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Health at Work

The health gap: What your engagement surveys miss about your team’s wellbeing

Francesca Abalasei
Written by

Francesca Abalasei

Medically reviewed by

Fiona Moncrieff

6 min read
Last updated July 2024

Jump to: Nutrition | Exercise | Sleep Quality | Stress and Burnout | Navigating  Boundaries

Employee engagement surveys are a common tool used by organisations to gauge the satisfaction and commitment levels of their workforce.

While these surveys provide valuable insights, they often fall short of capturing the complete landscape of health and wellbeing challenges faced by employees. In this guide, we will explore the limitations of engagement surveys and shed light on the broader spectrum of health concerns that HR professionals should consider. These subtle and private matters are often the reason for loss of productivity, sick leave and burnout:

    1. Nutrition: The Foundation of employee wellbeing
    2. Exercise: A pillar of physical and mental health
    3. Sleep Quality: The overlooked component of employee health
    4. Stress and Burnout: The breaker of productivity

This guide is the first in a series: Uncovering the hidden reasons behind employee’s loss of productivity. Each week we will dive deeper into the topics of nutrition, sleep, physical activity, and stress.

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Nutrition: The foundation of employee wellbeing

Employee engagement surveys often touch on wellness programmes, but they rarely delve into employee nutrition habits. Yet, nutrition is a critical factor in overall health and productivity.

Dietary choices, such as reaching for a biscuit during the afternoon slump, can lead to decreased productivity, increased absenteeism, and even chronic health conditions.

Here’s why: that biscuit, while tasty, can cause a rapid spike and subsequent crash in glucose levels, leading to symptoms like lightheadedness, brain fog, and poor concentration. Our brain cells, which rely heavily on glucose, are left starved when insulin rapidly clears simple sugars from our system. This can leave us feeling unfocused and lightheaded, a cycle that can persist throughout the day, influenced by our choices at breakfast, lunch, and snack times. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t eat that biscuit but by educating your team on nutrition, they can make more informed choices about what and how they eat, laying the groundwork for improved cognitive performance and a healthier team.

Are you interested in learning your employee’s nutrition habits? Get a Free Team Health Assessment with us by getting in touch here.

Exercise: A pillar of physical and mental health

While some engagement surveys may inquire about overall wellbeing, they often fail to address the significance of regular exercise. How many minutes of exercise do your employees do per week?

Sedentary work environments can contribute to a host of health issues, such as obesity, cardiovascular problems, and musculoskeletal disorders. However, these are not the only reasons why exercise is important.

Regular physical activity offers several benefits for work performance, including increased energy and stamina, enhanced cognitive function, and reduced stress levels. Employees who engage in physical activity often experience improved mood and morale, leading to higher job satisfaction. Exercise is so important that a Swedish company, Bjorn Borg made Friday lunchtime exercising mandatory in their offices. The company is convinced the workplace it has created has made employees happier and more productive, noting that all the company’s key numbers have gone up since the new regime was introduced.

In addition, a University of Stockholm study showed that exercising during the workday was advantageous for both employees – who were healthier and more concentrated – and the employer. The study found there was a 22% decline in work absences.

Maybe we don’t all need to take it as far as compulsory HIIT (High intensity interval training) workouts in the office, but encouraging employees to engage in physical activity as part of their working day may lead to long-term productivity gains for the business.

Sleep quality: The overlooked component of employee health

Have you heard of the phrase “Sleep on it” when encountering a difficult problem?

This phrase turns out to have a lot of scientific reasoning behind it. According to research, memory undergoes reactivation during sleep which gives rise to new knowledge, such as gaining insight into solutions for problem solving. By restructuring and changing memory, sleep may also aid creative solutions for complex problems.

Given that employees make thousands of decisions impacting the business daily, the role of sleep in enhancing cognitive function and decision making simply can’t be overlooked. Moreover, REM sleep helps process emotional memories, reducing emotional intensity and aiding in stress management and burnout prevention.

These are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the myriad health benefits of sleep, many of which we won’t delve into here. While health insurance benefits can address more acute health issues when they arise, they often overlook the importance of daily health habits like good sleep, which have a profound impact on an employee’s health and wellbeing in the long term.

Stress and burnout: The breaker of productivity

Stress and burnout are two critical health challenges that employee engagement surveys may touch upon but often fail to fully address. Chronic workplace stress can lead to burnout, resulting in physical and mental exhaustion, reduced job satisfaction, and decreased productivity. Employees facing overwhelming workloads, unrealistic expectations, or a lack of support may be at higher risk of experiencing burnout and ultimately leaving their jobs.

According to the research conducted by Gallup, stressed employees are 63% more likely to take a sick day and 2.6 times as likely to be actively seeking a different job. And even if they stay, they typically have 13% lower confidence in their performance and are half as likely to discuss how to approach performance goals with their manager.

However, it is difficult to understand who is at risk of burnout. Some of the signs to look out for are:

  • Noticeable changes in behaviour: Watch out for sudden shifts in an employee’s behaviour, such as becoming more withdrawn, irritable, or displaying a lack of motivation.
  • Lack of enthusiasm: A once enthusiastic employee may exhibit a lack of passion or interest in their work.
  • Uncharacteristic pessimism: A significant shift towards a pessimistic outlook on work and life, in general, may be a sign of burnout.
  • Frequent absenteeism or tardiness: Employees experiencing burnout may start taking more sick days or arrive late to work regularly.
  • Decreased performance and productivity: Burnout can lead to a decline in the quality of work, missed deadlines, and a reduced level of productivity.

Whilst burnout is an extremely complex topic, there is a lot we can do to prevent employees from reaching these levels of stress. One of the most important ones is building resilience within the workforce and proactively managing stress levels. We will dive deeper into this topic in future guides.

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