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Nutrition & Menopause: Fuelling Your Health & Well-being During Transformation

Nicholas Peat

08 December 2023

The significance of prioritising corporate wellbeing and fostering a culture that supports the health of employees cannot be overstated. In 2022, sickness or injury resulted in the loss of 185.6 million working days in the UK, averaging 5.7 days per worker. As organisations strive for sustained success and growth, the well-being of their workforce emerges as a cornerstone for achieving these objectives.

From preventing burnout to optimising mental and physical health, it’s essential to explore the multifaceted aspects of employee well-being. Research identifies that companies adopting a strategic approach to well-being are markedly more likely to observe numerous positive outcomes for both their employees and the overall organisation. With this in mind, Uniquely Created U aims to provide insight into strategies that not only safeguard the health of individuals but also contribute to the resilience and prosperity of the entire organisation.

Unravelling the nexus between health and organisational success

According to the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities, 1 in 3 UK employees report having a physical health condition. In addition, 1 in 5 employees with physical health conditions also reported having a mental health condition.

Finding the balance between continuing to work and managing a long-term condition can be challenging. Individuals with long-term conditions may choose to cease working due to health limitations, the need for frequent medical treatments, declining work productivity, workplace challenges and stigma, financial strain, a desire for improved work-life balance, disability status, or job dissatisfaction. In fact, in July 2023, the UK experienced a notable surge, with over 2.6 million individuals being unable to work due to long-term sickness. This marked a significant increase from 2019, when the number of economically inactive individuals for this reason stood at just 1.97 million, indicating a substantial upward trend over the years.

Despite this, many people continue to work whilst managing a long-term condition.

A 2022 research paper published in BMJ Open studied 893 adults aged 16–64 years living in Lambeth and Southwark, London. More than one-third of participants in the study reported having at least one long-term health condition, with musculoskeletal conditions and asthma being the most common. The prevalence of having one long-term condition at both measurement points in the study was around 20-21%, and having multiple long-term conditions was around 14-16%. In the 35–44 age group, there was a notable increase in long-term condition prevalence compared to the 16–34 age group.

After accounting for age and gender, the study found that individuals with small social networks and those experiencing a higher number of stressful life events had an increased risk of having both one and multiple long-term conditions. The risk of having multiple long-term conditions (multimorbidity) was higher for individuals with small social networks and three to five stressful life events compared to those with only one long-term condition.

Poor health in the workforce costs both employers and the economy. According to recent research from the Institute for Public Policy Research, poor health in the UK costs the economy £43bn a year. The same report describes that the annual income of individuals affected by long-term sickness is cut on average by up to £2,200 a year.

Absenteeism, the consistent absence of employees from work, and presenteeism, when employees are physically present but not fully productive due to health or personal issues, are two key factors impacting workplace productivity and employee well-being.

Absenteeism can result in workflow disruptions, increased stress, and decreased overall productivity, often stemming from various factors such as illness or dissatisfaction. In 2022, the sickness absence rate, representing the proportion of working hours lost due to sickness or injury, increased to 2.6%, marking a 0.4 percentage point rise from 2021 and reaching the highest level since 2004, when it was 2.7%.

On the other hand, presenteeism poses challenges as employees may be physically at work but not performing optimally, leading to potential errors and the spread of illness. Poor mental health among employees incurs an estimated annual cost ranging from £42bn to £45bn, with £29.3bn attributed to presenteeism. Presenteeism is observed by 65% of HR staff in the workplace, and 81% note its presence among those working from home.

Both phenomena highlight the importance of addressing employee well-being to foster a healthier, more productive work environment, often requiring strategies that promote a balance between work and personal life and provide necessary support programs.

The role of the workplace in safeguarding against long-term conditions and enhancing mental wellbeing

As per statistics from the UK Government, more than 15 million individuals reside with a chronic health condition in the UK. Additionally, in the 2019/20 period, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) reported an estimated 32.5 million lost working days due to work-related ill health. Supporting employees with long-term health conditions is crucial for maintaining productivity, retaining talent, and ensuring legal compliance.

Beyond compliance, it contributes to a positive workplace culture, fostering morale, diversity, and inclusion. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development advises the prevalent issues cited by working-age individuals in the UK with long-term health conditions often pertain to:

  • Mental ill health 57% (eg clinical depression and anxiety) 
  • Musculoskeletal injuries 46% (eg repetitive strain injury and back pain) 
  • Stress 38%
  • Acute medical conditions 37% (eg stroke, heart attack and cancer)
  • Long COVID 26% (symptoms from COVID lasting at least 12 weeks) 

Additionally, many face challenges with impaired dexterity, memory, hearing, vision, learning, or social activities.

