselling and flexi-time
Other initiatives being introduced include counselling (for example EAPs) (17%), leaving work early on a Friday (17%) and limiting the amount of overtime that employees can do (11%).
Alongside introducing flexible working policies (17%), organisations were rethinking how the design of the workplace affected health, wellbeing and productivity.
One in seven employers said they had developed ergonomic workplaces and supplied healthy food or drinks.
Employers were also turning to new measures that encouraged physical wellbeing. One in five said they had introduced company bicycle or cycling schemes, followed by subsidised gym membership (15%), corporate sporting and fitness (10%) and tools such as fitness trackers or step counters, which all encouraged employees to be more active (9%).
“Starting a wellbeing programme may come at a cost, but health and happiness go hand-in-hand,” said Phil Sheridan, senior managing director at Robert Half UK.
“Creating a working environment that encourages good health fosters a more stable workforce. It also helps facilitate better team relationships, which in turn drives employee satisfaction, performance and morale,” he added.
Resilience tools and training
So, what should employers take away from this?
As we’ve highlighted recently on this site, in research from insurer and healthcare provider AXA PPP healthcare, the desire for greater resilience, the desire to be given tools and strategies to help you bounce back from the stresses, strains and anxieties of the workplace, is strong among many employees.
And it is extremely positive that many employers (if not all by any means) are now recognising this and putting in a place a mixture of resources, tools and benefits, as well as understanding the links there can be between physical and mental wellbeing.
Given the current climate of low unemployment and yet worries about Britain’s future post-Brexit competitiveness and productivity, employers can ill afford to be losing employees to illness, of whatever reason.
Tackling mental ill-health and reducing absence because of stress and anxiety does take time and commitment, but it can be done. And the quicker employers recognise this, the better.
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Sleep and Work

Sleep and work
Half of UK employees say they lose sleep over work, as well as smoke and drink too much because of stress, research has suggested. In our “always on” working world, sleep deprivation and the importance of employees ensuring they get “good” sleep and downtime is becoming more important.
Employee health and wellbeing – should employers be responsible for ensuring employees get a good night’s sleep?
It probably passed you by, but March was National Bed Month and, within that, March 17 was World Sleep Day, both of which prompted a succession of surveys and analysis about the effect of sleep, and sleep deprivation, on work.
Research from Canada Life Group Insurance argued that stress at work is leading to sleepless nights for many employees, in turn contributing to poor drinking and smoking habits.
More than half (51%) of employees said they lost sleep worrying about their job or work-related concerns, while 41% admitted to staying up late or getting up early to check work emails.
More than a third (34%) of employees who were smokers said they resorted to cigarettes more after stressful work days, and two fifths (42%) admitted that stress and pressure in the workplace caused them to overeat or make unhealthy food choices.
Many also felt their employer didn’t care either way. More than a fifth (21%) of the employees polled said they did not believe health and wellbeing was important to their boss.
Stress and productivity
Paul Avis, marketing director at Canada Life Group Insurance, said: “Employees who turn up to work feeling tired are less likely to be productive. Our research shows that workplace stress is often the cause of workers’ sleepless nights, with worrying about work-related issues and checking emails keeping staff up at night. Stress can be just as damaging for staff as physical conditions, with 15.8 million working days lost last year to such mental health issues.”
The Canada Life research was complemented by a study from “sleep improvement” company Big Health, which argued that the average UK employee misses 8.5 days of work a year because of poor sleep, costing the UK economy approximately £100bn a year.
And nursing service Redarc has put forward the innovative idea that employers would be well advised to follow the lead of “forward-thinking employers” who are already treating employees who suffer from sleep deprivation in the same way they would an employee with an illness.
The Redarc study referenced recent research from Rand UK, highlighted on this site, which calculated that sleep deprivation cost the UK economy 200,000 working days last year, or the equivalent of £40bn, or 1.86% of GDP.
Sleep and wellbeing
It also pointed to a study by the Rewards and Employee Benefits Association, in conjunction with Punter Southall Health & Protection, that has suggested the number of organisations including sleep within their wellbeing strategy is set to more than double (from 42% to 88%) in the next few years.
Christine Husbands, managing director for RedArc, said: “At the extreme end of the scale, employees who are lacking in sleep are susceptible to workplace accidents – and that can be potentially hazardous for people who operate machinery or drive during the course of their work.
“At the other end of the scale, anyone who is sleep deprived is more prone to make mistakes and poor decision-making, which ultimately can have an impact on the individual’s productivity and performance – as well as that of the employer. This in turn can lead on to more serious issues such as work-related stress, anxiety and absenteeism,” she added.
What, then, should employers make of this?
