First, for a long time Employee Health and Wellness programs have been part of a deliberate workplace strategy for some, and a “nice to have” for others. It could be argued that whilst it is often discussed, much is written and the industry has grown significantly, it has not yet become a consistent and accepted feature of a workplace structure.
Often times, Health and Wellness programs are employed in response to something, not initiated as a strategy that will improve the bottom line of the business. There are still a large number of businesses across the globe that pay almost no attention to the improvement in health and wellness of their employees.
Second, it is important to be clear about the reasons for the recent lockdowns that have brought the global economy to a staggering slow down. In most countries, Health Care systems are at breaking point with expenditure rising annually and disease statistics continuing to rise.
In Australia we spend approximately $200 billion on Healthcare, which represents about 10% of GDP, with a rise in expenditure averaging 3.9% per annum over the past decade. This 3.9% is much higher than the average rate of economic growth for the country over the same period. Further, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reported that between 2006 and 2016, healthcare expenditure in Australia grew faster than population growth.
Similar situations exist across the globe. In 2017, at the Global Wellness Summit, Dr Richard Carmona, 17th Surgeon General of the United States, cited that the USA spends 19% of GDP on Healthcare and 80% of that is spent treating preventable disease.
Given the overload on healthcare systems and the exhaustion of facilities and resources, Governments across the globe could not afford a sharp increase in demand on healthcare that may come with the introduction of a virulent virus. Shutting down society became the most rational plan available.
From this, one could argue that the shutdown was not so much caused by the Covid-19 virus but by the continually declining state of health of the average person and the continued rise in lifestyle related diseases.
Typical factors that lead to high levels of disease include:
- Lack of Exercise
- Poor quality nutrition
- Overconsumption and Obesity
- Alcohol and Recreational drug Abuse
- Chemical toxification from pollution, food processing and agricultural chemical residues
- Reliance on highly processed foods which results in a quantity rather than quality diet
- Psychological Stress
- Overuse of Pharmaceuticals including antibiotics
Whilst for years, people have commonly held the belief that diseases like Heart Disease, many Cancers, Stroke, Diabetes and several auto-immune diseases were genetic and not much could be done to prevent them, a continued stream of research over the past 25 years has clearly demonstrated that poor lifestyle choices are a person’s greatest risk factor.
The Future Stability of Business
Will this situation occur again in the future? One would hope not but the likelihood is high that many more new viruses will emerge over the coming decades.
As a result of population growth, agriculture practices and animal husbandry techniques, some would argue that we have created the `perfect storm’ for ongoing challenges with viruses.
If this is the case, how can economies possibly continue to survive. Government stimulus packages are at best a “once in a decade or two” scenario. Another event like this could completely “crash” the global economy and lead to untold devastation.
Nobody wants that. Nobody wants to see the world slump into global catastrophe.
For business to have a stable future, we have two choices as I see them.
The first is a vaccine. I rate this option as a wild gamble at best. I am not against vaccines, but a vaccine works for a particular virus. Old vaccines do not help much with new viruses. The only way a vaccine could be effective is the invention of a rapid response system that could detect a new virus, create a vaccine within hours, and mass produce vaccines within weeks.
We do not have that technological capability yet and may never have it.
The second option, I feel, is for businesses to actively engage in practices that help to improve the health and wellbeing, and with that immunity, for their workforce and for the community they serve.
One might argue that the community is not the responsibility of the business and that might well be true. But working with the community to improve over-all health levels is good risk insurance.
If we can collectively support our populations to become robust in their health and wellness, there will be extraordinary flow on effects including:
- A significant reduction in the cost of healthcare.
- Much better collective immunity and capacity for efficient immune responses
- Greater capacity in healthcare for emergency responses
- Higher quality of life
- Higher levels of productivity
- Reductions in other community costs like soil degradation, pollution and crime.
- Exciting new industries arising from an inspired, energetic, and more motivated population.
Identifying the Cause
I once had a summer holiday job working as a kitchen hand on a Bass Strait Gas Platform. It was an interesting job, but I was completely blown away by my work. Each meal, we had to serve at least four choices for entrée, main course, and dessert, and enough of each in case everybody chose one particular item.
This meant that three quarters of everything we created would go over the side and into the sea. I realised then that the world’s fattest fish probably lived around Oil Rigs.
