Saturday 9 September 2017

It's all about health

You want to be healthy. I want to be healthy. We both want our family members, our friends and the people we respect to be healthy, don’t we?

I want to suggest something to you. There’s another group of people that you want to be healthy. Your customers.

It might seem obvious but with the possible exception of funeral parlours and private hospitals, every industry benefits from having healthy customers. We want our customers to be healthy because the alternative is a threat to our business. Sick customers aren’t as able to get to your store or office as healthy ones. Sick customers are less likely to spend money on the fun things of life because they’re too busy suffering. Sick customers are too busy spending their money on medicines and transport to the clinic to spend money with you.

It gets worse. Those customers who are so sick that they die don’t spend any money at all and often leave their family members poorer after their departure, further reducing the chances of them visiting you and leaving their money with you.

As well as being morally good, it’s also in your selfish interests to help your customers to become healthier. I recently met a senior manager from an insurance company in another country that already rewards its own staff for being healthier. Every day that an employee takes more than 10,000 steps counts towards a bonus scheme that gives the staff discounts on their shopping (so long as it’s healthy stuff, not chocolate and wine), discounted holidays and even financial bonuses. And guess what? They’re thinking of rolling out the same idea to their customers. And who benefits from this? Everyone. There’s no downside. The staff, and soon the customers, will enjoy slightly better health and treats, the insurance company benefits because the average life expectancy of the customers will probably increase slightly, allowing them to pay their premiums for longer, society benefits from having slightly more healthy, happy people and the economy benefits from the increased tax these longer-living people will contribute.

Health is a comprehensive good.

But let’s not forget that health isn’t just about the physical things. Health is much more complicated than that. You can’t have a completely fulfilled life if your mind isn’t healthy as well and having a healthy mind is almost as difficult as having a healthy body because they’re both so complicated.

For instance I don’t think you can be fully mentally healthy unless you can manage your finances properly. Those of us who fall for financial scams such as Eurextrade, Helping Hands International or MMM are not only going to end up poorer as a result of the money we lose but we’re also going to end up despondent, miserable and desperate. There have been too many stories from Nigeria reporting on the people who have been driven so desperate by their losses in the MMM scam to doubt this.

On a more positive note, I genuinely believe that the development of a personal savings habit is one of the best things you can do to boost your mental health. Owning your own things makes you happier, it genuinely does. Not being crippled by debt is a very good medicine for your mind.

We also need to start thinking about healthy workplaces. Those of us lucky enough to be employed typically spend about a third of our lives at work and we need to think more carefully about staying mentally healthy there as well. As employees but also as managers we need to work harder to make sure our colleagues are getting along with each other as well as possible, that our managers aren’t bullying staff rather than leading them and that when conflict inevitably appears, we deal with it in a mature, sensible, rational and compassionate manner.

We did a very unscientific survey recently and asked people how stressed they felt at work. 77% of the people who answered said their stress levels were either high or very high. I’m not sure that’s entirely true because I doubt that proportion of people are in genuinely high-stress professions. Those of us sitting in offices and meeting rooms might think we’re stressed but have you considered how stressful it is to be a police officer, emergency room doctor or a paramedic? That’s where you’ll find genuinely high stress.

Nevertheless, if people are reporting such high levels of stress I think they need to be taken seriously. Our business culture needs to incorporate ways of helping people deal with the stress they experience. The good news is that the solutions are actually quite easy.

I also don’t think we can call ourselves healthy if we’re open to cyber-infection. It used to be rogue computer disks, then it changed to infected USB drives and now it’s email and shady web sites that are doing their best to infect our devices with malware. You might recall just a few months ago that computers around the world running older versions of Windows were victims to a ransomware attack. When infected the contents of the computer would be encrypted and only unlocked when the victim paid a Bitcoin ransom to the crooks who created the tool that did the damage. Can you imagine the effect to your mental wellness if the entire contents of your computer were taken away from you? How would you cope? How would your stress levels be? And can you imagine how you’d feel when you found that even after paying the ransom nothing happened?

The good news is that all of these issues are on the national agenda. I know this for a fact because I know some of the people in business, the public service and the media who are all very keen to raise these issues for public debate. I also know it because it was the theme of this year’s Consumer Watchdog conference. We had a range of experts speaking about the issues and running interactive workshops where participants could learn directly about the things they could do to address them. But this is just the beginning. Only when we all start taking health more seriously will our nation stand a chance of being a healthy one.

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