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'Why corporate health and wellness should matter to you’- Sharon Olago, Founder, Lishe Living.

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Self-care comes from the activities you do and choices you make about what you eat, how you move, who you spend your time with, and whether or not you make time for yourself to laugh, play and rest. 

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Personality of the week: Sharon Olago, Founder, Lishe Living. 

IN BRIEF

• Sharon Olago’s practice of Corporate Health and Wellness was inspired by her passion to improve the quality of life of patients with chronic diseases. 

• She founded Lishe Living Limited in 2017, a data-powered web app which enables the self-management of diseases and conditions through improving patients’ nutrition and promotes healthy lifestyle choices. 

• Sharon is also an accomplished actor having featured in MTV’s hit TV series Shuga and has been featured talking about health and behaviour change on CNN’s African Voices, Black Entertainment Television (BET) and Voice of America (VOA). 

Physical and mental wellness is suddenly the talk of the town, even in the corporate scene. Employee ill-health and stress have wider implications on businesses since they hinder optimal productivity and cause absenteeism. 

Being the people-centric organization that we are, we thought it would be a good idea to pick Sharon Olago’s brain to get a picture of the current landscape of corporate health and wellness and actionable strategies employers can use to improve workplace wellbeing. Sharon Olago is the Founder of Lishe Living Lifestyle Limited, a health technology company offering personalized nutrition care and lifestyle change programs. 

1. What sparked your interest in Corporate Health & Wellness? Take us back to that moment. 

My job was where the spark was first ignited. Each day revealed something new and I was shocked by what I learned. Most of us are too busy to live healthily. I’d spent a lot of time over the last two years with Lishe Living’s health scientists and was surprised to learn about the connection between our health and certain behaviours, especially at work. On average we spend close to 60% of our waking hours at work. And 90% of this time is sitting at our desk, worrying about deadlines, eating unhealthy foods and snacks, or literally mainlining coffee. 

I was surprised to learn some of the people we work with and perceive to be mean, aggressive or lazy are actually unhealthy, and need help learning habits that would bring them closer to health and happiness. 

We began reaching out to people from different companies to learn whether or how they secure their employees’ health & wellness. We were surprised to see most companies pay little attention to their employees’ health. If you show symptoms, you’re simply sent to the hospital. 

Corporate Health & Wellness programs became instead the occasional team building exercise that had little or no impact in helping that employee acquire new habits to make them healthier, engaged, productive and happy. So, we decided to develop a program that focused more on improving their health habits and ensuring this person made changes in what they eat, how they exercise, play and rest. 

Our focus was on getting them Healthy & Happy.

2. Lishe Living focuses on self-care. Tell us more about that. 

Self-care is simply practicing good health. It starts with knowing HOW to secure your health and developing an attitude that ensures you practice self-care. Basically, what do you do, on a consistent basis, that results in you feeling healthy, engaged, productive and happy?

Self-care comes from the activities you do and choices you make about what you eat, how you move, who you spend your time with, and whether or not you make time for yourself to laugh, play and rest. Simply, do you care for yourself… or NOT? You must evaluate your own actions and then determine whether you employ activities that promote your health… or cause it to deteriorate. 

Lishe Living runs 12-week programs that train people in self-care, and how to make a habit of it. We focus on three key areas; nutrition, physical activity and stress management.

3. Being a champion of employee wellness, why do you think it matters and companies should focus on it? 

Modern work life can predispose us to higher stress levels, a sedentary lifestyle and poor nutrition. All of these could make anyone unhealthy. We need to counter the risks associated with modern-day work. A healthy employee brings higher profits to a company, so it’s in the interest of that company to ensure their employees are healthy. 

Many companies say they’ve begun to create healthier workplaces, but the challenge is most of these efforts fail to improve an employee’s self-care regimen, especially while at work. Companies should encourage employees to take breaks, move around and increase opportunities for engagement within the office. Some companies hold occasional nutrition talks, provide opportunities for their employees to take health tests or measure their BMI, blood pressure and sugar levels. 

The problem is these health initiatives are handled as an ‘event.’  Most companies will not follow-up with employees after carrying out the tests to ensure those at risk acquire new positive habits that can lead to improved health.

4. Would you then describe Corporate Health & Wellness as one of the best ways to reduce healthcare costs? 

Certainly! Research (although based on American firms), has shown employee health costs can consume up to 40% of a business’s profits. These costs are incurred in the form of increased absenteeism, lower employee retention rates, recruitment and new staff training costs. 

