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Workplace Wellness: Stress

Written by Dr Arien van der Merwe MBChB FRSPH MISMA

As consultant in workplace wellness for well over 17 years, I’m amazed that even now, relatively few companies implement at least some basic wellness interventions for their employees. After all, employees are any company’s most important assets!

We live in a rapidly changing world – from the economic and social changes around us, to personal health and relationship challenges. The workplace is about making a profit, return on investment and the bottom line. If care is taken to provide employees with sustainable wellness tools and techniques, what better return on investment could there be? This would equip them with techniques to manage their stress on all levels, learning how to access ways and means to manage their emotions effectively, and provide them with coping skills to become more resilient. This will ensure employees who are productive and creative, using both sides of their brains for whole brain thinking and acting.

Stress and Wellbeing

We all know that work stress doubles our risk of dying from heart disease. Traditionally, we’ve been advised to stop smoking, cut down drinking, eat healthily, and exercise regularly. More recently, research suggests that the prevention, mastering or management of work stress is just as crucial.

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in modern society. Employees with high job strain, acombination of high demands at work and low job control, have high stress levels and more than twice the risk of death from heart disease compared to employees who have low job strain. The stress levels and risk for employees with effort-reward imbalance (low salary,lack of social approval, and few career opportunities relativeto efforts required at work) were 2.5 times higher. High jobstrain also showed an increased total cholesterol atthe 5 year follow up, while effort-reward imbalance showed an increase in body weight.

Can something be done about this?

Work stress is bad for your health. So is personal, financial and relationship stress. Not only does it double your risk for getting heart disease, long term unrelenting stress can be the cause or exacerbating factor in almost any of our modern day chronic diseases or ailments: from infections, cancer, skin problems, premenstrual tension, severe menopause, back problems, to chronic fatigue, digestive system problems and lung disease.

Stress management is of the utmost importance to maintain health and wellbeing and restore a sense of serenity and peace while maintaining a creative, productive, healthy and happy lifestyle.

Expected results when implementing health and wellness programs: Improved productivity and creativity, higher levels of company morale, reduced absenteeism and presenteeism (employees being at work, but not optimally healthy or well), improved day-to-day quality of working life for the employer and employee.

Many studies show that psychological and physical factors in the workplace such as intense deadlines, poor interpersonal relationships, poor ergonomics, absence of a stimulating work environment and healthy work culture, as well as inadequate job descriptions, are also major contributors to employee absenteeism and increased health risk.

Working proactively to reduce the risk of developing disease, as well as the very important promotion of a wellness lifestyle to prevent and treat disease, wellness programs empower the individual to recognise the danger signals of overdoing it, of living an unhealthy lifestyle, and educate employees about taking preventative measures to reduce the harmful effects of their habits and behaviour. Wellness educator training is a wonderful wellness intervention to effect this through all layers of the workforce.

Not only do wellness programs lead to improved productivity and creativity, higher levels of morale and reduced absenteeism and presenteeism, they also improve the day-to-day quality of working life for the employee, while still taking care of the bottom line; after all,employees are a company’s most important assets! Wise companies know this. Healthy, happy, relaxed employees will ensure a good return on investment for shareholders!

For further enquiries about Wellness Educator Training and Stress Management Programs, Please Contact Dr Arien van der Merwe, Director of Health Stress Management Gauteng (Pty) Ltd.


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Landline: 012 362 2422

Bio Summary: Dr Arien van der Merwe is a medical doctor, medical specialist in health and wellbeing, internationally published author of 17 books and 12 training manuals, with 17 years’ experience. Dr Arien writes for, and consults regularly, to many magazines and journals in South Africa, and is a regular guest on radio and TV. She is an elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Public Health in the UK, for the work she does in South Africa to promote public health and wellness through education, training and communication. She is also a Member of the International Stress Management Association, UK branch. Arien believes in a holistic, integrative approach to optimise health and wellbeing.

Mental Health in the Workplace

Depression affects more than 100 million people worldwide, being the second leading cause of disability among individuals aged 15–50. The World Health Organization (WHO) projects that by 2020 depression will be second only to ischemic heart disease as the leading cause of disability for all ages and both genders.

Aligned with this, a Business Day article reported on findings from The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). One in five workers has a mental illness, such as depression or anxiety. These conditions increasingly affect productivity in the workplace as many struggle to cope. People with mental illness are often off sick from work, and between 30-50 % of all new disability benefit claims in OECD nations are now due to poor mental health. Policy makers need to find new ways to tackle the social and economic problem of mental illness because trigger factors, such as stress at work, are likely to increase. Increasing job insecurity and pressure in today’s workplace,will lead to an increase in mental health problems in the coming years.

The OECD further more said that most common mental disorders could get better, and the employment chances could be improved, with adequate management. Health systems in most countries, however, were narrowly focused on treating people with severe disorders such as schizophrenia, who accounted for only a quarter of all mental diseases. OECD commented that taking more common disorders more seriously, would boost the chances for people to stay at, or return to, work. About 50% of people with severe mental disorders and more than 70% of those with moderate illness currently get no treatment at all.

The OECD urged policy makers to focus on providing good working conditions which would help employees reduce and manage stress, develop resilience, introduce systematic monitoring of sick leave and presenteeism (employees being at work but not optimally healthy), thereby increasing productivity and employee health and sense of wellbeing, also helping employers to reduce workplace conflict and avoid unnecessary dismissal caused by mental health problems.


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