Health at work: How to support your employees

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Employers can no longer afford to pretend that those working for them are not devoting their lives to their jobs

A large number of my patients complain about the impact of their working hours, and the difficulties they face in getting time off work to see their GP.

Even more of my patients talk about feeling stressed or increasingly tired from working long hours and balancing the commitments that come with family life and the often surprisingly demanding nature of office work.

When we think of occupational health issues we rarely take the time to consider the potential consequences that working in an office may have. It’s not unusual to read about back pain or carpal tunnel syndrome, but these are rarely directly linked to the wider problem of living a sedentary office lifestyle.

Research by ZoomDoc found that 87% of office workers come into work sick at least once a year. It can be easy to dismiss a cold, but a staggering amount said they were also happy to come in with a fever. Working with doctors, it’s more common than ever to hear stories about patients not seeing a GP until the problem becomes a serious ailment.

Our attitudes to healthcare have changed, and it’s worrying how common it is to meet patients who no longer see yearly check-ups as a priority. We have also seen a lot more patients suffering from mental health issues, which are only exacerbated by the occupational health problems that come with office work.

Patients are constantly being referred to secondary care services because of the nature of their back or wrist pain, and the number of people with diabetes continues to be on the rise. It can often be difficult to draw conclusions about how office work can affect your health. But it’s becoming clear that eight- or nine-hour days culminating in a sedentary lifestyle have exacerbated, if not created, numerous health issues.

The solution is simple. Employers can no longer afford to pretend that those working for them are not devoting their lives to their jobs. The expectations you have for your employees should match the provisions that you make for them.

Employees who take a sick day are often still working from home by responding to emails throughout the day. This has now become the norm and the expectation. Similarly, those coming into work while unwell are responding to the pressure of your expectations and choose to come into work to manage their workload.

It is difficult for a CEO or an HR director to limit the amount of work that people do, as no employer willingly sets work that does not need to be done. However, if you work in an environment where your employees come into work sick you should provide them with options.

Create a work environment where employees have the option to stand. Provide snacks that are healthy, such as fruit, rather than chocolate, biscuits and coffee. Be open to the idea of corporate wellness – whether it’s organising an office cycling club or booking an optional yoga class, you have the power to create a healthy work culture.

Such changes may not ultimately change their attitude to health and are mere provisions. If you are committed to supporting the health of your employees consider investing in comprehensive healthcare insurance. If this is not an option there are cheaper alternatives.

The rise of telemedicine and doctor-on-demand apps is another option. Supplying access to doctors is a great way to ensure that health becomes a priority to your staff, as the barriers of waiting times and scheduling are no longer in place. A doctor can come to your employees’ homes, or even to the office, without interrupting their work day, or they can be attended to on the phone or online.

This is not a drastic measure by any means. Large multinational companies such as Apple and Amazon are creating healthcare clinics for their employees, and it has never been easier for companies to adopt this model of care on a smaller level without facing extensive costs.

Your employees will continue to work while sick. We know that the number of sick days and sick notes has reduced dramatically over the past 10 years. The question now is whether you are willing to look into growing your business from a health and wellness perspective, to truly take your company into the 21st century.

Kenny Livingstone is a GP, and founder and CMO of ZoomDoc

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