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|22 April, 2019

Surge in wellness index but stress levels high in UAE

The stress index reveals higher stress among women

Young woman at home with laptop on desk touching her temples. Image used for illustrative purpose

Young woman at home with laptop on desk touching her temples. Image used for illustrative purpose

Getty Images/Westend61

Workplace stress, which impacts the work environment, is high in the UAE, with women reporting higher stress levels than men.

Results from the '2019 Cigna 360 Well-Being Survey - Well and Beyond' showed that workplace stress has increased from 35 to 45 per cent since the 2018 results.

Results showed that 96 per cent of the respondents (from a sample size of 507 people) feel that their colleagues' stress have impacted the workplace.

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The stress index reveals higher stress among women - with men ranking 63.2 and women at 62.3 on the overall health and well-being index.

Conversely, in some ways, women perceive they fare better than men, especially regarding working hours, work-life balance, career trajectory and opportunities for growth and development.

Most respondents expressed concerns about working longer hours and work-related relationships, with 91 per cent reporting stress at work and 96 per cent perceiving a negative impact of colleagues' stress at the workplace. Stress drivers include "personal and family finance concerns, as well as overwork".

The survey also showed that workplace programmes were lacking and, even if present, they addressed physical well-being rather than mental health. Factors contributing to workplace wellness include reasonable working hours, relationship with co-workers, compensation and benefits, and opportunities to learn and grow.

Gail Stanley, head of organisational effectiveness at Noor Bank who has implemented wellness programmes at the workplace, said the initiatives have made a difference in productivity.

"It is important to shape an environment where employees feel free to talk about anxiety in the workplace, rather than seeing it as a taboo. Encouraging employees to adopt healthy habits that support positive mental health - such as exercise and a balanced, nutritious diet - as well as helping them prioritise and organise their work efficiently, allows for better work-life balance," she added.

Jerome Droesch, CEO of Cigna Mena, said: "Companies in the UAE must study key gaps in employer support and concentrate on these in order to lower stress levels.

"Flexible work arrangements, special paid leaves, time off for personal interests and job security are just some of the benefits respondents feel employers should provide," he said.

The survey also points to high levels of stress among the UAE population. Despite an improvement in the overall score when it comes to fighting stress, close to 22 per cent of residents still face unmanageable levels of stress.

The survey, however, showed an improvement in the overall health and well-being index of the UAE population by 1.4 points over 2018, rising to sixth from 10th place last year.

With an overall score of 62.9 points, the country shows a strong outlook across five key indices - physical, family, social, financial and work.

Other health concerns

Heart health has emerged as a key area of concern, identifying a gap in the perception of high blood pressure (HBP) - a pressing concern given its soaring prevalence in the region. The survey reveals that 32 per cent of the residents believe that HBP is not curable with lifestyle change.

Dr Saleh Al Hashimi, advisor to the Dubai Health Insurance Corporation (DHIC) of the Dubai Health Authority (DHA), said that the data from the survey can be used to opitimise health insurance.

UAE residents are moderately aware of heart health indicators, such as body mass index (BMI) and blood pressure.

Conversely, their awareness of symptoms that may suggest potential heart problems is lower than the world average.

More millennials than older age groups have admitted to experiencing these symptoms, despite the latter demonstrating higher awareness in this regard.

"In the UAE, 30 per cent of respondents are battling HBP, a possible precursor to heart disease, yet close to half of them do not perceive this as fatal," said

Dr Mohamed Farghaly, consultant at DHIC and head of insurance policies and health economics at the DHA.

"Many are unaware that, sometimes, there are no symptoms ahead of a cardiac arrest. While some people know that a few key lifestyle changes can have a positive impact on blood pressure, many prefer not to take action, whether through ignoring the symptoms or not initiating any changes," he said.

"Surprisingly, one in three respondents does not believe that HBP is curable with lifestyle change. Only 28 per cent of respondents use wearable technology to track heart health."

While the social, family and finance indices show improvement, these come at the expense of the physical and work aspects. Respondents consider lack of sleep and poor eating habits as key challenges, and while regular exercise scores remain steady since 2018, they mark a big drop from 2017.

From the financial perspective, UAE residents feel optimistic, less worried about retirement and secure about their finances. They also admit to being more satisfied with their salary, work compensation and benefits.

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