Relatives of workers who died of overwork sit in the gallery with pictures of their loved ones during discussions at the Lower House Committee on Health, Labor and Welfare on May 25, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan.
Relatives of workers who died of overwork sit in the gallery with pictures of their loved ones during discussions at the Lower House Committee on Health, Labor and Welfare on May 25, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan.

New Delhi: As strange as it may sound but “death by overwork” is so widespread a problem in Japan, that Karōshi-a term was coined in 1978 to refer to the increasing number of people suffering from fatal strokes and heart attacks attributed to overwork.

With advancements in technology, the thin line between personal and professional lives has blurred. The problem of corporate burnout is not just limited to Japan but is also widespread in other parts of the world especially in India.

Corporates valuing employee wellness programmes for growth Today’s competitive environment is driving the professionals to work for long hours with self-care being neglected. Jayanthi Vaidyanathan, a senior director HR at PayPal India, believes that there is a certain perception that employees are serious about their careers if they’re on the job all the time and are working late hours to make it big, which is simply not a good practice.

According to WHO, burnout is not a medical condition but rather an “occupational phenomenon” affecting health. The symptoms of burnout result “from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” Repeated episodes of being fatigued, sleep-deprived and stress can not only reduce the quality of work done but also cause multiple chronic diseases or even death in rare cases.

To move forward with the aspirations of the organisation, fortunately, many corporates today are going beyond the voluntary health offerings to the mandatory holistic wellness programmes.

Some of the commonly adopted corporate wellness initiatives around the world involve healthy snacking culture, gym and yoga sessions, anxiety workshops, encouraging personalised wellness through digital platforms, preventive health packages, onsite employee health clinic and standing desks to avoid a sedentary lifestyle.

Beginning in western countries, corporate wellness programs have slowly become an important part of corporate India as well. With multiple studies and surveys highlighting the disease burden in India, there is no way that corporates in India may excuse wellness programmes from their employees who often spend more than 8 hours in their workplace.

According to a report by the World Health Organization, cardiovascular diseases, cancers, chronic respiratory diseases, diabetes and other NCDs account for 60 per cent of all deaths in India.

Corporates valuing employee wellness programmes for growth Wellness programmes: A must have for corporate India

Corporate wellness programmes in the organization’s policy support employee wellbeing by making an organizational culture of health. Employee wellbeing ranks among the top three priorities that global organizations today are focusing on, following employee attraction and engagement, according to an industry survey. This is not surprising as the impact of such wellness activities in improving health and employee productivity has been well established.

“Corporate wellness has risen to be among one of the top priorities in an organization, and multiple factors like the influx of the new, millennial generation at the workplace, the change in lifestyles, and rising mental & physical wellness concerns have contributed a lot to the phenomenon,” said Rohit Chennamaneni, Co-Founder of Darwinbox.

Strategizing a competent corporate wellness programme

According to the Assocham report titled “Corporate Wellness Programme: Benefits to Organisation and Economy”, a strategically-designed corporate wellness programme can save India Inc. up to ₹2000 crore by safeguarding employees against chronic and lifestyle diseases and reducing absenteeism.

A well-designed wellness programme can lower potential health risks, improve employee behaviours towards work and have proven to reduce absenteeism.

Talking on employee engagement, Jayanthi Vaidyanathan says, “A relatively low participation is seen among Indian employees as they would rather focus on their routine work-related tasks than take part or put efforts towards their wellbeing. Engagement, motivation, support and strategy are key to a well-rounded corporate wellness program.”

Corporates valuing employee wellness programmes for growth Importance of Emotional and Mental wellbeing

A corporate wellness programme is incomplete without any provision for mental health as it is an integral part of overall wellbeing. Paypal’s Jayanthi Vaidyanathan believes a major challenge for Indian employees is that their emotional and mental wellbeing always takes a backseat.

Nearly 42.5 per cent of employees in private sectors suffer from depression or general anxiety disorder compared to government employees, said a study by ASSOCHAM.

Even though there have been many initiatives towards reducing the stigma associated with mental health, the problem still remains hugely unaddressed.

“Indian organizations should understand that focusing on the emotional well-being of employees isn’t a luxury anymore, rather a critical priority for a business. However, the social stigma existing around getting mental health extends to the workplace as well,” said Richard Lobo, Executive Vice President, Head HR at Infosys Limited.

Richard Lobo further emphasised that it is important for organizations to design a mental health and wellness policy that will work towards erasing biases and improving accessibility to support fellow employees in times of crises.

Studies have shown that workplace wellness goes beyond just physical health but is a combination of physical, mental and spiritual health. However, employees must first be mindful of their own emotional and physical state in order to detect the early warning signs.

Corporates valuing employee wellness programmes for growth Forming a future-ready wellness strategy

While the wellness programmes in a workplace is a must to have, implementing such a programme in a workplace is itself challenging based on the workplace demographics and size of the workforce.

“Organizations even at a large scale should be able to keep a check on employee wellness through mood surveys on their HR technology,” said Rohit Chennamaneni.

Understanding and adapting to the changes by listening to the employees and their needs will be a step in the right direction. Jayanthi Vaidyanathan highlighted the need for wellness strategies to focus more on proactive care rather than reactive.

Speaking on the same lines Richard Lobo said, “Considering the amount of time we spend in our workplaces, it makes sense to bring this to the core of what makes a great workplace. The goal is to ensure healthy and happy employees who will be more productive and in the long-term, add to our competitive edge in business.”

While many organisations today are encouraging wellness programmes, such initiatives have seen more acceptance among employees when there are supporting physical infrastructure and a widespread culture that prioritises health. So next time you think of skipping meals and sleep to meet deadlines do weigh the risks accordingly.

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