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Jakarta Post

Stay sane in healthier workplace environment amid pandemic

  • Elly Burhaini Faizal
    Elly Burhaini Faizal

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Mon, October 5, 2020   /   09:30 am
Stay sane in healthier workplace environment amid pandemic Office work: Civil servants resume working at City Hall in Central Jakarta on July 11, 2016, after a long Idul Fitri holiday. To curb the spread of COVID-19, the city administration has ordered people to work from home. (JP/Seto Wardhana)

The coronavirus pandemic has threatened our physical health and has become one of the possible causes of poor mental health. The pandemic spreads fear and its psychological impacts can lead to serious health problems.

Measures to curb the COVID-19 contagion, such as physical distancing, quarantine and selfisolation, as well as stay-at-home orders, have created emotional gaps in families, friends and work colleagues. They can no longer communicate freely and show each other support like before. The restricted freedoms are seen as heavy burdens, which can adversely affect their mental health if they are left uncontrolled.

Months of social isolation and grim pictures of the toll of the deadly pandemic have further sparked uncertainty about jobs, finances and the overall future of many. Surveys reveal a rise in anxiety disorders, stress (intense emotions) and depression because of the changing conditions the pandemic has brought. In some cases, they come with certain medical conditions, like migraines.

Migraines and other headache disorders, including tension-type headaches and medication-overuse headaches, are major public health concerns because they are leading causes of disability and ill-health, the World Health Organization says in its 2016 headache disorders report.

Unfortunately, few healthcare providers manage to diagnose appropriately people with headache disorders. People tend to underestimate headache, leaving it undertreated. It often happens that people with migraine rely more on nonprescription medicines than professional health treatment to relieve their pain.

In a recent Asia-wide virtual roundtable titled “Reimagining Healthier Workplaces in Asia”, leaders in human resources, businesses and the health industry could not agree more on doubling their effort to promoting healthier workplaces and employee behaviors in the region. The Sept. 9 roundtable was held by the Progressive Alliance Toward Healthy Workplaces (PATHw) in support of Migraine Awareness Week.

The rise in the prevalence and burden of migraines was highlighted in the event as one of multiple issues that now affect the workplace, while a healthier and more resilient workforce needs to be built because the pandemic has put employment and livelihoods at risk.

Studies presented during the roundtable shows the significant impacts of migraine on the Singaporean and Malaysian economy. A study titled “Economic Burden of Migraines in Singapore”, which was published by Cephalgia Reports in 2020, shows that migraines imposes a substantial economic burden on society in Singapore.

“A majority of the costs result from missed workdays [absenteeism] and lost work productivity [presenteeism],” the study reveals.

Meanwhile, a study titled “Impact of Migraines on Workplace Productivity and Monetary Loss: A Study of Employees in the Banking Sector in Malaysia” by Wong et al. (2020) highlights the unmet needs in migraine management among employees at workplace. Conducted through an internet-based survey among employees of two Malaysian banks between April and July 2019, the study, which was published in The Journal of Headache and Pain this year, found a high burden of migraines among bank employees who responded to the survey. There was also evidence of a considerable proportion of migraineurs with high disability and headache frequency who were underdiagnosed and hence undertreated.

According to the survey, a vast majority of migraine sufferers did not seek medical care for pain relief and only resorted to over-the-counter pain medicines. Furthermore, nearly two-thirds of migraine sufferers with low disability did not obtain medical care.

Given the devastating impacts of untreated migraines, the study recommends that patients be made more aware of the importance of treatment-seeking behavior during the mild migraine phase. Patients should also be more informed about “the importance of correct diagnosis and treatment, as well as the potential harmful consequences of inappropriate use of over-the-counter medications”.

The Malaysian study further calls for the elimination of the negative perception of migrainerelated absences and the creation of a work culture that encourages taking medical leave for migraines or time off for migrainerelated medical appointments.

Participants of the roundtable also responded to the challenges imposed by pandemic lockdowns on access to care of patients who need neurological care. The major difficulty faced by migraine patients in developing countries is the lack of an existing structure for telemedicine and even electronic prescriptions, said Philippine Neurological Association president Rosalina Picar.

“Access to neurological care relied heavily on the creative responsiveness of professional societies, with the support of the private sector and acquiescence of government. The pandemic has forced us to think out-of-the-box to provide quick but safe solutions to ensure continuous access to proper neurologic care,” Picar said.

During the roundtable, health professionals called on employers to be more sensitive about the burden of pain and disability in employees. Employers should be able to identify the triggering factors of pain and disability so they can help employees manage their impacts and start building healthier workplaces.

“The pandemic has accelerated action by employers to kick start or strengthen their well-being programs, both to care for their employees and also to control health spend with a focus on preventive health,” said Marla Arnall, senior principal of Asia consulting firm Mercer.

Unsurprisingly, one of the biggest shifts in wellness plan design hinges on digital access to care; 43 percent of employers in Asia have already looked or are looking to expand their digital well-being offerings, Arnall said.

The roundtable was the first virtual regional event conducted by PATHw. Last year, the pan-Asia coalition’s roundtable was held in Makati, the Philippines, on Nov. 22, with a focus on addressing migraines and their impact on productivity and the economy.

As the global economy is plunging into the deepest recession since World War II, it is not an exaggeration to say the pandemic should serve as a wake-up call for company owners and business leaders to start understanding the positive impacts of healthy and efficient employees on workplaces.

It is time for business entities, including in Indonesia, to initiate more workplace wellness programs to solve any health problems that can lead to productivity loss.

With the global economy continuing to deteriorate, employees should now be seen as a company’s greatest asset.

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The author is a staff writer at The Jakarta Post