R Ur Staff OK?

As organisations all across Australia gather for morning teas in honour of R U OK? day, it’s important to ask: Are you providing your staff more than just free muffins?

RU OK? day presents a crucial opportunity for employers to cultivate an organisational culture where people feel confident and supported in both asking and answering this important question.

Returning to work after a experiencing a heart event can be an emotionally challenging journey. Supporting these employees is not only a compassionate approach but a vital one for all organisations. Providing support for not only physical recovery, but also recognising the importance of mental health in an employee’s well-being, can significantly assist in a smooth and successful return to work.

During this period, feelings of anxiety, fear, and stress are common, making it essential for organisations to acknowledge the pivotal role of mental health in the recovery process and how they can offer support.

The unfortunate reality is that all organisations will likely have to manage the impact of heart disease amongst their staff. In 2020 alone, an estimated 56,700 people aged 25 and over experienced acute coronary events, such as a heart attack or unstable angina – around 155 events every day. Of these, 12% were fatal which also creates a significant impact on the mental wellbeing of staff in the workplace.[1]

Around 1 in 3 develop serious anxiety and 1 in 5 develop depression after a heart event.

Statistics show that around 1 in 3 individuals develop serious anxiety, and 1 in 5 develop depression after a heart event. The Cardiac Blues is a normal part of recovery from heart-related incidents, affecting roughly 75% of people.

Understanding the effect of cardiovascular disease on workforce participation is particularly important. Not only does it impact the overall health and financial well-being of individuals living with cardiovascular disease, but it also has consequences for organisations and society, given the substantial economic benefits of retaining people in the workforce. [2]

For those with cardiovascular disease, research shows that average working hours per week are significantly lower than those without the condition, with approximately 36% of affected individuals more likely to be out of the workforce. [2] Physical weakness and emotional challenges resulting from cardiovascular disease can make it difficult for these employees to return to work and even lead to disability retirement. Workplace conditions may also pose challenges for returning staff.

Encouraging staff members who have experienced a heart event or heart surgery to attend cardiac rehabilitation programmes is vital. These programmes, which incorporate exercise and counselling components are proven to help improve physical functional capabilities and can potentially expedite the number of patients who return to work in the first 6 months post a heart attack.

Returning to work benefits not only the organisation, by retaining essential skills and knowledge, but is also crucial for an employees’ mental health and the overall economy.

5 key actions an organisation can take to support their staff in returning to work post a heart event or heart surgery:
  • Work Conditions – Review employees’ work conditions, considering potential physical or emotional limitations. Seek guidance from their GP or cardiologist.
  • Cardiac Rehabilitation – Encourage staff who have experienced heart events or heart surgery to participate in exercise and counselling-based cardiac rehabilitation programmes.
  • Cardiac Blues – Share information about the Cardiac Blues including how long it can go on for and how to seek support if needed. Click here for more information.
  • Employee Assistance Programmes – Promote any employee assistance programmes the organisation offers. Australian Centre for Heart Health run a Cardiac Counselling programme that can support staff who have had a heart event or surgery. Click here for more information.
  • Communication is key – Cultivate a communication-friendly environment where staff can honestly discuss their health and emotions, ensuring they are physically and emotionally ready to return to work.

Additionally, consider encouraging peer support through resources like Heart Research Australia’s Heart Health Club, which provides a private Facebook group for those impacted by heart disease to connect with others.

Supporting employees in their journey back to work after a heart event or surgery demonstrates compassion, fosters a healthier workforce, and ultimately benefits both individuals and organisations alike.

If you would like to start a dialogue with your organisation about heart health reach out to us at enquiries@heartresearch.com.au

[1] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2023) Heart, stroke and vascular disease: Australian facts, AIHW, Australian Government
[2] Bin Sayeed MS, Joshy G, Paige E, Banks E, Korda R. Cardiovascular disease subtypes, physical disability and workforce participation: A cross-sectional study of 163,562 middle-aged Australians. PLoS One. 2021 Apr 8;16(4):e0249738. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0249738. PMID: 33831054; PMCID: PMC8031377.