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THE ISSUE: Good health a key economic factor


Natasha Beckles

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The link between health and productivity cannot be underestimated.
Unwell employees cannot be expected to give of their best and are therefore likely to affect the bottom line of the companies for which they work.
Aside from the attention paid to occupational safety and health, many local private and public sector entities host health fairs or other healthy lifestyle initiatives to impress on their employees the importance of diet and exercise.
The July 25, 2010 SUNDAY SUN editorial related the story of a Harvard Business School professor who told a class of postgraduate students that the greatest asset any of them would ever have was their health.
“In his books, health was more important than the largest bottom line or the most brilliantly performing company, because without good health even the most brilliant and innovative mind would be hard pressed to operate at anything near optimum potential, “He rounded off the lecture by reminding them that dead men tell no tales and cannot produce anything.”
Good health, he concluded, is therefore an economic factor.
That editorial also quoted Chief Medical Officer Dr Joy St John who told a gathering of health professionals and others that the island was witnessing a “disturbing trend”, with more young people falling victim to at least one chronic illness.
St John reminded the audience that the concern about chronic non communicable diseases related to factors including their deadly nature and the burden they placed on the health sector and on families.
“Given that these diseases include asthma, diabetes, hypertension and glaucoma, the implications of this development are startling because those afflicted remain members of the society who have to be cared for, often by relatives, and medically supported by the state health facilities at an increasing cost for the national budget.
“Since these diseases require lifelong care and affect the quality of life of the individual sufferers, they are therefore as much an economic and financial issue as they are a matter for the health authorities,” the editorial said.
Productivity of the workforce may therefore be adversely affected not only through the absence of those who are ill but also their caretakers.
Of greater concern to employers was the link between stress at work and high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes, which was identified by Minister of Labour Dr Esther Byer-Suckoo in the June 5, 2010 SATURDAY SUN.
She was speaking at a workshop put on by the Caribbean Tertiary Level Personnel Association (CTLPA) at The Savannah Hotel, Hastings, Christ Church, with the theme Managing Everyday Stress: Steps Towards Boosting Workplace Productivity.
Byer-Suckoo said that a 2006 survey by the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health revealed that a number of employees suffered from stress.
“There is a growing concern about the increasing tendency of our population to be affected by chronic non-communicable diseases such as high blood pressure, heart diseases and diabetes.
“In some cases these conditions may be developed or aggravated as a result of stress . . . in their personal lives or work lives.
“It is only when that person deals with their stress that we begin to see the blood pressure starting to reduce,” said Byer-Suckoo.
“It is important to note that stress is a workplace issue which if not controlled can have a negative impact on the individual, the business and the nation,” the minister said.
“In order to avoid this, we must come together and devise strategies to grapple with the situation,” she added.
Byer-Suckoo, who is a medical doctor, noted that when an individual left the workplace they did not leave the stress behind.
“It stands to reason, then, that all occupational stress must be managed effectively in order to foster wellness in the workplace.
“Wellness programmes have an integral role to play in the world of work today in that they counter our sedentary lifestyles and most significantly, our levels of stress,” she said.
The minister was in favour of more research, noting that work needed to be undertaken that would provide national or regional data on the magnitude of stress in the workplace, “thus enabling us to tackle the problem more aggressively”.
Moreover, in the November 23, 2011 MIDWEEK NATION, Byer-Suckoo said there are still companies in Barbados that do not allow their workers to take even a 20-second break away from the keyboard.
Byer-Suckoo encouraged policymakers within workplaces across the island to reconsider Occupational Safety and Health by looking at their employees holistically and considering their general health as well.
She urged employers to consider the total worker and not only the conditions under which they operated, but also the fact that in Barbados the number of people affected by chronic non-communicable diseases continued to rise.
“We are told that every 20 minutes you need to look away from your computer screen for 20 seconds so as to reduce the glare and the damage that could happen to your eyes.
“Stretch your hands for a few seconds every few minutes to reduce the chance of injury to your hands. And still we have workplaces in Barbados where folks are saying ‘No, no, get back to work’.
They are so concerned with productivity sometimes, even to the detriment of staff,” she said.
Mental health should also be factored into discussion about employee wellness and in the August 2, 2010 BARBADOS BUSINESS AUTHORITY the majority of Barbadian employers were seen to be in favour of having a mental health policy in the workplace.
This was revealed in a study on Employers’ Attitudes Towards Integrating Persons With Mental Disorders In The Workplace carried out by the Barbados Employers’ Confederation’s (BEC’s) Alicia Walcott.
The findings which were reported in the June edition of BEC @ Work showed that 86 per cent of employers sampled were keen on having a policy which would benefit those who are prone to or suffering from a mental disorder.
However, seventy per cent agreed that in order for such a policy to be effective, employees should inform their employers of their mental health status.
Results showed that there were no differences in attitude between the public and private sector.
In addition, it was found that employers who had strong negative attitudes towards mental disorders were less likely to integrate those with disorders in the workplace.
According to the report, one employer said, “Everyone has issues, whether physical, mental or personal. Therefore if an employee is dismissed because he has a mental problem, chances are he will be replaced by another employee who may more or less have a problem, which essentially will be seen as trading in one issue for [another].”
“Integrating people with mental disorders includes hiring a person who would be or who was suffering from a disorder, and more so, making modifications in the workplace which would make it possible for persons to easily execute the tasks of the organization,” the BEC said.

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