How can employers encourage healthy activities in the workplace?

Written by
Changeboard Team

21 Jun 2010

21 Jun 2010 • by Changeboard Team

Happy and healthy employees = a loyal workforce

It probably wont surprise you to know that the business case for action is clear. A 2009 analysis of FTSE 100 employers by Business in the Community showed companies taking steps to improve health and wellbeing in the workplace had an average enhanced financial performance of 10%. Employers increasingly see the Benefits of such schemes in the form of a happier workforce, and a reputation for being a company that staff want to work for.

At Forster, we use communications to help our clients improve health, and build stronger, fairer communities and a cleaner, greener world. Its always been important for us to walk our talk so part of my role is to ensure our 50 members of staff can stay healthy and happy, just as we advocate in our campaigns. My work in this area helps to contribute to staff satisfaction here; 97% of staff said they were proud to work for Forster in our most recent staff review.

Implementing a health & wellbeing strategy

So, how to reap the rewards for your staff and organisation? Setting yourself goals and regularly evaluating how youre getting on are common to most workplace initiatives; health and wellbeing should be no different.

Establish a baseline and be clear about what you want to achieve. At Forster, we have annual targets for things like the number of staff walking and cycling to work, and for growing our own food in the office.

If youre going to meet your goals, its key to understand your staff and their current attitudes towards health issues. Try running a survey, or simply talk to them. Once you know what they think, youre in a much better position to motivate them to get involved. When we secured some places for a half-marathon recently, we found many staff were interested but werent experienced runners - so we employed a personal trainer, and set up team training sessions after work so beginners were supported throughout the race build-up. Thirteen members of staff (more than a quarter of our workforce!) took part.

Support your health goals with a policy

Developing a policy gives you a base from which to build sustainable activity thats not just a one-off, and should help you to secure buy-in from senior management. It will help ensure consistency across your organisation in areas where staff may be in need of support.

At Forster, we have a robust mental health policy covering nine broad areas, ranging from culture and management (clear objectives, work programmes and appraisals), to physical health promotion (evidence shows an active lifestyle encourages good mental health) and engagement where problems arise with support to seek appropriate help.

Seek advice on how you can improve your policy from the experts. I recently spoke to mental health charity Rethink, who commented that we: demonstrate clear commitment to managing and reducing work-related stress, which can trigger mental health problems, as well as giving tips on how we can improve, which Ill be implementing over the next few months.

Weve recently launched our Mindshift report which outlines the Benefits to employers of ensuring the good mental health of their staff, and includes further details of our mental health policy; please do contact us via our website if youd like to receive a copy.

Make it easy for staff to get active

Your staff are busy, so its important to fit activities around them rather than asking them to go out of their way to take part.

Our progressive cycling policy has helped us obtain a top twenty position in the Sunday Times Best Green Companies list two years running, but it wouldnt work if it didnt fit into everyday working lives here. As a communications agency, were often on the road to external meetings with clients; instead of taxi journeys, we supply our staff with a fleet of Brompton bikes so they can cycle.

Similarly, although we occupy a small, city centre site, my team have planted vegetables and herbs on our balconies so everyone can pick food when they want and make their own healthy meals.

Find creative ways to get people interested

A surprise at work is often the best way to make people sit up and take notice. Immediately after Christmas is a difficult time to keep morale up in many organisations. This year, we ran an energy week with a different activity each day, including massages and a 15 minute saxophone concert on each floor of our building. And, of course, posters on the backs of toilet doors are always a great way to get people talking.

As a communications agency, we're also experts in helping our clients bring staff wellbeing policies to life. We developed a pioneering workplace mental health initiative for the Department of Healths Mind Out for Mental Health campaign, which included guidance for employers of all sizes on communicating with their staff on mental health. Building on our experience here, we can now help organisations develop employee engagement approaches across health and wellbeing issues.

Incentivise healthy efforts

Providing incentives can be an effective way to break down common staff barriers of: I dont have time or Im not interested.

Anyone cycling or walking to work at Forster can earn an extra five minutes of holiday for each return journey they make - thats up to two and a half extra days per year.

We also provide a Me Money scheme, where each year, staff can apply for ??200 to help them keep fit and healthy for work, or learn something new.

Identify health and wellbeing champions

Nothing beats the power of word of mouth - if someones enjoyed taking part in a health and wellbeing activity, get them to talk about it. This could be via a blog on your intranet or running a lunchtime session to talk about what theyve done and offer advice for others. This kind of activity can often lead to more spontaneous conversations between staff about the Benefits of getting involved.

Everyone working for Forster is entitled to spend 40 of their contracted hours per year volunteering. Weve had most success in boosting take-up when staff have gone back to the office, talked about their rewarding experiences and encouraged their colleagues to get involved.

Measure how well your staff react to initiatives

Finally, its really important not to stop when your engagement activity or policy development process is complete. By measuring its impact, youll get a sense of how you can build on your work to deliver even better Results next time.

At Forster, we ask people what they think about our wellbeing schemes as part of our annual anonymous staff review; an external auditor manages this so all our staff feel they can comment completely freely. Our targets and schemes for the next year are built on the review Results.

Ultimately, implementing work health and wellbeing initiatives in a tough economic climate has a dual impact. Theyre proven to boost organisational performance, but also contribute to what many of us in HR are striving for - making sure staff feel valued by their employer.