Long-term health conditions can also contribute to mental health concerns due to the persistent challenges they pose. The ongoing nature of these conditions, coupled with potential physical limitations and chronic symptoms, can lead to feelings of frustration, stress, and anxiety. Individuals may grapple with the impact of their condition on daily life, including disruptions to work, relationships, and overall quality of life. The uncertainty and adjustment to a changed lifestyle, coupled with the management of treatments, can also contribute to feelings of depression or emotional strain. Social isolation, stigma, and the constant need for self-care can further exacerbate mental health challenges, highlighting the connection between physical and mental well-being in the context of long-term conditions.

Unlocking the full potential of your workforce requires a fresh perspective on mental health. Did you know that a staggering 63% of long-term unplanned absences are linked to mental health issues? According to Deloitte investing in workplace mental health interventions is extremely beneficial with a significant return on investment: they found that for every £1 invested, employers received £5 back.

To truly empower your team, it’s essential to offer diverse support options that go beyond the 9-to-5 grind and are accessible from personal mobile devices. Mind, the mental health charity, recommends a three-pronged approach for employers: promote wellbeing, address root causes of work-related mental health challenges, and support staff facing mental health issues. The key? Delivering this support in ways that are both convenient and confidential. In a world where workplace challenges are in constant flux, traditional methods of employee support just won’t cut it anymore. It’s time for a workplace revolution.

Wellbeing initiatives lead to positive outcomes

Investing in well-being initiatives at work is a strategic decision that yields numerous benefits for both employees and the organisation. Ten compelling reasons to invest in workplace well-being include:

  1. Enhanced Productivity: Healthy and engaged employees tend to be more productive. Well-being initiatives can improve focus, creativity, and overall work performance. Teams that perceive their organisation as genuinely caring about their well-being demonstrate superior performance across various metrics, as indicated by Gallup. These metrics encompass customer engagement, profitability, productivity, turnover rates, and safety incidents.
  2. Reduced Absenteeism and Presenteeism: By promoting well-being, organisations can help prevent health issues and reduce the number of sick days taken by employees. This, in turn, leads to increased productivity and continuity in work processes. The Workplace Wellbeing Charter reports that physical activity programmes at work reduce absenteeism by 20% overall.
  3. Improved Employee Morale: Demonstrating a commitment to employee well-being boosts morale and job satisfaction. When employees feel valued and supported, they are more likely to be motivated, engaged, and loyal to the organisation. Statistics show that when employees are flourishing, their likelihood of actively seeking or keeping an eye out for another job decreases by 32%.
  4. Talent Attraction and Retention: Well-being initiatives are attractive to potential hires and can be a differentiator in a competitive job market. Moreover, they contribute to retaining valuable talent, reducing turnover costs and maintaining a skilled workforce. Mind advises if employers took steps to support mental well-being, 60% of employees express that they would experience increased motivation and would be more inclined to recommend their organisation as an excellent workplace.
  5. Positive Workplace Culture: A focus on well-being contributes to a positive workplace culture. When employees see that their organisation cares about their health and happiness, it fosters a sense of community and loyalty.
  6. Enhanced Employee Engagement: Well-being initiatives often lead to higher levels of employee engagement. Engaged employees are more likely to contribute discretionary effort, resulting in increased innovation, collaboration, and overall organisational success. Employees who firmly believe that their employer prioritises their overall well-being are three times more likely to be engaged at work in comparison to their counterparts.
  7. Cost Savings: While there is an upfront investment in well-being programs, the long-term benefits often outweigh the costs. Reduced healthcare expenses, lower turnover rates, and increased productivity contribute to overall cost savings for the organisation. To re-iterate the statistic above, employers gain £5 back for every £1 invested in employee mental health initiatives due to reduced absenteeism and presenteeism.
  8. Compliance and Legal Risk Mitigation: Investing in well-being initiatives ensures compliance with legal requirements and reduces the risk of legal issues related to employee health and well-being.
  9. Improved Team Dynamics: A healthy and happy workforce fosters positive team dynamics. Employees are likely to work more effectively together, leading to improved collaboration and communication.
  10. Brand Reputation: Organisations known for prioritising employee well-being often enjoy a positive brand reputation. This can attract customers, partners, and investors who value socially responsible and employee-centric businesses.