First, both Avis and Husbands make important points. Clearly, in a safety-critical environment, proper sleep is an important issue. But it is also important more generally in the workplace, and yet is often overlooked as either a) part and parcel of working life and b) none of an employer’s business.
For example, should it really be up to employers to be intervening to ensure that employees are not coming into work feeling sleep deprived? After all, isn’t what we do and how we live our lives outside of work is our own business?
International travel
But there is another important point to be debated here. Not only is work increasingly “always on” but it is also increasingly global and international. The dangers of poor decision-making because of jet lag and sleep deprivation are well-recognised, whether it’s business people or diplomats and world leaders.
Then there is the issue, too, of shift working and the various negative health effects that can be associated with this, not least a lack of sleep, as have been discussed on this site many times in the past.
It may feel like “nannying” to be advising employees about things such as late-night caffeine, excessive alcohol consumption, and blue screens before bedtime, but wrapping all these into generic health education and promotion around the value of “good quality” sleep and nutrition can be beneficial.
Combining this advice with practical tips and advice around jet lag and managing multiple time-zones for those travelling abroad for work is also likely to be valued by many employees.
Canada Life’s Avis, too, highlights the potential role and value of EAPs within this in terms of being somewhere “safe” employees can go to talk about stress and anxiety in general, including their feelings of not being to cope, one of which could well be lying awake at night worrying.
There are no easy answers to something like this. For most employers, it is going to be case of taking a common-sense perspective of what is going to be most appropriate, and resonate most, with your employees in terms of support, education and even intervention.
But it is also going to be case of encouraging more widespread cultural and environmental change, of ensuring managers and leaders understand the importance of giving employees “permission” to switch off and get the proper rest they need.
This includes ensuring managers understand and model good behaviour, for example, not emailing late at night or at weekends.
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Supporting Mentall Ill-Health

Mental health
A new benchmarking tool has been launched to help employers gauge how well they’re doing when it comes to supporting employees with mental ill-health.
Employee health and wellbeing – supporting mental ill-health more effectively
The mental health charity Mind has launched a “Workplace Wellbeing Index” that employers can use to benchmark how effective their approaches or interventions are when it comes to supporting employees with mental ill-health.
The launch of the new resource was marked by the publication of a poll into employer and employee attitudes towards mental ill health.
The online survey took in the views of more than 15,000 employees from across 29 organisations.
Support, counselling and EAPs
Of those who said they had disclosed poor mental health at work (2,200 employees), just over half (53%) said they felt supported, and 72% said they had been made aware of support tools such as EAPs, counselling, staff support networks or informal buddying systems.
More than half (56%) said they had been offered reasonable adjustments or support measures, such as changes to hours worked or the nature of some of their duties.
While the research suggested that, overall, staff reported having good mental health at work, where their mental health wasn’t good, there was often a sense that their workplace was a contributory factor to this.
Just over 12% said their mental health was poor, while 26% experiencing poor mental health said that this was because of problems at work.
Lack of support
The results also appeared to indicate a discrepancy between how well managers felt they supported staff versus how well supported employees actually felt.
Around half (54%) of employees felt that their line manager supported their mental health, yet 73% of line managers said they’d feel confident in supporting a member of staff experiencing a mental health problem.
So, what of the index? So far some 29 organisations have completed the full index assessment, including Deloitte, HMRC, the Environment Agency, Jaguar Land Rover and PepsiCo, said Mind.
The charity is also running a Workplace Wellbeing Index Awards, an event designed to recognise and celebrate employers’ commitment to making mental health at work an organisational priority.
Practical solutions
Looking at the employers who have signed up so far and been recognised, the common thread is very much that being proactive and creative is the way forward when it comes to tackling mental ill-heath.
This could mean anything from offering EAPs, through to hosting wellness webinars and appointing mental health champions, through to providing free meditation sessions and even tennis tournaments for staff.
It is also clear that having, and encouraging, an open culture where people feel able to discuss their wellbeing and tackle the causes of stress is important.
In sum, the most mentally healthy workplaces are those that both recognise the problem but also proactively respond through specific, joined-up and thought through measures to tackle the causes of work-related stress and poor mental health, promote good wellbeing more widely for all their employers, and support staff experiencing mental health problems.
As Emma Mamo, head of workplace wellbeing at Mind, has put it: “In the last few years, we’ve seen employers make great strides when it comes to tackling stress and supporting the mental wellbeing of their staff, including those with a diagnosed mental health problem.
“Our research shows that mental health problems are very common among employees who work for organisations of various sizes and sectors. Fortunately, forward-thinking employers are making mental health a priority,” she added.
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Mental Health and Resilience

Mental health and resilience
Half of British workers believe that having a low level of resilience can adversely affect performance at work, and nearly two thirds would like to be helped to become more resilient, research has suggested.