I described to my parents when I returned after my first period of work. “It is like Christmas Lunch at every meal. Those guys will all be the size of houses before long”.
Amazingly, less than 20 years later I was back there, flying by helicopter from platform to platform, delivering Men’s Health Seminars because obesity was out of control among the workforce. The company was concerned for their risk. I was told that if one of those men became ill with heart disease, they might well sue their employer. The irony of it all was that it was the trade unions who demanded such catering practices in the first place.
“When societies get to a point where people no longer need each other, the collapse of that society is nigh!”
We eat and drink too much and don’t do enough exercise!
Sometimes I know I can be little better than a pet dog. If there is food available and I love the taste, I am likely to ignore feeling full and keep eating. It has taken me years to learn to exercise my will and take control of the volume of food I eat. The nutritional quality of the food I eat is extremely high, but my biggest problem is “so is the volume”.
Many overeat because of sugar addictions. Others overeat to suppress unwanted feelings. Others because they are bored.
Through my life I have always trained. I love feeling strong and fit so never drift too far away from being in good shape. But I was always a bit of a rare breed in my world. Many people I have known never, ever did any exercise.
Whilst exercise is more popular today, still there are too many people who live sedentary lives. The Australian Department of Health reports that at least 70% of Australians are sedentary. For many people, their longest period of walking is the time spent wandering around shopping centres and supermarkets.
Add to this the explosion in consumption of alcohol and sugar, chemical toxicity, stress and drug abuse, and we start to see some clear reasons why the country’s population is so unhealthy.
History repeats itself. Typically, as a population becomes wealthier, the health of the population declines. Perhaps the most definitive epidemiological study of our time is The China Study, conducted by Cornell and Oxford Universities, in which over 6000 Chinese people have been studied since 1986. As wealth emerges, obesity and disease risk also increase.
Something else was said to me a few days ago. “When societies get to a point where people no longer need each other, the collapse of that society is nigh!”
Business as a Community Leader
For decades now, we have allowed our economy to run mostly under the laws of supply and demand, with some government regulation. From an economic sense, some would argue that we have been successful. But from a quality of life perspective, and a population resilience perspective, the argument may not be as strong.
Competition has been a tool used to drive innovation and profit. The right combination of both brings both economic growth and prosperity.
The Quest for Success
Somewhere along the way, we began to blur the lines in our definition of success. Our desire for ease and comfort gave many an addiction to wealth. Money became more than a medium of exchange as it represented freedom and personal power. At some point, we began to define wealth as success.
Whilst the two do not have to be mutually exclusive, history is littered with people who have done terrible things on the road to creating wealth and power.
We have lost our focus on the development of our humanity and the evolution of our own consciousness as a measure of success. Following a career and/or building a business can be an excellent path to spiritual growth and self-actualization.
I am reminded of Gandhi’s Seven Deadly Sins:
“Wealth without work, Pleasure without conscience, Science without humanity, Knowledge without character, Politics without principle, Commerce without morality, Worship without sacrifice.”
Defining success in financial terms creates a dependence on strategies. Increasing profits is simply a case of either increasing sales, cutting costs for avoiding taxes. Along the way, some players bend the rules or even break them. Commerce without Morality becomes an accepted part of life in business. I am sure you’ve heard the lament “It’s just business!”
Many may be reading this and asserting to themselves that they would never do such a thing, would never breach their own moral code in the name of profit. But how closely are we inspecting this?
Here is a simple case of where I have done it. I know that in large commercial dairies, often cows are not treated with care and compassion and are seen as a milk producing commodity and not as a sentient being with feelings. I know that the cheaper dairy products in the local supermarket are more than likely to have come from dairies where care for the animals played second fiddle to production. When I buy that cheap butter, and I have done so, I am a direct contributor to the misery of animals. I am turning a blind eye to my own moral conscience to save a few cents.
Then on the other hand, others have felt I traded morals for profit when I delivered Health Seminars at a cigarette company for a fee. However, faced with an ethical dilemma, I decided that by having compassion and care for those people, I may have an impact on their future thinking and in doing so, help to move that industry forward in some way.
In a myriad of ways, we have learned how to close down our moral compass in the quest for wealth. Along the way, we have pushed aside our civic responsibility, perhaps not wanting to be inconvenienced or disapproved of, and have allowed businesses that sell products that are destructive to the health and wellbeing of our society to thrive.