In short, investing in well-being at work initiatives is a proactive strategy that pays off in terms of improved employee satisfaction, organisational performance, and overall success. It creates a workplace where employees thrive, fostering a positive and sustainable business environment.

Government plans to boost health in the workplace

In July 2023, the UK government unveiled plans to boost UK employment through widening access to high-quality health support in the workplace. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) published a consultation on ways to increase the uptake of Occupational Health provision.

Proposed measures include establishing a new workplace health standard, aiming to enhance productivity and prevent health-related job losses. Employers, especially in small and medium-sized enterprises, will be encouraged to adopt Occupational Health programs to provide crucial mental and physical health support. The proposal outlines a national “health at work” standard, offering guidance, accreditation options, and government support services.

Additionally, the plan seeks input on building workforce capacity, suggesting strategies like encouraging career changes toward Occupational Health and developing a diverse workforce for long-term service provision. Employers are also encouraged to share examples of good Occupational Health provisions to help inform other businesses and support them in doing the same.

At Uniquely Created U (UCU), we aim to be part of this solution. Our corporate well-being offerings not only focus on empowering employers to invest in their workforce, thus showing commitment from them to their team, but importantly address the overall health and well-being of every individual employee, which can often be overlooked.

How UCU can help make health a priority

At UCU, we don’t believe in a one-size-fits-all approach. We tailor our programs to the size of your group and the unique needs of your workforce. Whether you crave an in-depth discussion on a specific health domain or seek a broader overview of general well-being, we can meet the specific needs of your organisation.

Our experienced multidisciplinary team can create a bespoke talk on a specific area of health known to affect your employees. Our specialised domains of care include:

Gut health

The gut-brain axis is a bidirectional communication system that links the gastrointestinal tract with the central nervous system. This intricate connection involves a complex interplay of neural, hormonal, and immunological signals. The enteric nervous system (ENS), often referred to as the “second brain,” is a network of neurons in the gut that communicates with the central nervous system via the vagus nerve.

Crucially, the gut houses a significant portion of the body’s immune system, with approximately 70% of immune cells residing in the gastrointestinal tract. This immune presence plays a pivotal role in monitoring and responding to the diverse array of microorganisms present in the gut, influencing both local and systemic immune responses. The bidirectional communication between the gut and the brain is thought to impact various aspects of health. Research suggests that the state of our gut health can impact cognitive function, mood, and overall mental well-being. A balanced and diverse gut microbiome comprising of beneficial bacteria has been associated with improved cognitive performance and mood regulation.

By nurturing a healthy gut-brain axis through proper nutrition, probiotics, and lifestyle choices, individuals may experience heightened focus, mental clarity, and sustained energy—essential ingredients for enhanced productivity in both professional and personal pursuits. Supporting employees to understand and address this dynamic interplay can lead to a holistic approach to well-being, positively impacting both mind and productivity.

Irritable bowel syndrome

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is believed to affect 10-20% of the general population, but the actual number could be higher because many people with IBS symptoms may not consult a doctor. Therefore, it is thought to affect a significant number of people in the UK workforce.

It’s important to note that stress-related IBS is a specific subtype of IBS that is influenced or exacerbated by stress and emotional factors. The workplace environment, characterised by deadlines, interpersonal dynamics, and high expectations, can impact the gut-brain axis, influencing gut function and exacerbating IBS symptoms. Workplace pressure and emotional strain can trigger or intensify symptoms like abdominal pain, bloating, and irregular bowel patterns.

Recognising and addressing the connection between work-related stress and gastrointestinal symptoms is essential for fostering a healthier and more supportive work environment. Managing workplace stress becomes crucial in addressing stress-related IBS, and employers may consider implementing strategies to promote a healthier work environment, such as stress management programs, flexible work arrangements, and open communication about mental health.

In addition, it’s not just the physical impact of stress-related IBS that needs to be considered. IBS can contribute to mental health issues through the delicately balanced gut-brain axis. The chronic nature of IBS symptoms, such as abdominal pain and unpredictable bowel habits, may induce stress, anxiety, and frustration. Conversely, mental health issues, such as stress and anxiety, can exacerbate IBS symptoms.

