Once upon a time, health and safety was about complying with legislation and guarding against physical accident or injury in the workplace. However, the contemporary view of an employer’s responsibilities goes a little wider. Legislative compliance? Of course. Making sure no one trips over an exposed cable? Obviously. But these days, it’s much more than avoiding injuries – employers take action to maintain and improve employee wellness, both physical and mental. After all, as an employer, you naturally want employees who are fit for work…
Why is employee wellness important?
Let’s take a moment to spell out the obvious:
- Less absenteeism – A focus on employee wellness results in fewer days off sick.
- Better productivity – Less illness and time off sick means more people at work getting the job done. In the words of Radiohead: “Fitter. Happier. More productive.”?
- Improved engagement – Employees that see their employee taking an interest in their health tend to be more motivated at work; more inclined to ‘go the extra mile’ because that’s what they see the employee doing for them.
- Higher employee satisfaction ratings – A 2017 survey by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans found wellness programmes boosting employee satisfaction by 67%.
What’s more, an employee wellness programme can have a positive impact on recruitment and retention, enhancing employer brand and attracting better job applicants and then making your workplace a more attractive place to stay.
In other words, when it comes to employee health, prevention is better than cure.
Setting up an employee wellness programme
Having decided to do something about the health and wellbeing of your workforce, the question is how? Any wellness programme will only work if employees follow it. in other words, it needs to be attractive and practical and not just a bowl of free oranges and regular exhortations to go to the gym.
The best wellness programmes are designed with a specific workforce in mind. You need to talk to your people and find out what would enthuse them. What’s going to make them want to take part? You need to find out about:
- Their current wellness – Levels of exercise and activity, diet, use of tobacco and alcohol, etc., feelings of stress… (this is potentially sensitive stuff so think about how your workforce would like to be asked – anonymous survey, individual chats, etc.)
- Their attitude to possible activities – What kind of programme would they sign up to? Discounted membership to external groups (gyms, classes, etc.), group or team-based events in the workplace, information, presentations on relevant topics, free healthy foods provided at work, and so on…
- How to set your policies – How well do you current wellness-related policies work? (And if you think you don’t have any, a simple and common example is what kind of refreshments do you normally provide for lengthy meetings or training events?) What kind of incentives are attractive?
Having done that, the next step is to put together a package of wellness-related proposals and options. As a ‘starter for 5’, consider the following suggestions:
- Diet and weight – Most of us could benefit from dropping a few pounds and/or eating better.
- Alcohol – UK cultural attitudes to drinking tend towards the binge. Making professional guidance on drinking habits and what lies behind them available can be transformative.
- Exercise awareness – Yes, you can install a workplace gym but to avoid ‘New Year’s Resolution syndrome’ (everyone enthusiastically signs up but by February, no one is exercising) some quality information is useful: how much we should exercise, what types of benefits come from what types of exercise, and how to motivate yourself (especially if you’re new to exercise).
- Quitting smoking – Most smokers will tell you, stopping isn’t easy. Helping employees explore why it is so difficult and then providing proven strategies can have a significant impact.
- Mental health at work – The challenges are not all physical! HSE figures from 2017/18 attribute 44% of all workplace absence to stress. Knowing how to spot and support anyone struggling with stress or mental health issues is an increasing concern for UK employers.
You want more suggestions? How about providing healthy lunches, setting up a dedicated chillout/nap room, organising fitness classes before or after work, loans for bicycles (healthier commuting!), or even – with everyone’s consent and buy-in – team challenges.
Employee wellness is a key factor in productivity and other ‘hard’ business performance indicators and getting your people fitter is a good goal to have. But it can’t be imposed. Employee wellness requires employee consent and motivation, and that’s only going to happen if you include them in the process and offer health-boosting options that they really want.
And a final salutary warning from Sir Cary Cooper in a 2018 CIPD article, “the most important thing employers can do to encourage staff health and wellbeing is to look at the culture their business creates…. It’s great to encourage staff to do things that will make them healthier, but if you create a long working hours culture and send emails that interfere with private hours, it will not foster a healthy working environment.”
If you’re interested in finding ways to improve employee wellness, check out our wide range of wellness and other H&S sessions. Or give us a call on 01582 463463. We’re here to help.