Australia’s workforce is affected “in a major way” by poor mental health, stress and obesity, a new study has found.
The average Australian employee is stressed and overweight – about half the 30,000 employees surveyed were physically inactive, the report found.
The study, by the University of Wollongong in partnership with Workplace Health Association Australia (WHAA), spans 10 years of data.
Workers also showed other risk factors.
The report found that 65.1% of the employees had reported “moderate to high stress levels” and that 41% had psychological distress levels considered to be “at risk”.
The WHAA said that trends around employee health had been examined over a 5-to-10-year period and that the industries covered included banking and finance, legal, transport and storage, in both metropolitan and rural areas.
The study said its objectives were to present an analysis of employee health data from the five organisations, all members of the WHAA, who participated in the project.
Dr John Lang, WHAA’s chief executive, told the BBC that the average employee “was seeing a 2.4% reduction in productivity, on average, per risk factor”.
Risk factors listed in the study include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, physical inactivity, psychological distress, smoking and obesity.
“So if the average employee has four risk factors – that’s four times a 2.4% reduction in productivity,” Dr Lang said.
“And this means our workforce is being impacted in a major way by their poor lifestyle and physical health. It’s a global problem in the Western world, but the US is probably a bit worse that we are.”
Work life balance
“People will tell you, when they’re not exercising, that the biggest worry they face is a lack of time,” Dr Lang explained.
But he said employees were working longer hours, commuting for longer periods and generally not making enough time for hobbies and sport, or so-called displacement activities.
“And that, of course, is a major driver of weight gain, because lack of activity, quick and easy food choices and the availability of fast food just makes the whole thing, what we call, an obesogenic environment,” he told the BBC.
“When you’re thinking about things that are not related to work and family, and those high-level things in your life, that is a wonderful balance.
“But we don’t’ seem to be getting as much of that anymore.”
Dr Lang said the answer was in a better work-life balance.
“Companies are trying hard to get a bit of life balance in there – and they preach the gospel about the balance that we should have.
“But at the end of the day, they do tend to propagate long working hours, and now Australia has one of the longest – if not the longest – working hours in the world.”
The study concluded by saying some positive trends in health outcomes had been found over the 10-year period, but that overall, organisations needed to continue efforts to create workplaces conducive to better mental health.