The UK Health and Safety Executive claim that 27 million days were lost to sickness or injury in 2011/12 at a cost of 13.4 billion in in previous year. A lot of the illness is due to lifestyle choices such as diet, lack of exercise and stress. There is a strong argument that including “Wellness” as part of a reward strategy is a powerful and cost effective way of increasing engagement, reducing sickness absence and increasing productivity.
Advantages of wellness initiatives
- It is a cost effective way to improve engagement
- Employees appreciate the interest shown by their employer
- Increase in productivity
- Contributes to the “common good” – therefore good CSR management
- Wellness initiatives can integrate with health and safety programs and occupational health activity giving a virtuous circle of employee wellbeing aligned with good business practice.
Development of a “wellness” culture
One of the most difficult things to do; but the most rewarding, is to develop a culture in your organisation of wellness. By which I mean developing and encouraging behaviours that support wellness. So it becomes the norm in an organisation for people to eat property, take exercise and take responsibility for their own and their family’s health.
This can be achieved by the same tools that we achieve any culture change. Leadership is important. In one company I worked for there was an open competition between the CEO and the CFO on a number of sporting achievements. Lots of staff took part with these leaders or at least supported their healthy activities.
The “nudge” approach so favoured by the UK government can also work. By only serving healthy food in the canteen employees have little choice. By having employees opt out instead of opting in to annual health checks will considerably increase the take-up. Reducing the number of car parking spaces and replacing them with bike racks and showers nudge people in to considering using a bike rather than a car. There are a number of small, inexpensive changes that can nudge people in to a healthier lifestyle.
Pricing actions can also help with the establishment of a wellness culture. Subsiding health options and making more expensive less health options is a good way to nudge people in the right direction. Increasing the reimbursement rates for using public transport and decreasing milage rates make people consider the costs of motoring against public transport. Subsidising gym membership is another good approach to encourage take up. With some work and analysis these types of pricing approaches can lower the total benefits spend while leading to a more healthy group of employees.
Wellness culture can also be encourage by carrying out regular health audits of staff. These can be carried out by occupational health or an outside advisor looking at patterns of staff activity and how wellness initiatives are working and perhaps suggesting new lines of attack.
Examples of wellness approaches
Wellness approaches can be split in to:
- Risk Benefits
- Environmental changes
- Professional support services
The two most obvious benefits here are private health insurance and Health screening. Many organisations offer private health insurance with, in the UK for example, BUPA or PPP. But what is sometimes overlooked is that most health insurance organisations offer and in some cases encourage health screening. A mixture of these two benefits can pay big dividends to organisation by both reducing time off sick by obtaining immediate treatment and health screening can pick up health issues at an early stage and deal with them before they turn in to long-term sickness issues.
Although not strictly speaking a risk benefit (although with some ingenuity it can look like one) is the provision of an on-site or near site private GP service. I worked for a financial services organisation that provided a near site private GP service; which, while expensive, paid for itself by the reduction in staff having to take time off to see their local GP; often requiring a half day for a simple 10 minute appointment at their home location. It was also very useful for visiting overseas staff and inward expatriate staff who often found it difficult to get treatment with a local doctor. (This tends to apply to the UK rather more than other countries). The same type of approach can be used for the provision of private dental treatment on a “near site” basis.
Making the workplace healthier is easily undertaken. Replacing high fat snacks and drinks with healthy alternatives is but one suggestion. Provision of showers for staff that bike ride in to work or like to exercise at lunchtime is another key initiative. Opening up staircases as the preferred access and egress routes rather than elevators or lifts, perhaps by designating half of these as for visitor use only. There are a number of simple environmental changes that will encourage a healthier lifestyle.
The provision of healthier snacks, drinks, tea trollies and canteen meals can make considerable changes to the diet of our employees. Healthy eating does not have to mean uninteresting eating. When I visited the Head Office of Commerzbank in Germany they had interesting Asian and African foods in the canteen; as well as it being open to the public…
Professional support services
This is another area that can create considerable leverage in employee wellness. As an example, mental health is now recognised as a major issue for employers. Time off for stress and depression is rising rapidly. The provision of confidential counselling is an excellent way to provide support to employees. Likewise drink and drug awareness and support initiatives can often catch problems at an early stage.
This type of support can extend to the provision of “at desk” massages’ to help relieve stress and long hour exhaustion. There are many other creative and innovative solutions available in the market place to drive home the wellness message and provide support to staff.
Finally in this section, let us not forget trauma support. Unfortunately, unexpected but dramatic incidents are an on-going fact of life in all countries. These can vary greatly from terrorist attacks to train or airline crashes or sadly mass shootings in our locality. It is essential to have appropriate professional, qualified trauma counselling available immediacy after an incident. Services can support staff, managers and families in the event of tragedy; minimising the possibility of long term mental issues arising from the trauma. Do not forget, in the event of an incident many organisations will be looking for this type of support so simply get in first and have contingency arrangements in place with approved suppliers. This is all part of the wellness agenda; be it often over looked.
Wellness is an important, but often overlooked part of reward strategy. Yet it is a cost effective way to improve both productivity and engagement to our valued staff. It turns the phase “our staff are our biggest asset” from meaningless marketing to a working reality appreciated by staff and other stakeholders as part of a cohesive CSR policy.
On the subject of cohesiveness a well manufactured wellness approach can be closely integrated with business continuity, health and safety and occupational health. The impact on the employee brand and proposition will be enormous – without a large cost.
I do not know why this approach is not more widely used. Do you? And, have you any suggestions for innovative approaches on wellness in the workplace that I can share as part of an on-going dialogue on “Wellness in the Workplace” which will focus on some of the individual initiatives and providers who can help build this simple but highly effective reward intervention.