By Dr Sunni (PhD, MBA, BSc(Hons), Dip(Cul Med), L3 PT)
It is estimated that over 11 million working days are lost each year because of work-related stress, and that nearly half a million people in the UK have work-related stress at a level that makes them feel ill. Stress can play a detrimental role is on our mental health, with extreme cases causing depression, anxiety, headaches and even insomnia. Though the law says that employers are responsible for the safety of their employees while they are at work, including stress, can more be done to educate and empower employees and organisations on self-regulation?
Taking Breaks – Is It Enough?
When we explore HSE guidelines on stress management for organisations, some suggested practices include creating boundaries and ‘me time’. However, the pandemic has made remote working an unexpected norm and even harder on setting work boundaries with the blurring of work-home life. Whether this will translate to the physical workplace when employees return to offices is yet to be known, but we should be mindful that the lines on taking breaks and being disciplined about it are difficult to maintain.
A lot of research has focussed on mental health and interventions with front-line and health workers, but little is known about the corporate setting. It is also fair to say that supporting mental health requires several interventions and support strategies with research suggesting that regular breaks help to mainly combat fatigue.
Inside-Out Approach – Can What We Eat Play a Role?
When we look at corporate intervention and support programs for employees, there is a general focus on skills and knowledge development, leadership development, communication and team building, stress management as well as workload and time management. But should nutrition and lifestyle interventions be considered?
There is strong scientific evidence showing that leading a healthier life in terms of having a balanced diet, exercising regularly, practising relaxation techniques can play a positive a role on mental health and stress. Furthermore, poor nutrition can also be directly linked to absenteeism, sickness, low morale, and higher rates of workplace accidents. Poor eating habits can increase the likelihood of poor productivity by as much as 66%. This raises the question then as to whether we should consider other types of interventions in the workplace.
The GEICO study of 10 corporate sites across the US found that nutritional intervention helped to reduce depression and anxiety, as well as improve Quality of Life scores suggesting a positive role on nutritional coaching with adult employees.
Lunch culture – What Does your Lunch Canteen Say about Your Organisation?
Did you know that employees typically consume a third of their total calories during the working day? This alone would stress the importance of food culture in the workplace, but instead we find studies time and time again showing that office-based workplaces have a negative influence on eating behaviours. Findings reveal several factors including job role, workplace food environment, and social aspects of the office-based workplace strongly influence eating behaviours at work.
So, What’s the Takeaway?
For us to be at our mental and physical best, and to maintain the due responsibility to employees as well as empowering them on the journey of self-care in the workplace, more can be done. Mental health is of growing importance and rightly so, but with limited focus on the holistic management of stress in the workplace, there is a clear need to identify factors in the workplace and work with experts, organisations and employees to create committed and focussed interventional programs that benefit productivity, engagement and most importantly – long term health.
Dr Sunni Patel is the founder of Dish Dash Deets – a company and platform focussed on health coaching, education, and food with a mission to support corporations on holistic wellbeing. He has held several senior corporate roles in global corporations and led E,D&I and Wellness initiatives across organisations. He is a former clinician scientist and currently a gut health influencer, Level 3 certified PT and Fitness Instructor as well as a culinary medicine coach and has been featured on BBC, ITV and called for comment regularly on BBC radio shows and leading press outlets. He is available for speaker sessions, workshops and coaching programs in workplaces. Contact Dr Sunni at: firstname.lastname@example.org.