Employee health and wellbeing – workers want to be helped to become more resilient
Half of British workers agree that having a low level of resilience can adversely affect performance at work, whether it be the ability to bounce back from change or setbacks or simply doing your day-to-day job well, a study by insurer and healthcare provider AXA PPP healthcare has concluded.
Motivation (56%), responding to change (51%) and workplace performance (50%) were the top three things people felt were most likely to be adversely affected by having a low level of resilience.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, there was also a strong appetite among those polled for tools or resources to help them to become more resilient.
Nearly two-thirds (62%) said they wanted to be more resilient chiefly because they felt it would help in their day-to-day life and relationships (29%) and at work (20%), and because they feared for the future (20%).
Boosting resilience
Dr Mark Winwood, director of psychological services for AXA PPP healthcare, said: “Helping employees to bolster their resilience is a smart move. It can give them inner strength and confidence to deal successfully with the constant challenges and changes of modern working life.
“Better still, it’s not rocket science and the behaviours and ‘can do’ attitude that are needed are well understood and, for those who are willing to make the effort, quite readily achievable. It just takes time and practice – for example, taking time to reflect and focus on your priorities in your home and working life can help to ensure a satisfactory work-life balance and, in turn, equip you with a powerful psychological reservoir you can draw upon to enable you to bend rather than break when confronted by adversity.”
To help employers and employees, AXA PPP has developed a bite-sized guide for managers focused on how to help employees to strengthen their emotional intelligence, stay “energised”, get better at nurturing professional relationships, improve their ability to keep things in perspective, and improve how they prioritise and work to their strengths.
Stress management tools
What, then, should employers make of this? We all know stress and resilience are “hot” topics right now within workplace health, as they have been for quite a number of years now, as for example highlighted on this site or in this recent research looking at long working hours.
Beyond making full use of resources such as the AXA PPP guide – and there are many other stress management tools out there, not least the Health and Safety Executive’s stress management standards – employers should also consider whether they would benefit from offering bespoke resilience training as well as access to EAPs.
More widely, if the organisational culture or environment militates against these resources – that hours, workload, expectations and general “heat and burden” all encourage stress, anxiety and burnout, even inadvertently – then you may simply be fighting an uphill battle.
To that end, building resilience has to be something that happens at an organisational, environmental and cultural level as much as something that can be improved or learnt at an individual level.
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IBS Silent Suffering

Irritable bowel syndrome
Four out of 10 sufferers of irritable bowel syndrome say the condition regularly forces them to take time off work, on average nine days a year, research has suggested.
Employee health and wellbeing – IBS is not something employees should have to suffer in silence
Four out of 10 sufferers of irritable bowel syndrome report that the pain and discomfort of their condition forces them regularly to time off work, on average around nine days a year, according to a survey by Asda Pharmacy in conjunction with the charity The IBS Network.
And almost three-quarters (70%) say they feel IBS to be a “debilitating” medical condition that occupies their lives daily.
 IBS commonly can cause a range of symptoms, including abdominal pain or cramping, bloating, flatulence and constipation.
In addition to the physical impact of not being able to attend work, the survey found that the condition had an effect on sufferers’ daily lives, and meant they often avoided taking part in a range of activities, including fitness (26%) and travelling on planes or trains (24%).
Other challenges included the need to have total privacy (such as completely enclosed spaces) in the bathroom (28%) and needing to time meals around when there was easy access to facilities (21%).
High-stress situations
Finding time in the day to avoid work or high-stress situations that could bring on symptoms without managers noticing was a worry for 11%, as was not being able to take painkillers in situations (for example during meetings or presentations) when a bout of symptoms could come on.
Anxiety and stress were key factors in triggering IBS, with almost three-quarters stating that it exacerbated their symptoms, the research found.
And despite seven out of 10 stating they found their condition to be “debilitating”, six out of 10 admitted they had never sought professional help through a GP, instead choosing to manage the condition as best they could themselves.
More than half (57%) said the embarrassment of talking about their condition had held them back, even causing them to keep the condition hidden from friends and colleagues.
Alison Reid, chief executive of The IBS Network, said: “IBS affects between 10 and 20% of the population, that’s about 12 million people. The condition can mean feelings of isolation through an inability to leave the house for fear of an accident, cancelled holidays, and days off work. 
 “The stress caused by the distress of these symptoms, worry of losing job, the humiliation of an accident, can make the condition worse; which creates a vicious circle,” she added.
 What, then, should employers take away from all this?
 Recurrent absence
First, it is important to recognise the impact of IBS, especially in the context of recurrent short-term absence. Moreover, it is also important to recognise that, in extreme cases, it could potentially become classed as disabling, and therefore come under the remit of the Equality Act.
