Work-life balance fails in the UK - Business Works
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Work-life balance fails in the UK

by Phil Austin, CEO, Cigna Europe Mental health and physical health - mind and body - are interconnected. We're taking action so that people and healthcare professionals can better understand what the link means so we can do more, sooner, to help people stay healthy, says Phil Austin, CEO, Cigna Europe.

We can't hide from the fact that the workplace is a stressful place to be, but what we can do is give managers and employees the tools to manage their stress in a structured and engaging way.

We want to help the world take control of stress and reduce stress-related chronic illnesses. By taking a proactive approach to managing stress, we can lead happier, healthier and longer lives and by encouraging people to seek the right advice, we can potentially, save lives as part of our core mission to improve the health, well-being and peace of mind.

This year, our study highlights the stress of the sandwich generation, defined as those between the ages of 35 to 49, who often bear the brunt of caring for their ageing parents as well as their families. Their concerns have risen, yet we are not addressing their needs.

Given that this segment is the core talent group driving businesses, their general well-being will impact the way businesses operate. Stress continues to be a universal issue and workplace wellness is on the decline, largely due to work-related stress and 'cookie cutter' workplace wellness programmes that don't address personalised needs of employees. We found that 61% of working women feel that that workplace wellness programmes need to address the specific needs of each gender better.

Our survey indicates that, as people age, they express a desire to continue working and being active, even though they feel that most companies are unwilling to hire older people. Opportunities for the growing active ageing population should be part of any future wellness conversation.

The workplace is busier than ever before due to an 'always-on' culture that is potentially leaving employees and managers with burnout. Our new research reveals that 87% of managers admit to having their work phone on them outside of office hours and when on annual leave, setting an unhealthy precedent for other staff.

Holidays appear to be few and far between, with 62% of managers not taking their full annual leave - and over a third (37%) admitting to working whilst on holiday. With this in mind, it comes as no surprise that 87% of workers feel stressed. Interestingly, 13% of women report that their stress is unmanageable, compared to 11% of men.

Stress portrait
'Stress portrait' taken using brainwaves and
pulse to measure stress

Employees are also painting a similar picture of an 'always-on' environment, with 1 in 5 (20%) making themselves contactable for clients and colleagues whilst on annual leave and 1 in 10 (11%) even cancelling annual leave due to work commitments. With the risk of burnout so high, the research revealed that employees are not taking time off to recover from stress with nearly half (47%) admitting to having felt stressed but not taking a sick day from work - because they would feel guilty (35%) for doing so.

In fact, only 1 in 10 workers have taken a sick day off due to stress-related issues in the last year, but felt they were unable to admit the real reason for doing so - with the majority (64%) either claiming they have a physical illness, or not giving a reason at all.

Nearly half (44%) of managers have not been trained in stress management, resulting in stress not being an easy topic to discuss in the workplace. The research has revealed that British people are more likely to speak to their partner (46%), family (32%) or friends (29%) when feeling stressed and only 14% would speak to a doctor or medical professional.

This reluctance to seek professional help is leading to unhealthy coping mechanisms, with a quarter (25%) admitting to stress eating and, worryingly, 1 in 7 (14%) believing that alcohol reduces their stress levels. Chronic stress can be very harmful to health and wellbeing and can have a major impact on people's ability to perform at work, engage socially and enjoy life. It's widely recognised stress affects physical health too, with 62% of respondents recognising the link. Problems sleeping (85%), headaches (75%), and high blood pressure (71%) are the most common physical symptoms.

Managers would like their employees to be more open about their stress, as 61% would like their employees to be more transparent about the help they need to deal with it. 51% would prefer that their employees tell them when they need to take a day off if it is due to stress. And for these conversations, proper training needs to take place. Nearly half (44%) of managers in the UK have not been trained to deal with stress and this grows to 83% of managers at SMEs, proving that there is a real need for those businesses to get onboard with managing stress properly.

We have just launched our See Stress Differently campaign which aims to raise awareness of stress, encourage people to talk to their medical professional about it and create a clear plan for people to manage stress and its side effects better.

Modern technology has led to an 'always-on' culture in the workplace that can be toxic for mental and physical health," says Dr Peter Mills, Medical Director at Cigna. "Whilst it is important to have a supportive social group during stressful times, the best person you can speak to is your doctor."

When people fall into a habit of trying to treat the physical symptoms of stress, rather than the root cause, the results can have long-term impact on their mental and physical health. That's why we need to adopt a more open approach to healthcare (and chronic stress in particular) that addresses both the physical and mental effects, or, as I like to call it: Whole Person Health."

To find out more about Cigna's survey, please take a look at the: Cigna well-being survey report

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