17 Aug 2022 Spa Business Handbook
 

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Spa Business Handbook - Head first

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Work and COVID stress are leading to a parallel pandemic in mental health. Professor Gerard Bodeker says now is the time to design mental wellness programmes for a wide spectrum of society

Rates of depression are now three times higher than pre-COVID Perfect Angle Images/shutterstock
Workers are more likely to stay if they feel they’re supported fizkes/shutterstock
Spas can model environments for society to follow fizkes/shutterstock

The pandemic has forced us all to think seriously about our existence and that of those close to us. Life has become more fragile and this has had the effect of re-scaling priorities, resulting in changes in the whole of society which will be felt for years to come.

The World Health Organization has pointed out that along with COVID-19, we’re living through a parallel pandemic in mental health. Researchers looking at the neurological and long-term effects of COVID-19 found depression was more than three times higher during the pandemic than before. And in a study of 250,000 people diagnosed with the virus, approximately one-third received a neurological or psychiatric diagnosis in the subsequent six months.

Parallel to this, researchers have identified what they are calling the The Great Resignation where, according to a Harris Poll in late 2021, more than 40 per cent of employees are now considering leaving their current positions due to chronic stress, largely because they say employers have not prioritised or supported their mental wellbeing.

The same poll found that more than two thirds of those surveyed agreed with the statements: “My employer claimed to focus on mental health at the beginning of the pandemic but has not followed through.” And “My employer says employees should focus on ‘self-care’ but doesn’t provide the resources to do so.” Yet, while loss of faith in employers living up to their wellbeing commitments has become widespread, 52 per cent said more mental health services would make them more likely to stay in their job.

Generational re-set
Society has now placed mental wellbeing on the front burner, even if not all employers yet have. What this means is that those calling to vigorously re-start the economy of largely-vaccinated countries will first have to reckon with the reality that the workers who drive these economies don’t want to return to business as usual. If they’re offered business as usual, many are saying they’ll walk.

Society is being presented with a generational opportunity for a re-set. We know that being understood, being in nature, being connected meaningfully to others, prioritising good, largely plant-based nutrition, having regular exercise, engaging in a meditative practice and having a sense of a higher influence in life all contribute to mental wellbeing.

This is the time for those in the wellness industry to begin to craft programmes which incorporate all these pathways and offer them across the wide spectrum of society. The opportunity is there for wellness leaders to become evidence-based societal leaders.

The 100 year life
Colleagues and I have worked with the Asian Development Bank this year to produce the book Wellness for a Healthy Asia, to provide pathways out of the pandemic and into a re-imagined scenario for prevention, healthcare and wellness for the future. Japan is already showing the way with its national policy of ‘Living the Hundred Year Life’.

If we want our populations to live healthily to 100 years, the work has to start prior to conception to ensure parents-to-be are healthy and not damaging their health, and that of their child, by behaviours like smoking, drinking excessive alcohol and eating harmful food. Children need to learn how to live a life which results in a healthy century. Education centres and the workplace need to create realities which embody and enable mental and physical wellness.

City planners, urban developers, conservationists, the food industry and others can all be engaged, incentivised and directed towards creating a world where wellness and flourishing are the touchstones for measuring progress.

Clean air, clean water and nature-enriched environments are all part of the re-set we can and should be pushing for, as well as creating models to show how it can be best done.

Prioritising staff
It is the creation of these models to show best practice where the wellness industry can step in: from the personal to the macro level of environmentally-sustainable and socially enriching environments. Spas can offer comfort, healing and recovery for guests and should also prioritise this for their staff.

The message of mental wellbeing has to be lived at all levels in order to be conveyed effectively. As is well known, when employees are happy, and feel taken care of, their productivity increases and the business flourishes. Nurturing is the best means of counteracting The Great Resignation. As this becomes part of the culture of spas and wellness programmes at each level of their operations, the lived message of wellness will convey through to guests and community and ultimately to the reputation of the brand.

About the author:

Harvard-trained public health specialist, Professor Gerard Bodeker, chairs the GWI’s Mental Wellness Initiative and co-founded the forest immersion programme, Ayus Wellness Borneo. He is senior adviser to Joali Being, Maldives, a judge for Destination Deluxe Awards and is widely published including Wellness for a Healthy Asia and Healthy Ageing in Asia.


Originally published in Spa Business Handbook 2022 edition

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