Moral Code is not about right and wrong as a set of rules. It is about doing what feels to be right in the moment.
Over a 60-year period, we have seen soft drinks move from being an occasional treat to occupying the highest sales rankings across Australian supermarkets. And we have watched hamburger restaurants move from being suppliers of a home cooked compilation of fresh ingredients to mass producers of cheap, mega processed, preservative-laden treats.
And across the same period, we have moved from naturally farmed and nutritionally rich agriculture produce to highly chemicalized, nutrient deficient and often artificially enhanced foods that strip the exhausted soil of its remaining life with each harvest.
As a result, we have placed our faith in Western medicine, giving it an open chequebook to come up with cures for the ills we create.
All in the name of progress. Profits extracted from the healthcare industry are some of the most significant and most guaranteed of all industries. We have become completely and fearfully dependant on an industry that has demonstrated almost no quantifiable success in the treatment of disease in 50 years. But we keep paying.
There is No Free Lunch
Hidden costs sneak up on us. If I slacken off on my training and become less mindful of my eating, when I do go back to training, I notice the drag of a couple of additional kilos. There is always a cost.
When we allow things to slide out of control, ignoring the warning signs, there are consequences. It is one of the ever-present burdens of this life. We cannot have our cake and eat it too! (I learned just recently that this is the correct expression of the proverb).
We have allowed things to run and have been active players in the game. The costs that have crept up on us have been ill health, suffering, almost dead soil and an over-burdened health care system. The massive flashback we have all been avoiding hit us like a catastrophic tidal wave and every person on the planet is paying a price.
Change is Needed – Now!
We need to create change now – urgently. We do not have the luxury of a “wait and see what happens” approach. Further, we are in danger of having the risk ease, of going back to some level of routine and forgetting about what has just happened.
If we want to enjoy a stable future, we all must:
- Take responsibility for our own health. Own our bad choices and make change.
- Eat Better. As Dr Richard Carmona calls it, “Farm to Plate”.
- Start to exercise regularly
- Take better care of our minds, creating joy, connection, and laughter
- Get clear on our intentions. Find work that is more aligned with our sense of purpose
- Become more personally responsible. Sit in traffic less and take command of how we each work
- Handle our stress and reactivity
- Seek to work on ourselves to become better human beings.
Just as the environment quickly showed signs of recovery as the world slowed down, human health too will show signs of recovery as we collectively place more attention on living a responsible life.
We Cannot Wait for Government Regulation
In his book, Knowledge Courage Leadership: Insights & Reflections, former Hawke and Keating Government Science Minister, the Hon Barry Jones, talked about the impact of lobbyists on Members of Parliament and Ministers.
The term Lobbyist arose from US Politics. Apparently, President Ulysses S Grant used to enjoy visiting the Willard Hotel in Washington in the evenings to enjoy a brandy and a cigar. This practice became widely known, so businessmen who wanted to get the President’s ear would congregate and wait in the hotel lobby, hoping for a chance to get his attention. These people, because of the location in which they gathered, were to become known as “lobbyists”.
Jones shared that many people who go into politics are passionate about service but naïve about many subjects. It is the lobbyists role to seduce, indoctrinate and motivate these representatives of the people to support certain causes.
I attended an evening where Mr Jones discussed his book in an intimate public gathering with the late John Clarke. He said to us that you could picture the scene. A new Minister is sworn in, and in the first few days he is visited by a lobbyist who has organised a scheduled meeting at the Minister’s office. When the lobbyist arrives, the new Minister recognises his guest as a former Minister, now under the employ of, for example, Big Coal.
The visitor makes it known how good the job is, the opportunities attached, how amazing the pay and benefits are, and how he/she is “here to help”. During the conversation, the lobbyist creates interest and connection. Following the meeting, the Minister has already seen, even unconsciously, an advantage in remaining close to this person. Who knows, there could be a good job available after they retire from politics.
The seed is sown. When the lobbyist calls down the track to ask for support in a vote on a particular bill, the Minister is already in the lobbyists court and will likely find lots of justifiable reasons to vote as requested.
