Wellness in the workplace: missing a key seat at the table
By Gary Arenson, founder and MD of Ergotherapy
The shift to remote working has been sudden, relentless. On the one hand, this pandemic is hailed as the big flexi-disruptor that staff have long desired. On the other, it’s left leaders across the spectrum scrambling to effectively ‘re-invent’ policies, office space, employee value and even performance metrics – and re-invent it did! The focus – understandably so – has been on ensuring business (as much) as usual.
Enhancing work performance
Perhaps it is this immediate scramble that, in my opinion, has left one of the most important business aspects unchecked when it comes to Work-From-Home (WFH) structures: Wellness and its impact on human performance. This is grossly undervalued and undermined locally – especially when one considers that according to Our World in Data, South Africa now has the longest working hours in the world – at a staggering 2209 average per annum, even exceeding China.
South Africans need to take this wellness problem far more seriously. Wellness, is of course, made up of various aspects. The impact of mental, physical, and social challenges on overall individual wellness, is largely outside of the control of a simple workplace policy. And while I absolutely urge employers to examine these aspects critically, enhancing wellness in areas that can be controlled is a more realistic and necessary starting point.
Invest in optimised workstations
Considering that 80% of people get more uncomfortable as the workday progresses and between 68-85% of employees experience physical discomfort, it makes sense to focus on ergonomics and optimised workstations for enhanced comfort and wellness. I am however yet to experience a company that is funding the purchase of ergonomic office chairs for their staff, as part of their WFH policy, for example. And this is very concerning. What I have experienced and observed, is the millions that corporate SA plough into employee wellness programs, oftentimes focusing on the mental well-being of employees while at work, and on the physical while not at work. Physical wellness while at work is the one key area that corporates have ignored.
Introducing ergonomic options in the workplace has been widely researched and proven across many international markets. In fact, sitting has been hailed as one of the most underrated health concerns of our time. Mitigating work related ailments while improving comfort, safety and employee satisfaction makes financial and business sense. Ergonomic workstation set-up is an investment that can be aligned perfectly to enhance wellness, and as a result performance. Small changes can make big impacts. Reduction of ergonomic risk factors and absenteeism being one such.
Sitting at a medically endorsed ergonomic chair, and a workstation optimised for how you work, will transform your work experience. Physical comfort leads to more energy, improved focus, and better performance. Working from home is going to be a part of our reality moving forward. Individuals and companies must realise that investing in the right equipment will transform the experience, with enormous benefit to employees and to the bottom line.