As we prepare to launch our corporate yoga programmes both in our studios and at offices around the emirate, we look at the benefits and need for workplace wellbeing in Dubai, where long working hours, days spent sitting at desks and attached to technology 24/7, are taking their toll on our population’s health.
Inactivity and stress are two of the world’s biggest health challenges today, responsible for chronic diseases from suppressed immunity, to heart conditions, obesity and back pain.
We at Yoga House know only too well the effects of long days at the office, stuck to your desk. Our founders, Ziyad and Nasab, continue to work in the corporate world whilst also pursuing their passion in the form of Yoga House.
In conversation Ziyad said: “There are some days when you will literally be tied to the desk, for hours on end, in order to meet client deadlines. It’s easier said than done to take regular breaks, so it’s even more important to schedule time out of work to commit to regular activity of some kind. Not only is it good for the body but the mind needs it too.”
So while we all know that a healthy workplace is not only a happier workplace but a more productive one, how can we do more to improve that?
Nasab, who like Ziyad, is an Architect by trade, said: “What we want to do is make it even easier for people to find this time, by offering it to companies during or right after their working hours, which is a great way to pay back the hard work of your employees, in addition to helping create a healthier
and happier work culture.”
Occupational health is now not only a priority for the likes of the global conglomerates, but it is everyone’s responsibility, from small to large businesses.
Preventive measures such as workplace health initiatives, from in house yoga to company-wide health screening, will not only result in a reduction in absenteeism, but will increase productivity in addition to creating a happier, more united workforce.
Stress is not only a factor on psychological wellbeing but chronic stress can be a major factor in cardiovascular disease, possibly as much as the likes of smoking, high blood pressure and diabetes, according to research from Harvard Medical School.
According to Forbes, corporate wellness programmes have been shown to boast an average return on investment of around 3:1. In addition to the economic benefits, companies have seen reductions in absenteeism, staff turnover and stress. For staff, these programmes can be life changing, with the chance to lead to a greater readiness to change exercise behaviours, dietary habits, changed behaviours such as smoking cessation and improved mental health.
Technology, in addition to long days of sitting, is also taking its toll. Not only is it increasingly harder for employees to switch off mentally, but long days sat at computers, is a global health epidemic. Chiropractors have seen rocketing numbers of patients with chronic back pain, sitting leading to increased pressure on discs which degenerate over time, and a lack of activity and muscle use leading to atrophy, weakness and pain. Medication is not the answer as it only masks the symptoms, but a consistent regime of movement, in and out of the workplace, we all know, is the answer and must be made a priority.
Several companies in Dubai are changing cultures now. In DIFC, Standard Chartered Bank has introduced ergonomic chairs to their office, in addition to benefits including a gym for staff, longer maternity leave for employees, paternity leave for fathers and flexible working hours. At the KHDA, staff have facilities such as a gym, yoga room and ergonomic work stations in house.
Not only are workplace wellbeing initiatives a positive way for employees to revitalise and get moving, but they are a powerful exercise in team bonding.
A survey by YouGov recently found 60% of UAE residents suffering with stress. Yoga has now been adopted by health providers internationally, such as the world renowned Mayo Clinic and Kripalu Centre For Yoga And Health, in the battle against stress. Unifying the body and mind, working on the breath and the body, this holistic practice is both physical and meditative.
Several studies have shown the mental wellbeing effects of yoga on mood and overall wellbeing levels, practitioners showing lower levels of stress and anxiety than those not practicing. Yoga stimulates the body’s relaxation response, the parasympathetic nervous system, which for most of us, is suppressed under lives of deadlines, stress, family and professional commitments.
On a physical level, yoga can help improve fitness levels, enhancing balance, flexibility, strength and range of motion. It is also known to help aid sleep and relaxation, proven to help combat the debilitating effects of stress. Bringing yoga into the workplace and introducing it to the wider community, has the potential for powerful transformative effects, with the chance to make real, long term change in not only our places of work, but in society as a whole.