How to implement a suitable health and wellbeing programme in the workplace

Written by
Changeboard Team

04 Aug 2010

04 Aug 2010 • by Changeboard Team

Common health problems in UK workforces

With the well-documented rising costs of obesity, chronic disease and mental illness and their wider impact on the productivity of UK Plc, helping people to lead healthier lives has never been so important, and many providers exist to help employers play their part in ensuring the wellbeing of their staff, families and wider communities. 

Advances in technology have produced convenient, more efficient ways of living and working yet in so doing, have also contributed to poorer lifestyles and health. At work the pressure to deliver more for less can lead to unhelpful, unhealthy lifestyle choices. The threat of cutbacks and redundancies can create anxiety and sap morale. Stress and other mental illnesses are on the increase.

At GetFit Wellness, we see all too frequently employees trapped in a vicious cycle. For instance, an individual is feeling stressed at work because they are trying to cope with an increased workload, this causes them to eat convenience foods while at work and drink alcohol to help them relax at home. The alcohol then affects their sleep quality, which compounds how they feel and perform at work. And so it continues.

Consider a health & wellbeing programme

The good news is that by understanding and tackling the causes, together with making sometimes minor lifestyle changes, these cycles can often be broken to the mutual benefit of the individual and the organisation. Only a 'joined up' programme that links behaviours to health can identify these negative health cycles.

This time last year, HR executives across the country were still trying to understand how best to apply recommendations from Dame Carol Blacks review 'Working for a Healthier Tomorrow' that had been launched in the spring.

The premise was that, due to the fact we spend almost one third of our adult life at work, a wider strategic importance should be placed on workplaces in the fight against obesity, chronic disease and mental illness, and recognise the fact that, for better or worse, the working environment itself can be a major influence on an individuals well-being.

Just over a year on, there are positive signs that the professional sector is taking this issue seriously - for example, key indices like the Times Top 100 Employers now include staff health and wellbeing among its criteria. But it could be said that there's still a work-in-progress attitude from many employers who are yet to be convinced of the Benefits or have tried in the past to deliver employee wellbeing with little success.

What's the return on investment?

Getting involved in the health of your workforce is not all about employer altruism; lifestyle trends are resulting in less healthy workforces and double-digit increases in healthcare costs.

Investing in the wellbeing of staff can return significant Benefits such as:

  • Reduced absenteeism and 'presenteeism' 'presenteeism' (being less productive at work due to ill health)
  • Lower health insurance premiums
  • Reduced risk of litigation from employees experiencing work-related stress
  • Higher morale
  • Better corporate productivity and profitability

What's more, the attitudes of employees towards balancing their work with their personal lives are changing, and in a recent report published by PricewaterhouseCoopers, 'Managing Tomorrows People', flexible working was rated the most important benefit of those surveyed; ahead of financial Benefits. A proactive approach to providing for the health and wellbeing of staff could therefore create competitive advantage and help to improve staff retention.

The role of HR in moving health forward

So what does it take to successfully engage a workforce enough to produce healthy sustainable behaviours and improve health? As we all know from our personal lives, it usually takes more than just being prescribed a diet or exercise programme. Simply knowing how to make a lifestyle healthier isn't the main factor for successful change.

The first people who have to be motivated to effect change are those who are responsible for deciding what service to put in place - namely the employers or HR directors.

There's very strong evidence to show that when health and wellbeing programmes are implemented correctly and tailored to the needs of the workforce they deliver a net benefit to the organisation.

Key elements of a health programme

It can be a minefield to figure out which health and wellbeing programmes work and which don't. But if you're thinking about implementing a new health and wellbeing programme, here are some of the basic requirements for success: 

  • Management participation and sponsorship
  • Workplace champions to drive awareness
  • Inclusive, available to all employees 
  • Sufficient flexibility in working practices to allow participation
  • Integration with support resources such as Occupational Health or EAP
  • Utilisation of corporate communication channels to promote the programme
  • A programme personalised and localised for both employees and the organisation
  • A behavioural change approach
  • Trustworthy data protection and security
  • Robust support to ensure successful delivery across the workforce
  • Management reporting capability to demonstrate programme performance, employee engagement and health priorities across the organisation
  • Excellent track record in delivery and proven Results

Importantly, staff need to know that their personal information is not shared with their employers in any form that will identify them. Many key questions such as those on work/life balance, social support, health conditions, family history of illness, the impact of work on health and motivational factors for improving health are very personal and sensitive.

Improve health and improve performance

The burden and responsibility of reducing obesity and illness does not, of course, lie primarily at the doors of employers. However, investing in staff health and wellbeing should be viewed as a vital strategic component in any plan to improve business productivity and performance however frenetic the working environment.

It's easy to forget our own and others wellbeing while living such busy lives - but, as Dame Carol Blacks initial report summarised, by helping people strike at the heart of these issues through the organisations in which they are employed, we can build a stronger and healthier workforce for all.