However, when an employee eats the right nutrients for their body, exercises more often and manages stress levels, he or she can not only reduce the need for medical services but becomes more productive and engaged. This has the roll-over effect of making that employee enjoy his/her work. 

Diseases that were previously associated with older generations like high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney disease… are now happening with people who are as young as 28 years old. Ultimately, a good corporate health & wellness program increases the urgency of an employee to improve their self-care, eat better, exercise more and manage stress. In short, it reduces risky behaviors that results in ill-health. 

12 out of the 20 leading causes of illnesses in Kenya are nutrition related. Hospital data from a World Bank report, claimed chronic diseases account for more than 50% of hospital admissions in Kenya. And these statistics are even worse in other African countries: Mauritius, Namibia and the Seychelles.

5. What is the correlation between wellness and productivity?  

Productivity is performing at your optimum best. It starts with energy. You cannot be productive on an empty stomach. Fatigue and lethargy are associated with a simple failure to eat breakfast. It is made worse by not eating, being on the wrong type of diet and consuming too much sugar, salt and fat. 

When you’re stressed, cortisol levels in your bloodstream are higher than normal. This means your body is in a constant defensive state. Energy is then directed to your muscles and away from your brain, just to survive. Concentration, focus and attention are all hindered. Eating the right nutrients and exercising (or moving) counters this stress on your body.  

6. It is obvious employers are concerned about their bottom line. What’s the best way for companies to approach employee-based health and wellness programs without breaking the bank? And what does success look like?

Most programs in the market are fairly priced. For example, a Lishe Living health & wellness program starts from as low as Kshs.1000 per person. 

And a company can start quite small, by simply sharing knowledge on health & wellness with employees and having discussions about it. Conversation can trigger action, especially when coupled with real changes within the organization. 

For example: hanging posters reminding people to take the stairs, stocking your food canteens with healthy options, having an hour every week to engage staff members with exciting conversations and creating “meet-up” spaces inside the office where employees can just have a normal conversation. It takes intention on the part of the company.

Program success comes when our clients pay more attention to what they eat, how they feel and with whom they engage.  When employees embrace/enjoy work-related values like competition, collaboration, performance and winning, the company then wins. 

7. What kind of habits would you like to see people drop? 

First on the list is excessive busy-ness! I cannot understand how being busy has become so culturally ingrained in how we work and live. People seem to take pride in being too busy, doing anything. 

I’m too busy to eat right, too busy to exercise, too busy to spend time with the people I love, too busy to engage… I think the first step to self-care is dropping this busy-ness, so you can actively plan to not be so busy. Instead make time to be healthy, engaged in the lives of your family, friends and at work, and become productive. 

8. How do you ensure clients don’t plough a great deal of energy into improving their health through wellness initiatives and end up having less time to focus on their tasks? 

Anyone who spends time improving their health & wellness ends up being more productive. A person who’s in good health is more likely to perform to his/her highest potential and deliver the best results to their company. The time invested in employee wellness meetings comes back to the company many times over any temporary blip in the daily routine.

9. What are some of the rewarding aspects of working as a Corporate Health Practitioner? And to those who look forward to joining you in this field, how can they prepare for success?

For me, it’s seeing the smiles on people’s faces when we share the challenges we face together in taking care of ourselves. There is nothing like watching someone commit to a life-long process of prioritizing their health & happiness. It is very rewarding. And so are the financial returns.

Most people find it very challenging and demanding when they’re told to make changes in their daily life. It’s even worse when we try to convince them to eat and exercise differently. Health scientists in our industry must commit to researching and developing ways to make it easier for people to learn and maintain healthy habits. Any scientist wishing to join Lishe Living should be passionate about being and feeling healthy. 

Our health scientists enjoy discovering new strategies from research on what works to convince people to adopt new habits. They must also enjoy the process of collaborating and partnering with our companies to meet THEIR goal of having healthy people who enjoy making profits for the company.

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Comments

    David | July 11, 2019 23:06

    Fuzu thank you for well-done job to our peopple.God bless you abudantly,i my self willing to join your team

    SUSAN | July 11, 2019 20:01

    Thanks

    Kibatto Joseph | July 11, 2019 03:57

    So fantastic and I like this. I look forward to hearing from you again shaping my life too

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    Dominic | July 11, 2019 07:13

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