Australia has a weight problem.
The statistics make for grim reading: Almost 2 in 3 adults were overweight or obese in 2014-2015. This number is only expected to increase in the years ahead.
Typically, weight problems correlate with wealth and education; people without access to money and knowledge find it more difficult to, not only pay for healthy foods, but recognise what is, in fact, good for them.
That is what makes the numbers on executive health so damning. While the obesity problem is presented as a class issue that is influenced significantly by stagnant wage growth and economic inequality, c-suite executives find themselves in an equally damaging, self-induced quagmire.
Executives are intelligent. They know how to exercise and eat properly in order to maintain a balanced lifestyle. They are also well-paid and do not need to rely on cheaper fast-foods. Despite this, the number of executives with declining health is high.
According to the Mayo Health Clinic, which specialises in executive health programs, 73% of American CEOs live a sedentary lifestyle and 40% are obese. These numbers aren’t dissimilar in Australia.
How has this happened?
It is not particularly complicated. When an executive’s work life balance is poor, they have to cut things out of their life that they would normally spend an allotted amount of time on. The first thing to go, typically, is exercise and meal preparation.
Many executives will choose to spend an extra hour at work and order in from Uber Eats rather than go to Coles, purchase ingredients and return home to start cooking. The 12 hour days that are often expected in the workplace can make the idea of going home to do more work nightmarish.
Moreover, the time executives are spending at work is far less active than it used to be. The nature of technology is such that it reduces the amount of physical work that once might have been necessary. Instead, executives sit at their desks and do work. All day.
Why is this damaging?
I don’t need to tell you why an unhealthy lifestyle is bad.
Everyone knows the links to heart disease. Everyone knows the links to mental health issues. I’m not going to dwell on these.
What people forget is that an imbalanced lifestyle harms your organisation.
According to an American study published by the Rudd Centre, absenteeism caused by obesity costs the country over $8 billion a year in lost productivity. Much closer to home, Dr Melody Ding at the University of Sydney estimates that illnesses associated with physical inactivity wiped over $800 million from the economy in 2013. As inactivity is becoming progressively worse, this number is expected to climb.
What is to be done?
While it is individuals’ uneven work life balances that have created this crisis, the way forward is not to implement individual-level responses. Recorrecting the balance requires cultural, macro-level change.
We choose not to exercise and eat well because we feel as if there is an expectation that we have to keep working no matter what. If the norm changes, individuals will too.
Organisation-wide initiatives are, thus, particularly effective, especially for executives. Encouraging everyone to take periodic 5 minute breaks to get some cardio is a great idea. Short bouts of stretching or jogging can make all the difference. Similarly, giving everyone pedometers to count their steps or organising walking – rather than sit down – meetings help to get the workplace moving.
Executives are in a unique position; they feel as if they have to do more work than everyone else because their job entails more responsibility. If you can get the whole workplace exercising and focusing on their wellbeing, then you will feel less inclined to put your health on the backburner.
The life of an executive is stressful enough as it is. Don’t let your health add to this burden.
When you are unhealthy, nobody benefits.
Not you. Not your family. Not your organisation.
The Complete Leader Program devotes a significant amount of attention to its participants’ ability to achieve balance in their lives. If you are interested in re-evaluating your priorities to become a more well-rounded leader, please contact Melinda Fell.