Over time, lobbying has been turned into a highly crafted and sometimes scientific practice. As Mr Jones stated clearly, “The big political parties are no longer parties. They are corporations and they govern for the benefit of their benefactors, not for the citizens of the country”.
I have no doubt that the powerful and wealthy medical industrial complex will influence Government Health Policy for years to come. And whilst their agenda is profit over value to the community, we will continue to witness the injustice of people destined to a lifetime of sickness, instead of being inspired, empowered and supported to get well. We have created this by relinquishing personal responsibility for our own health and handing it over to our GP.
“There is no escape from justice, nothing can be unearned and unpaid for in the universe, neither in matter nor in spirit—and if the guilty do not pay, then the innocent have to pay it.” Henry “Hank” Reardon in Atlas Shrugged.
Corporate Australia must take the Lead
Medium to large companies, the employers, must take the lead. But leading must take a new form. These are the organisations that employ large numbers of people and they can have an impact on society by the actions they take and the education and guidance they deliver.
This is not about philanthropic gestures. I am talking here about laying the groundwork for a stable future and a capable workforce. I am talking about businesses caring for the communities they serve so that they will have both motivated customers and able employees for generations to come.
This will require some different decision making because it can no longer be simply about the financial bottom line. A company can completely destroy the stability it needs for future growth by cutting costs to make profits look more attractive in single reporting year. And it will be seen as good financial management. But will it be viewed over time as sound economic leadership?
To create a new and viable playing field moving forward, corporations are going to be forced to begin evaluating many more factors as a measure of success. A little less head and a little more heart.
Honouring People’s Humanity
I have held the view privately for a long time that MBA Courses have created some significant problems for society in that they seem to teach a rationalist approach to running businesses. Philosophically, rationalism is the theory that reason rather than experience is the foundation of certainty in knowledge.
Rationalist Approach: “Reason rather than experience is the foundation of certainty in knowledge.”
We need leadership that is open to exploring what is best right now so that things can move forward, rather than trying to corral the situation into some sort of managed process that worked in the past. Further, we need to look toward longer term goals as opposed to short term profits. Focusing on the latter breeds hidden agendas, dishonesty and the need for justifications.
Consider the following:
“This is a moment for Australian businesses to take stock of changes in consumer sentiment, beliefs, and behaviours, and put in place new mechanisms—not just for returning to normal, but for identifying how they can emerge stronger and, importantly, engage more deeply with their consumers.” From the McKinsey and Company Article, ‘Emerging from Covid-19: Australians Embrace their Values’, by Lloyd Colling, Rod Farmer, Jenny Child, Dan Feldman, and Jean-Baptiste Coumau.
This means placing value on people’s humanity, their connection to family and community and their ability to have the time and space to contribute at those levels. Three-hour daily commutes can no longer be accepted as ok.
Businesses that find a way to function whilst caring deeply for their employees will create a culture that will navigate the business through challenging times. Grateful employees will naturally give more as opposed to holding back in response to perceived inequities or workplace injustices.
This new leadership will require the ability to hold a much larger perspective than on simply trading for income and profit. It will require decision making that takes into account the wellbeing of communities, the betterment of society and the evolution of humanity.
No longer will CEO’s be justified in doing business, for example, with a company that is knowingly contributing to ill health and environmental degradation.
Perhaps a new set of Leadership Ethics, that may never have been discussed in an MBA program, will be required as we progress along this new and unclear path.
“People who contribute to worthwhile goals, even if they have to sacrifice, are more relaxed about life, better able to recognize opportunities and more able to concentrate.” Harry Palmer
Education is the Best Answer
It may well be up to the employer to work with employees to inspire and empower them to higher states of wellness, happiness and disposition.
It will be a benefit to any employer who has a fitter, stronger and more highly immune workforce. Productivity will be greater and employee related costs like workers compensation claims and sick leave will be reduced. Collective productivity can be boosted by a better, more positive and supportive culture.
To be clear, supportive sometimes means having the uncomfortable conversations to help a person grow and be better. This paper is not about going easy on people. Exercise that does not illicit some level of discomfort is not likely to stimulate adaptations that lead to improvement.
The current state of general health in our society has revealed that people:
- Need to learn how to exercise and how to make regular exercise a habit.
- Must do better at improving their nutrition, enhancing their own immunity and choosing foods that are not produced in ways that damage the environment.
