Iowa employers step up to improve workplace health

New research shows that mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression, can lead to heart disease – a reason the American Heart Association of Iowa is working closely with employers to help create a culture of health and wellness in the workplace.

Iowa psychologist Warren Phillips notes that stress is triggered when a challenge exceeds what people think they’re capable of handling.

He says that kind of stress can be a predictor of heart disease, cancer and other chronic health conditions that typically respond to management techniques.

“When we can view a stressor as something that is an exciting challenge, it helps us to take some of that energy that we’re experiencing, some of the physiological energy that we’re experiencing, and use it as energy to move us forward,” Phillips states.

Phillips says it’s important to determine if a stressor is permanent and requires a life change, or temporary due to a situation or project deadline that will pass.

Phillips will be a presenter at Des Moines University on Dec. 12th at the American Heart Association of Iowa 2nd annual Workplace Health Symposium, which is recommended for business owners, CEOs, and human resource and wellness professionals.

Seventy-six percent of employees report having struggled with an issue that affected their mental health. Phillips says it’s important to remember that a little kindness in the workplace goes a long way.

“When we show acts of kindness towards other people, even when we’re stressed, when we behave in kind ways towards other people, it tends to decrease our stress,” he states. “It’s actually a good stress reducer to be kind and caring, and loving towards others.”

Wesley Franklin, community impact director for the American Heart Association of Iowa, works directly with employers in Des Moines to improve employee health. He starts by addressing good food choices, exercise and sleep habits.

“I kind of stick to those areas that can provide those tools and resources for individuals, so at the end of the day my goal is to get these companies involved in our workplace health platform,” he states.

Emphasizing health and wellness at work has been shown to reduce absenteeism, improve job retention and decrease health costs.