#ProfessionalUp #2 : The Work-Health Balance: The Conversation That Can No Longer Wait

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Why employee health should be your number one priority

By Mélissa M Azombo

Let’s talk about health at the workplace…

This is the era of “self-care” and a booming health and wellbeing industry. Concurrently, our working hours and practices are commonly at odds with our health appointment scheduling, and our ability to simply get a good night’s sleep. Result: we are stuck in a dichotomy. Traditional and social media send us messages to look after ourselves, while for many of us, the only way to pay our bills and earn a living, ties us to do the opposite.

This problematic dichotomy is due in part to one thing. While discussion around work-life balance is nothing new, the conversation around work-health balance is mute.

It’s time to start the conversation about work-health balance.

A blonde woman with red lipstick wearing a white shirt and beige trousers, curled up on her chair while working on her silver laptop with a black keyboard. Her table has her glasses and multiple used tissues on it.
Above: A woman working while sick. Image courtesy of Karolina Grabowska from Pexels.com

In the US, 9 in 10 people go to work ill because they can not afford to miss a day of work. There, it’s simple. You’re sick, you don’t get paid if you do not go into work. Slightly less harsh is the UK. Employees are eligible for Statutory Sick Pay of £96.35 per week if they have been ill for a minimum of 7 days. So, if you’re ill for less than that amount of time, you get nothing.

So, why does this matter?

People going to work ill instead of resting can worsen the illness and increase their likelihood of taking sick days the following year by 50%, compared to their counterparts who take the time off they need, when they are unwell. The current pandemic has shown it can have adverse effects on clients and customers when contaminated, too.

With all of this in mind, here’s how you can redress the work-health balance.

  1. Introduce the four-day work week
Gold embossed notebook, light pink calendar with gold writing on clipboard with gold clip.
Above: Image of calendar, notebooks, gold pen, gold clips, clipboard and stationery courtesy of Olya Kobruseva from Pexels.com

One of the major constraints of the work-health balance is the rigidity of the work part. Fix it. Give your employees more flexibility to book health appointments and maintain a health routine by permanently freeing up a working day in their schedule. They don’t need to go through an entire holiday booking process, which can be arduous at certain companies. Looking after themselves is as easy as it should be. Plus, you benefit from the greater productivity that studies on the four-day work week have shown.

  1. Provide job security
A brown female boss with long black hair wearing a white shirt with a cravat and black lanyard, adorned with a long black jacket, shows a young white lady with white silver blonde hair, wearing a light blue shirt, a black lanyard and a black jacket, holding a light pink pen in her hand, through a contract she has on the table.
Above: Image of boss showing new hire through contract, courtesy of Sora Shimazaki from Pexels.com.

Implement a no questions asked understanding approach to time-off requests, absences and lateness. Not all health issues come with a 48-hour pre-shift warning. To maintain work-health balance, untimely period pains, depression episodes or headaches should not cost someone their job. Neither should drinking water.

Professionalise humanity. Allow employees to hydrate themselves to stay focused, functional and to keep their vocal cords working in a job that requires lots of talking.

Be understanding of the fact your employees may be going through something they find difficult to discuss, do not wish to disclose and legally don’t have to. Show compassion by not contractually assuming lateness or absence is due to not being a worthy employee. Presume positivity. Simplify the time-off requests process. An emergency is rarely programmable months in advance.

  1. Pay a living wage
Money on the table. £5, £10 and £20 notes with £2, £1, 20p, 50p and 5p coins.
Above: Money, money, money. Image courtesy of Alaur Rahman from Pexels.com

The work-health balance is about working to live, not living to work, and definitely not living to barely get by. But paying your employees the minimum wage will land them exactly in that last category. Yours might be one of multiple jobs they have to work to make ends meet. Even then, some parents won’t eat, so their children can eat. They simply won’t earn enough to feed everyone. Instill the work-health balance. Break this stress-inducing system.

As an employer, pay a living wage to give your employees the opportunity to work one job and have more spare time to release endorphins among family and friends. Give them the purchasing power to gift themselves enjoyable experiences and eat healthily, as well as access regular healthcare. You relieve them of the stress a minimum wage job would give them. In turn, you welcome healthier, more productive individuals by your side.

We all benefit from the work-health balance. Replace any idea that it’s a matter of profit over health, when the two are intrinsically linked. Put health where it was always meant to be – at the centre of work. Take action and start the conversation about the work-health balance.