The emotional state influences the gut’s motility, sensitivity, and overall function, intensifying gastrointestinal discomfort. This reciprocal relationship highlights the complex interaction between mental health and IBS, emphasising the importance of addressing both aspects in comprehensive treatment plans. In a survey among individuals with IBS, researchers discovered that 44% of participants also had anxiety, and a notable 84% experienced coexisting depression.

UCU can provide support and information regarding stress management, mental health and nutrition, gut health, specialist low FODMAP diet education, recipe ideas, and advice on movement activities, which we know to benefit people who suffer from gut-related disorders such as stress-related IBS.

In addition, Dr Nicholas Peat, co-founding director of UCU, is able to provide both personal and clinical insight into the management of irritable bowel disease (IBD). He received a diagnosis of severe Crohn’s disease in 2008 following a spontaneous small intestine perforation. Through diet, mindset and lifestyle modification, Dr Peat has not needed any pharmaceutical intervention. Along with other members of our UCU team, Dr Peat supports people to manage their IBD symptoms through diet, mindset, and lifestyle modification.

Britain’s businesses incur nearly £3 billion in annual losses due to sick days attributed to issues related to gut health. Offering information on gut health not only aids in supporting employees within the workplace but also fosters an understanding of how to assist staff dealing with gut-related disorders, enabling them to maintain peak performance.

Disordered eating

Disordered eating refers to a range of irregular eating habits and attitudes toward food that may not fit within conventional norms. It can manifest as restrictive eating, binge eating, or unhealthy preoccupations with body weight and shape, often leading to physical and mental health challenges.

Food holds a pivotal place in numerous workplaces, from office snacks and team meals to lunchroom dynamics and prevailing diet culture. Unfortunately, these factors can pose challenges for individuals who struggle with disordered eating, complicating their experience in the work environment.

Disordered eating can have significant implications for mental health. Irregular eating patterns and insufficient nutrient intake may impact cognitive function, leading to mood swings and difficulty concentrating during work tasks. Preoccupation with body image and weight concerns may contribute to low self-esteem and heightened anxiety in a professional setting. Social withdrawal due to shame or fear of judgment can lead to isolation from colleagues, potentially exacerbating feelings of loneliness.

The cognitive distortions associated with disordered eating may affect work-related thinking and decision-making, impacting overall job performance. Additionally, the stress of managing disordered eating behaviours in a workplace environment, coupled with a desire for control, can contribute to chronic stress and increase the risk of mental health issues among employees.

Seeking support in the workplace is essential for individuals grappling with disordered eating, addressing both the physical and mental health aspects of their condition. Promoting a positive working culture that embraces open communication and support is vital in addressing the challenges associated with disordered eating.

UCU co-founder Vanessa Peat faced a tumultuous journey with disordered eating during her teenage years due to negative comments about her body image. Battling feelings of isolation and struggling with self-worth, she carried the burden of unresolved childhood challenges. Overcoming these obstacles, including stress-related IBS, Vanessa harnessed her experiences to become a Performance Nutritionist and Registered Associate Nutritionist. Alongside our team of eating disorder specialists, Vanessa is dedicated to providing support for those grappling with disordered eating, in particular restrictive eating.

Neurodiversity and nutritional support

Both Nicholas and Vanessa identify as neurodivergent and are also parents to two neurodiverse children. Through their lived experience they know just how challenging selective eating can be and the required support and advice that is needed to help others overcome these challenges. Initiating conversations around disordered eating in the workplace is crucial for fostering an inclusive environment.

Employers can foster a supportive environment for neurodivergent employees, such as those with ADHD or Asperger’s, by recognising and harnessing their unique skill sets. Individuals with ADHD often exhibit creativity, hyperfocus, and innovation, while those with Asperger’s may excel in attention to detail and analytical thinking. According to JPMorgan Chase, participants in its Autism at Work initiative demonstrate a lower error rate and achieve productivity levels 90% to 140% higher than their neurotypical counterparts.

Neurodivergent individuals in the workforce are expressing concerning levels of well-being, scoring an average of just 2.2 out of 5 in workplace wellness surveys. These findings underscore the urgent need for increased support and understanding in professional environments. Notably, the World Health Organization reveals that individuals with untreated ADHD may experience a loss of approximately 22 days of productivity annually. Making reasonable accommodations and facilitating access to effective treatment options can prove beneficial for both neurodivergent employees and the overall productivity and success of the workplace.

