Employee Wellness Week is an annual campaign designed to bring awareness to the importance of maintaining the health and wellbeing of employees in the workplace. The Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa (HSFSA) commemorates this event, along with the rest of South Africa, during the period 4th to 8th July 2022.
South Africa is faced with a quadruple burden of diseases where Non- Communicable Diseases [NCDs] (including heart diseases and strokes), communicable diseases such as HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis, injuries and accidents as well as maternal, newborn and child health are colliding.
Cardiovascular diseases (CVD), namely heart disease and strokes have the highest burden of NCDs in South Africa and the mortality rate follows HIV and AIDS. An estimated 80% of CVDs can be prevented by leading a healthy lifestyle and taking up positive health behaviours.
Improving well-being in the workplace has been a goal of the World Health Organization (WHO) and associated agencies for many years, and there is universal agreement that a healthy workforce is a productive and happy workforce. In order to maximize corporate productivity rates, it is crucial to prioritize the health and wellbeing of the employees. Many employees suffer from “burnout” as a result of a demanding job, and this interferes with carrying out daily activities, thus affecting productivity. This was particularly prominent among health care workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Throughout Employee Wellness Week, the HSFSA aspires to educate the private and the public sector employers and their employees on the importance of workplace wellness. Health in this instance is defined holistically, referring to both mental and physical health. The HSFSAs health promotion and disease prevention programmes are essential to creating well-being at the workplace and helps employees assess their risk for ill health in order to make appropriate positive behavioural changes.
The HSFSA further conducts health risk assessments (HRA’S), an important pillar of the Foundation’s health promotion programme. The HRA’s include measuring blood pressure, checking cholesterol and blood glucose levels and measuring Body Mass Index (BMI). This is done to ensure the health of both public and private sector employees and to assess those at risk so that they can be referred for appropriate medical care. The assessments are usually accompanied by a health talk by our certified professionals to help employees understand that being healthy is about long-term habits which are best understood as a lifestyle. Most importantly, we offer ways to create a healthy environment to promote productivity and reduce absenteeism in the workplace. We also have valuable information leaflets to disseminate.
The Heart Mark endorsement programme is part of ongoing efforts by the HSFSA to reduce the number of deaths in South Africa from preventable heart disease and strokes. The endorsement programme forms part of a health-enabling environment offering consumers a tool which makes choosing healthier foods easier. Our market research shows that 8 in 10 (or 77%) of consumers instantly recognise the Heart Mark logo, these consumers associate the logo with healthy eating and a sense of credibility. Approved by the National Department of Health, the endorsement program works with food manufacturers to improve food formulation. It is not a diet, but rather, a guaranteed way to buy food lower in salt, sugar and saturated fats and higher in fibre.
Prof. Pamela Naidoo, CEO, of the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa states that: “Incorporating designated wellness days into the workplace is a first step in prioritizing the health of employees. Encouraging workplace wellness will lead to increased self-management of those in the paid workforce”.
Sustaining healthy employees begins in a healthy workplace. Stress can stem from demands at work, including deadlines. Stress becomes harmful when it is excessive, chronic and poorly managed. Experiencing high levels of stress often leads to unhealthy behaviours, of which most of them are major risk factors for heart disease and strokes, such as consuming foods high in salt, sugar and fats; excessive alcohol consumption, tobacco smoking and vaping and lack of physical activity.
Not only do healthy employees increase productivity at their places of work, but the overall well-being and quality of life for those employees increases. There are various ways to ensure your organization is improving the well-being in the workplace.
Here are 7 easy tips to improve your health at work and outside of work:
- Step up! Opt for the stairs instead of the elevator – it’s a great way to work towards 150 minutes per week recommended for an adult,
- Take lunch walks especially if you have a sedentary position, this will help to refocus and energize your body and mind,
- Experience yoga for physical, mental, and spiritual rejuvenation. It increases muscle strength, muscle tone, and flexibility,
- Stay hydrated! Drink at least 8 glasses of water a day and infuse with fruit for some sweetness,
- Portion with caution – When packing your lunch box or plating your meal at the staff canteen, make sure to keep an eye on your portion sizes. You should plate enough that you feel full afterwards which keeps you from snacking too much in the afternoon, yet not too much that you are overeating or wasting food. Use smaller plates, bowls, serving utensils and glasses for drinks. Make sure to also balance your portions of different food groups, using the plate model and as the golden rule of thumb: ¼ starchy foods, ¼ protein food and ½ non-starchy vegetables and salad.,
- Laugh! Don’t allow work to become mundane, take time to share a joke with a colleague during your lunch time walk. Laughter is a great stress reliever,
- Encourage your employer to promote healthier options within the working environment, e.g. Vending machines should not only offer salt and sugar-laden snacks but rather healthier alternatives such as unsalted popcorn and nuts. Further to this, heart-healthy meetings can be hosted where biscuits, sausage rolls and sugary drinks can be replaced with healthier options such as colourful fruit bowls and vegetable platters with dips.