Workers’ health, HR’s failure and employees’ responsibilities

I listened in on a webinar yesterday with Ellen Galinsky of the Families and Work Institute about “The State of Health In the American Workforce.” Two of the best nuggets I took away were:

Weightlifting is to work as…Think about those who lift weights that you know. They are dedicated not only to the days they lift, but to the days they rest and recover so their muscles can work at their best. Workers can’t be expected to be at their best, either, if they don’t have rest/recovery time.

The health care debate is not only about health insurance. It is about how to lower costs and get a healthier nation. Health insurance companies don’t control this. Humans do. Yes, health insurance clearly needs reforming…but so do attitudes and wellness programs. Being able to drop your dry cleaning off at the office is NOT a wellness program. Having a discounted gym membership that you never have time to use is NOT a wellness program.

Here are some of the study’s findings that stood out to me:

The downward trend in employee health over the last six years cannot be explained by age
Less than one third of employees (28%) today say their overall health is “excellent”—a significant decline of 6%.
The majority of employees do not exercise on a regular basis.
Nearly two out of three employed individuals (62%) are overweight or obese.
One third of the workforce shows signs of clinical depression.
Four out of five couples are dual-earner couples today.
Gender shifts:

In 2002, men were significantly more likely than women to report excellent overall health—37% of men compared with 31% of women… In 2008, 28% of men and 29% of women reported their perceived overall health as excellent.
Work-life conflict has increased especially among men—by eleven percentage points from 34% in 1977 to 45% in 2008. In comparison, the percentage of women experiencing work-life conflict has increased by five points from 34% in 1977 to 39% in 2008.
And finally:

Employees’ physical and mental health, stress levels, sleep quality and energy levels all significantly impact important work outcomes of interest to employers, such as engagement, turnover intent and job satisfaction.
I wish I could say I was surprised by the findings but I wasn’t. I mean after all, don’t most of us work or know people who do? Are these above facts really surprising based on people you know, personally? They’re not for me. So I began to think about what the webinar didn’t cover. Which is why this is and how to turn the tide.

Pointing fingers is not the purpose here. But I think we need to understand how we got here and what to fix in order to move forward so here goes:

Human Resources is broken. Just look at the name…viewing humans as resources over being individuals is part of the problem. I wish I could say I’m the first to come up with this notion but I’m not. A couple of great minds in the HR industry are ahead of me on this one, both good reads from inside the industry. From Punk Rock HR “HR is Dying. Yes? No?” and from HR Guy “Is Human Resources Fatally Flawed”

Your work/life is in your control – yes we are in a recession and people need their jobs to keep a roof over the heads. I get that. But there are people who are more financially comfortable who can just say “no” when workplaces are unreasonable. And why wouldn’t the workplace ask for more and more and more from workers. They don’t say “no.” Think of toddlers. My little one would read “just one more book” all night if I allowed it. But she has a set bedtime and she knows the rule is 3 books/night. So how about making your own rules. Like: I will be home for dinner with my family, I will take vacations and the office will not crumble without my presence, my parents health and well-being is important to me, so I will take time to care for them as they age, and if your corporate partner does not allow this…walk. Find another. If we collectively decided to only work for and buy goods from organizations that treated us humanely…the others would go away. They simply would.

Corporations need to listen. Seriously! Is this report really a surprise to you? In the go-go good times you made profits on your workers’ backs without really increasing their wages and benefits. So now that times are lean and you need them to understand your woes they’re not as understanding as you’d prefer. Perhaps if you ever listened to their woes…they would be more understanding. Besides, working them to the ground is not good for business. Isn’t that what you’re all about? What’s good for business. It turns out working less, works more.

We all need to talk to each other. Not at each other, not to our HR cliques, not to equally disgruntled co-workers. But truly come together, discuss what ails us, and work toward a solution…together.

And there is some good news from this study:

Employees’ personal or family life is more likely to have a positive impact on the level of energy they bring to their work than the other way around.
So let’s take the time to re-energize. It’s important.

Let me know what you think of the reports findings. It really is quite a good read and does offer examples of solutions that are working in the workplace today.

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