In the UK, only 16% of autistic adults are currently engaged in full-time employment, as highlighted by the National Autistic Society. Despite this low employment rate, their research reveals a striking contrast, with a substantial majority (77%) of unemployed autistic individuals expressing a strong desire to work. Furthermore, insights from individuals with dyslexia, dyspraxia, and dyscalculia emphasise the potential for significantly increased contributions in the workplace through straightforward accommodations and greater understanding. Fostering an inclusive environment that recognises and supports the diverse talents and aspirations of neurodivergent individuals ultimately promotes a more equitable and thriving workforce.

Understanding that neurodivergent employees may benefit from specific forms of support, such as clear instructions, minimised sensory distractions, and nutritional guidance, is crucial. When considering wellness initiatives, employers can introduce nutritional support to promote overall well-being and minimise potential triggers. This might involve promoting a workplace culture that encourages nutritious choices and understanding individual dietary needs to mitigate health issues and reduce sick days, ultimately fostering a neurodiverse-friendly work environment. UCU can specifically support you and your workforce to understand the links between neurodiversity, mental health, and nutrition.

By breaking the silence, workplaces can promote awareness, reduce stigma, and encourage early intervention. Opening up these conversations helps create a culture of empathy and understanding, making it easier for individuals facing challenges with disordered eating to seek support without fear of judgement. Moreover, it allows organisations to implement proactive measures, such as wellness programs and resources, to better assist employees and prioritise their overall well-being.

Performance nutrition for a thriving workforce

Performance nutrition is the science and application of providing the body with optimal nutrients to support physical activity, boost exercise performance, and foster overall health. By ensuring the body receives essential nutrients, performance nutrition enhances energy levels for daily activities, whether at work, during exercise, or leisure.

Vanessa Peat is a qualified Performance Nutritionist and Personal Trainer at UCU. She is dedicated to sharing her expertise. UCU’s holistic approach to performance nutrition not only considers diet and personal goals but also encompasses the interconnected elements of mind, body, and movement, empowering individuals to make informed nutritional choices tailored to their unique circumstances.

At UCU, we educate individuals on the importance of appropriate movement and adequate nutritional intake to ensure that they take care of their bone and muscle health as they get older, thus decreasing the risk of frailty in later life. The average age of CEOs and high-performing corporate individuals can vary across industries and regions. However, historically, there has been a trend of individuals reaching executive or CEO positions later in their careers, often in their 40s, 50s or 60s. This is often due to the accumulation of substantial experience and expertise over time. Working at this level can involve high levels of stress, long hours, regular travel, and busy days, which can impact both physical and mental health.

Addressing performance nutrition in the workplace is crucial for enhancing overall employee well-being. Proper nutrition is vital for the older workforce, as it directly impacts their health, cognitive function, and performance. As individuals age, maintaining a balanced diet becomes crucial for preserving physical health, sustaining energy levels, and preventing chronic diseases associated with ageing.

A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveals that 75% of corporate healthcare costs are allocated to chronic diseases, primarily linked to poor nutrition, physical inactivity, frequent alcohol consumption, and tobacco use. These behaviours contribute to an annual productivity loss of $28.2 million for employers due to absenteeism and functional limitations. But UCU can advise on the importance of nutrient-rich foods to support cognitive health, helping executives maintain sharp mental faculties in demanding work environments. Additionally, a well-balanced diet contributes to stress management and immune system support, essential for executives facing high-pressure situations.

Fostering a positive workplace culture that values nutrition not only enhances team morale but also aids in stress management and resilience. This approach aligns with the evolving expectations of the workforce, attracting and retaining talent that values employers committed to the holistic health of their employees. Ultimately, creating discussion around performance nutrition creates a healthier, more engaged, and more productive workplace.

Create a thriving culture with UCU

At UCU, our overarching mission is to transform lives, addressing issues such as bad gut health, neurodiverse nutritional problems, disordered eating, nutritional challenges in older adults and the links between mental health and nutrition. Our team of experts in nutrition, medical health, mental health, wellbeing, and physical training collaborate to offer a holistic approach, allowing individuals to embrace their unique identity and body type on the journey to becoming their best selves. We empower and inspire people with the knowledge and practical skills needed to take decisive action, enabling them to achieve their desired quality of life.

Ready to elevate your workforce’s well-being? Contact UCU now to discuss your organisation’s unique needs and explore how we can tailor engaging well-being talks and education that empower and educate your workforce. Let’s create a culture of health and productivity together! Reach out to us for a transformative well-being experience.

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