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There are some jobs that obviously carry a health risk. Bullfighter or bomb disposal expert, for example. But, according to the latest Health and Safety Executive (HSE) figures, every job carries some element of risk. The HSE’s statistics show that two million employees are suffering from an illness they believe was either caused or exacerbated by their job.
And while working on a construction site is clearly an occupation that requires a hard hat, it is office life that is making most of us hide under the duvet – whether the direct cause is unrealistic deadlines, incompetent line managers or poor seating. Despite all the rhetoric, work is still making us sick.
But why is this? Dr Les Smith, head of clinical governance for health programme provider First Assist, says many employees feel trapped in the workplace.
“The biggest issue for staff is mental health – pressure and demands, and a lack of physical activity. On one level, we are just too cooped up,” he says.
“We spend our time stuck in traffic jams, sitting down all day, drinking coffee for a caffeine hit, then feeling dehydrated, getting home too late to exercise, then eating late and having disturbed sleep,” adds Smith.
Given the amount of lip service currently being paid to wellbeing at work, this appears to be something of a paradox.
HR directors with time on their hands could easily fill their diaries with ‘wellness’ conferences, or spend hours reading books and papers about the importance of having happy, healthy staff.
Dr Jenny Leeser, clinical director of occupational health at Bupa Wellness, believes that the amount of talk may lull some HR professionals into thinking they have all the angles covered.
“Employers would still do well to revisit the HSE website and measure their practices against the checklists,” she says. “Even stress is covered by management regulations. You can do a lot just by making sure you are compliant with all the legislation.”
As for the catch-all concept of ‘wellbeing’, Leeser believes this is just a matter of common sense.
“It’s both physical and mental, and it’s about feeling positive, and having enough energy to be productive at work, and to enjoy your non-working life,” she says.
Achieving this balance means treating your employees with respect, argues professor Frank Bond of the department of psychology at Goldsmiths Coll