Employers Have A Duty To Promote Workplace Wellness

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Minister of Health, Donville Inniss, addressing the BEC’S membership. Also pictured??are Industrial Relations Officer with the Barbados Employers’ Confederation, Sean Daniel (second from right) and Consultant – Knights Health Advantage Club, Lennox Prescod.??(C. Pitt/BGIS)

Employers have a responsibility to promote employee wellness programmes to ensure that persons are fit for work.?? If not, the individual, as well as the business, will pay the costs.??

Health Minister, Donville Inniss made this point yesterday, while addressing the membership of the Barbados Employers’ Confederation at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre.?? Pointing to the problem of absenteeism on a national level, he observed that workers could not leave their personal issues at the door and just "pick them back up in the evening".?? However, ill employees do have a significant impact on the workplace, with national health care expenditure, pegged at approximately $400 million so far this year.

"It is your duty as employers to provide the kind of environment where staff can speak with you in confidence, where you show empathy, and where you help them find solutions.?? Those employees [with personal or health issues] are the ones who often times are unproductive, are often on sick leave and can cost you the most money… So, it is imperative that we give stronger support to employee and work based healthy lifestyle programmes," he said.

While noting that generally speaking employers could not force an employee to disclose and discuss their illnesses, closer monitoring of sick leave taken would provide a gauge to the medical fitness or health of your employees, Mr. Inniss said.??

"Barbados, as an economy and as a society, suffers greatly from high levels of absenteeism in the workplace.?? Whilst we may not have a mechanism for collecting data and monitoring the situation, I don’t know of any state owned entity or any privately owned enterprise that does not suffer from absenteeism at an uncomfortable level," he indicated.??

The Health Minister disclosed that a recent study at one state health facility indicated an average of 655 absent days per month resulting in a direct cost to the taxpayers of $54,972 per month.?? This, he pointed out was surely not limited to the public sector or health care workers and should ???raise a flag’ since the figure, though substantial, merely reflected the direct costs triggered.??

He, however, hastened to add that not every employee who called in sick was being truant, adding, "the truth is most employees who report ill are indeed ill.?? So, we need to understand the root causes and address them."??

He also drew to the employer’s attention that mental health challenges also took a serious toll on workers.?? This, he noted, was sometimes amplified by "unenlightened" human resource practitioners who did not recognise or appreciate the extent of mental illnesses in the workplace, including stress and depression.?? The employers were encouraged to engage professionals to design and implement programmes related to mental health issues in the workplace and to provide open spaces at work for relaxation and exercise.????

Those who have organised the increasing number of health fairs, exercise programmes and dance clubs that have emerged in Barbados in recent times were praised by Minister Inniss, who stated: ??"We highly commend such and feel proud to know that our healthy lifestyles messages are getting through."??

lisa.bayley@barbados.gov.bb

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