Building a happy, healthy workforce takes more than a few staff benefits. Firms need to create a ‘wellness culture’ throughout the company in order to reap the biggest reward, writes Sean Farrington, regional vice president for northern Europe of Qlik
It’s well understood that maintaining a healthy workforce can have huge benefits for organisations. It can help increase productivity, reduce short-term absences and lower stress levels.
However, simply providing staff with benefits such as gym discounts is not enough to inspire employees to keep active.
Firms who offer incentives of this kind often find that employees quickly lose motivation or even neglect the benefit altogether.
To inspire employees to lead healthy lifestyles throughout the year, you need to go deeper than benefits and implement a cultural change – it’s about creating a ‘wellness culture’ throughout the company.
The first step is to realise that a wellness programme should aim to improve all elements of an employee’s work life, including their mental health.
Research ranks stress alongside musculoskeletal problems and back pain, and behind only minor illness, as the condition most likely to cause absenteeism.
It’s therefore important to consider implementing initiatives to help employees proactively deal with stress, such as stress management classes, massages and healthy eating programmes.
Of course, an even better solution is to prevent stress becoming an issue in the first place. This might mean that business leaders need to evaluate business practices, examine whether these are increasing stress levels and take steps to rectify any problem areas.
Offering things such as flexible working can be one solution to the problem, as this can help employees better manage their time, workload and work life balance.
The next step is to understand what your employees are looking for in terms of wellness and the types of things that motivate them.
For example, while offering staff a gym discount may not be enough, offering discounts to their partners as well so they can train together, may dramatically increase uptake.
Offering them the chance to train and compete with other employees can also be a way to help employees engage with the scheme.
For example, we issued all of our employees with Fitbits so they can not only track their own fitness, but compete with other employees on how well they’re doing.
Encouraging and enabling employees to take up healthier ways of getting into work, such as cycling and running, can also be hugely beneficial. Studies have shown that cyclists take 1.3 fewer sick days per year, which is great news for the business.
However, to encourage maximum uptake you need to make sure you’re helping employees get on their bike.
For example, consider installing showers and changing rooms in the office if you have the office space and the budget.
Also, try and help your employees purchase their commuting equipment. Government-backed initiatives, such as the Cycle-to-Work scheme, can also make bike purchasing more affordable for employees.
Integrating health and fitness into the organisation’s overall CSR programme is also a good idea. Encouraging employees to participate in fun-runs and cycle rides to raise money for charitable causes is a well-tested method to galvanise momentum, and raise awareness of well-being throughout the business.
These types of initiatives can also help represent company culture by demonstrating its core values and encouraging camaraderie.
It’s important to have a range of initiatives available in order to be as inclusive as possible, otherwise you may end up with the same faces volunteering for planned activities.
Finally, remember to actually ask your employees their opinions on what wellness benefits they would like to see implemented.
All employee demographics are different and what works for a tech start-up is unlikely to work at an investment bank.
Getting feedback from employees will help give a steer on what will work long-term.
Whether it is hosting in house yoga sessions or company sports tournaments, there are many ways to implement and build a wellness culture as long as you take an active interest in its development.
Executed correctly, you’ll be able to keep everyone fighting fit for years to come.
Interested in finding out more on mental health?
The IoD is committed to raising awareness of mental health issues in the workplace, with a particular focus on opening up the conversation for small-and medium-sized businesses. We have created a hub packed full of helpful advice, best practice and useful resources, as well as shared experiences from business leaders.
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