- Learn how to manage their stress, and the reactivity of their minds by learning meditation, mindfulness and perhaps pursuing some form of art.
- Do need to become more personally responsible for their lives.
The workplace provides a perfect avenue for this education and guidance. It will be more effective too as the message is being received by the individual as part of a community of others who are navigating their way through the same learning.
“While Australia has managed the initial public-health risk well, the COVID-19 crisis is still prompting people to take their health more seriously. Self-care to prevent illness of all kinds has become a higher priority. Families are taking steps to strengthen their immune systems…” from McKinsey and Co article referenced earlier.
As a Business and Community Leader – What do you stand for?
Clearly, there are companies operating in our marketplaces that are causing damage either via their products or their business practices to health, the environment, to people or to communities. It is no longer sustainable to wait for government agencies to catch up with these organisations, to chastise them and apply sanctions for destructive outcomes.
Remember, somebody sold lethal chemicals to the Nazis. Someone is selling weapons to murderous terrorists. Somebody leases land to people who grow drugs that destroy lives.
Am I any better than any of these if I eat dinner once a week with a friend who sells large hunting knives over the internet to angry suburban youth gangs? Am I any better if I offer cash credits to young adult men to seduce them into using gaming apps?
More and more, leaders will be faced with decisions that will reveal their integrity or lack thereof. As human beings become more educated and more aware, they will expect more. But as Mark Purdue stated: “If you believe in unlimited quality and act in all your business dealings with total integrity, the rest will take care of itself.”
Profit can no longer be the justification for abandoning the long-term interests of humanity and the environment. Profit ahead of the welfare of society will no longer be seen as profit.
“With integrity, you have nothing to fear, since you have nothing to hide. With integrity, you will do the right thing, so you will have no guilt.” ― Zig Ziglar
As a leader, I ask you: “What do you stand for?” Do you stand for:
- Business activities that damage the natural environment.
- The production of goods that harm the health and growth potential of children.
- Marketing practices that seduce rather than create genuine awareness of a product and its qualities.
- Dishonesty in advertising.
- Companies that preside over misery and suffering, to animals or people.
- Companies and business practices that take advantage of and abuse the vulnerable.
- Companies that have a reputation for refusing to pay a fair price for goods or services acquired.
- Friends, family and associates who participate in the development and operation of such businesses.
I am not talking about you becoming the moral police. But know you will be leading people whose own integrity will be affected by the decisions you make.
A New Future Built on New Ethics
Ethics are a set of principles that a society finds to be useful at a given time. As societies change, ethics can too. Whilst it was once considered ethical to execute a murderer, in most modern societies such a practice is no longer acceptable.
Until now, it has been considered ethical to keep animals locked in confined and harsh spaces, in a state of continued suffering, for the purposes of producing cheaper food. Will this remain ethical?
Until now, it has been considered ethical for hotel premises in the middle of suburbia to provide unrestricted access to gambling where troubled people take their families down a path to destitution, as opposed to providing creative entertainment and community connection – the original intention of the business. Will this still be considered ethical?
Until now, it has been considered ethical to inject a person with deeply toxic chemicals that make them physically sick under the guise of treating disease, whilst disallowing them the freedom to choose less common and less invasive alternative therapies. Will this continue to be acceptable?
If we are to truly create a sustainable future, then we will all need to stand for something much larger than ourselves.
Whilst we might decide it is no longer ethical to sell energy drinks in the company cafeteria, we might also then be forced to decide if it is ethical to provide transport services to a company manufacturing that same energy drink.
Leaders will have to take a stand on issues. If it is not ok, then it is not ok!
At this time, I put it to you, as a leader or as an emerging leader, to begin the conversations with your fellows and explore this concept as a new and potentially exciting path. Keep asking the questions. What is the right thing to do here?
And in the fading years of your life, what will your legacy be?
This will be our 2020 Hindsight.
How Can You Lead Right Now? What can you do?
Helping your people to understand where society is really at and what needs to change is a great first step. Then, start the conversations. Ask for their perspectives. Work together to find the answers that will work for your people, for your business and for your community.
The start to look at the internal initiatives you can create to improve the health of your employees in a way that it will ripple out into their families and the community. You have some important work to do.
If you need access to some easy-to-digest education, then please reach o