 Second, from a health promotion, health education and management perspective, it is also a case of accepting that this is a subject people may feel uncomfortable talking about, and therefore it may need to be handled sympathetically and discreetly.
 Nevertheless, it is also an important topic to have on your health promotion topic list, not least in terms of helping to raise awareness and appreciation of what is often something of an “invisible” health issue.
 Being open and upfront about a condition such as IBS sends a very clear signal to employees who are suffering from it or other potentially “embarrassing” conditions that, as a “good” employer, you are there to offer support and what help you can.
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Hazardous High Heels

Musculoskeletal disorders
The government is set to produce guidelines on workplace dress codes, following a high-profile petition and Parliamentary debate on high heels at work. Irrespective of what these contain, the health, safety and wellbeing perils of high heels won’t go away.
Employee health and safety – high heels are hazardous in so many ways
The government’s Equalities Office has said that it intends to introduce new guidelines on uniforms and clothing in the workplace.
The move (depending on the outcome of the general election, of course) follows a debate in Parliament in March, where MPs discussed a petition calling for a ban on women being forced by employers to wear high heels at work.
MPs were debating the issue because the petition had been signed by more than 150,000 people, and the threshold for a petition forcing a Parliamentary debate is 100,000.
The petition, in turn, was launched by receptionist Nicola Thorp after she hit the headlines after being sent home from work when she refused to wear high heels.
A report by the Commons Women and Equalities Committee and Petitions Committee in January, also prompted by Thorp’s experience, concluded that the Equality Act should be better enforced to ensure employers cannot impose sexist dress rules on employees.
Thorp’s experience is a workplace “issue” on a number of levels, including gender power dynamics, expectations and perceptions of women in the workplace, and the role of agencies (she was employed by an agency rather than directly by consultancy PWC, the organisation she was working at).
Joint problems and fractures
But what is intriguing for the purposes of this blog is the health and wellbeing and health and safety discourse that this whole debate has thrown up.
Certainly, the potential health issues associated with the wearing of high heels were a key part of the Parliamentary debate.
For example, Sheffield Labour MP Gillian Furniss described how her daughter had suffered a metatarsal fracture in her foot after being made to wear heels in a retail job.
“Quite literally adding insult to injury, she was denied any compensation or sick pay as she wasn’t on the payroll for long enough. Needless to say, she did not return to this type of work, but not everyone has that choice,” Furniss said.
Standing in high heels for an eight-hour shift was the norm in some professions, she also pointed out. “Wearing heels in this way often causes foot pain, bunions, skin lesions, lower-limb pathology and other related discomforts for the heel-wearer.”
Warrington MP Helen Jones highlighted that few employers carried out a health and safety assessment on this issue.
“There is plenty of information online and on the ACAS website about when people should wear steel-toe-capped boots and so on, but there is not very much on the health and wellbeing issues surrounding footwear,” she said.
What, then, should employers make of this?
 Cultural expectations
Clearly, there are complex issues here. For one, there is the question of what it means to look “professional” and our societal or cultural expectations and assumptions about what this should mean, especially for female workers.
Then there is the question of the pros and cons of mandating workplace dress, both employers forcing employees to wear uncomfortable or demeaning clothing but also, to an extent, whether a legalistic response is the best answer.
Irrespective of the pros and cons of changing or not changing the law, what is also clear is there can be very genuine health, safety and wellbeing worries associated with wearing high heels in the workplace for long periods, whether voluntarily or because this is a dress code that has been enforced by the employer.
There are the plethora of issues around bad backs, ankles, knees, thighs and feet; there are issues over the increased risk of slips, trips, falls; there are even questions over whether, if an employee is feeling uncomfortable (or even in pain) and unable to move around freely, how much this will affect their productivity.
 Ageing employees, and their joints
The point, then, is this. Irrespective of what the guidelines eventually say, how prescriptive or laissez faire they turn out to be, we live in a competitive working world where employers increasingly recognise the costs and burden (direct and indirect) of workers being laid up at home injured or unwell.
Employees, too, recognise much the same in terms of own employment attendance, security, income and peace of mind.
Moreover, against the backdrop of the “greying” of the workplace, where employers are increasingly needing to manage workforces (and their feet and joints) who are ageing, will employers really be able to continue to justify enforcing or mandating this sort of dress code?
Don’t, of course, expect high heels to disappear anytime soon – and many women, it ought to be remembered, actively choose or prefer to wear them in the workplace.
But this debate has served to throw a valuable and much-needed spotlight on an item of workplace attire that, from a health and wellbeing perspective at least, surely has to have a questionable long-term future.
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