The National Workplace Wellness Policy, a recently approved national-level workplace wellness policy at the parliamentary level as noted by Minister of Labour and Social Partnership Relations Colin Jordan, has gained tremendous attention in both the media and other key social spaces including private and public sector organisations, trade unions, and academia.
Dr Dwayne Devonish, lead author of the National Policy, noted that the work on the Policy started in 2016 when Orlando Gabby Scott, formerly of the BWU, approached him on the need to have some umbrella-like policy at the national level to guide workplace practice regarding the development of health and wellness programmes, especially due to significant health and wellness challenges facing the country.
The prevalence of chronic non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and the significant proportion of NCD-related deaths in Barbados have become a significant and growing concern for the general population and have presented a tremendous and almost unmanageable burden on the Government, the corporate private sector, and general economy of the country. This reality is clearly illustrated and understood by the wide propagation of empirical evidence and scientific facts on the national health status and its resultant burden on the key resources of the country. For example, Barbados has one of the highest rates of obesity, hypertension, diabetes, heart disease and stroke (largely reflected in its poor performance across a number of critical health status indicators: low physical activity, high tobacco use and alcohol consumption, and insufficient intake of fruits and vegetables.)
In response, there have been concerted efforts on the part of Government, private sector and civil society, to constructively target the workplace as a critical, productive space in which many Barbadians spend most of their active lives. In Barbados, private and public sector workplaces have radically changed and evolved over the years, presenting a diverse set of demands and pressures on the average worker. These demands and pressures have translated into concerns about worker stress, workplace bullying, absenteeism, low productivity and depleted levels of worker health and well-being and have attracted calls to action to deal with the same. However, prior attempts to develop an overall guiding framework or policy to guide individuals and institutions on actions to enhance health and wellness at a national level have been limited and futile.
The Policy is the first of its kind ever – there is no record of any such initiative pitched at the national level and one that does not define wellness simply as one’s state of health and wellbeing but redefines wellness as ‘a conscious deliberate set of attitudes, behaviours and lifestyle patterns that people adopt and enact to produce positive health and well-being in nine dimensions of being.’ Hence, wellness is much more than a state of health and well-being but the ways in which people achieve this state through their active choice of certain attitudes, thought patterns, behaviours and lifestyles. The most important difference in the current policy is the central argument that wellness is not simply physical health but is a holistic concept that covers nine dimensions that must be equally balanced for an individual.
The nine dimensions of wellness covered by the National Workplace Policy are:
This represents the ability to maintain a healthy physical state. It involves the ability to recognize that our behaviours and actions can have a significant impact on our health and well-being. The maintenance of a healthy body, good physical health habits, and good nutrition and exercise as well as identifying symptoms of disease, protecting oneself from injuries and harm and seeking and obtaining appropriate health care are all prime examples of actions for enhancing physical wellness. Both employers and employees have a shared responsibility to ensure that all individuals in the organisation are taking care of their physical health in a number of ways within the workplace setting.
Psychological or mental wellness
This represents individuals’ mental or psychological state of well-being. This dimension focuses on attitudes, emotions, thoughts, and the ability to understand our personalities, behaviours/actions, and reactions in various environments/contexts. The ability to adjust to psychological or emotional challenges, display positive thoughts and feelings, and respond positively in our attitudes and actions are characteristic of good psychological wellness. Mental health promotion and opportunities to help individuals with mental illnesses to better manage their conditions within the workplace setting are priority concerns within this dimension in the workplace.
This represents individuals’ ability to recognize their responsibility for healthy, clean and safe environments (good quality air, water, food and land, etc.). It deals specifically with how individuals understand the impact of their behaviour on their natural and physical environments and how the state of these environments can affect the other dimensions of wellness. The main concern is to ensure that the physical environment in the workplace is properly inspected and enhanced to promote a conducive atmosphere for high levels of work functioning and productivity; one that does not put workers and managers at any risk of illness, injury and poor health.
This represents individuals’ ability to form and sustain healthy relationships with people. Feeling socially isolated and lonely (compromised social wellness) can have negative effects on one’s emotional/psychological wellness and physical wellness in the workplace, deriving from unfriendly and hostile relations with coworkers and managers, bullying and harassment experiences. Creating positive social networks and a well-developed support system, positively contributing to a sense of community, and showing respect to others are examples of behaviours indicative of social wellness.
This represents individuals’ ability and desire to learn new things and engage in intellectually oriented discussions and stimulation. This dimension concerns the individuals’ willingness and ability to open their minds to new ideas, concepts, and ways of learning. A deep passion for pursuing creativity, innovation, and lifelong learning are critical indicators of intellectual wellness. Workplaces that encourage intellectual stimulation through fostering creativity and innovation and a culture of continuous learning often reap the benefits from having employees who are intellectually active, productive and well.
This represents individuals’ personal fulfilment and satisfaction in their jobs and careers. This dimension involves the ability to find satisfying and fulfilling work as well as opportunities to develop and use one’s skills, knowledge and talents at work to improve their job, career and organisation. Organizations must ensure that their employees have adequate opportunities for growth and advancement in their jobs and are effectively involved in key decisions affecting them in the workplace.
This represents the ability to establish and sustain peace and harmony in one’s existence. This dimension involves the ability to achieve congruence between one’s values and actions and recognise the need to pursue meaning and purpose in one’s life. Organizations can provide a greater and deeper sense of meaning in their employees by offering and communicating strong values and opportunities for employees to reach their highest potential in their personal and professional lives.
This represents individuals’ full awareness and knowledge of their own cultural background (e.g. values, beliefs, norms, behaviours, practices, etc.) as well as a desire to learn about their own culture (and others) and its impact on their own lives. It also emphasizes a natural appetite for learning about different cultures as well as a deep respect for and appreciation of diversity and its implications in society. Cultural wellness in the workplace suggests harmonious relationships among diverse groups and cultures and an appreciation of difference and variety in the ways of living and working.
This represents an individual’s ability and willingness to manage their finances in effective and efficient ways. Good financial wellness suggests that an individual is financially literate, is setting and meeting realistic and critical financial goals and expectations, and is successfully managing expenses, income and overall debt. An individual’s overall wellness can be adversely affected by financial challenges that are due to poor overall financial management. Employers can help their employees make wise financial decisions in their personal financial management situation by adopting and implementing key financial wellness programmes in the organisation.