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Is Workplace Wellness Really Good for You?

Increasing satisfaction for both employees and employers leads to greater productivity, but keeping everyone happy is a challenge.

When global HR consulting firm Mercer launched in 1989, workplace wellness initiatives devised at board-level, weren’t met by staff with enthusiasm. The majority of business institutes favoured a more reactive stance towards health and wellbeing, using medical approaches to identify and resolve problems whilst largely ignoring personal satisfaction.

Fast-forward 25 years and the landscape has changed dramatically. As forward-thinking organisations move away from viewing ill health as a business cost, to viewing good health as an asset, more companies have come to realise the role corporate wellness services can play in boosting morale, increasing work-life balance and ultimately reducing costs.

Encouraging firms to invest in the industry’s services, the overall change in attitude has seen the number of firms adopting workplace wellness strategies sky-rocket. More proactive and integrated approaches that facilitate positive behavioural change and help mitigate problems before they emerge, are key strategies that have worked at many companies, such as GlaxoSmithKline.

The global healthcare company has long been committed to workplace wellness, having launched multiple programmes dedicated to energy and performance in the workplace, which Philip Gibbs, Director of Global Product Development and Insights at GSK says “provide workplaces, programmes and facilities that enable our employees to understand and protect their own health, so they feel healthier and more energised at work and at home.”

At GSK research has demonstrated that teams enrolled in these schemes feel more energised. But motivating employee buy-in, whilst ensuring a sense of free choice, is the key to success.

Health and wellness offerings are becoming part of the evaluation process employees go through when choosing an employer

“It’s an organisation’s responsibility to create a culture or environment where employees have access to tried and tested (evidence-based) health and wellbeing services and educational campaigns which encourage them to adopt healthier lifestyles and behaviours. This enables employees to feel empowered to manage their own health and wellbeing,” argues Gibbs.

At Mercer, education, engagement and reward play a primary part in all of their strategies. Working to create behavioural change, the team of specialists try to initiate explained behavioural changes within workplaces in order to make employees healthier, happier and more engaged. And the payback for employers?

“Businesses that implement workplace wellness tend to see a reduced cost of lost productivity equal to 3% of payroll,” says Partner, Chris Bailey. “We typically find that the organisations we work with report a 40% improvement (however they measure it) if they adopt health and wellness strategies, but the specific impact of corporate wellness schemes is difficult to measure.”

Convincing employers to spend money on something when they find it difficult to measure the immediate and direct impact is a barrier, but with measurable reductions in staff absence and turnover, the eradication of a negative culture of presenteeism and a boost in engagement, it’s no surprise more businesses are jumping on the bandwagon.

Stressing the importance of current schemes that engage the whole workforce, Bailey argues that the introduction of strategies that focus on a number of key areas including educating a workforce about making the right choices, creating a culture of shared understanding surrounding those choices and then rewarding them, all have a part to play.

People have different motivations, so businesses are increasingly turning to schemes that offer a wide range of initiatives. “There’s no silver bullet, but a good programme will cover a whole host of things, targeting the aging workforce differently to millennials and above all else not preaching to workers,” he argues.

This approach is demonstrated by British fitness clothing brand, Sweaty Betty. Being fit and healthy is an integral part of the company image, but instead of forcing employees to share certain values, making wellbeing a priority is inspired much more organically by offering flexible working hours, regular free workouts and other casual opportunities to get active, such as lunchtime runs.

“This is the best incentive for a healthy workforce. Getting back to work after a pre-work/lunchtime session works wonders for productivity and staff are always ready to jump into the next challenge,” explains Sweaty Betty’s People Coordinator, Jessica Howden.

Creating work-life balance is an essential component of workplace wellness and one that can boost the overall success of a company. With one in three people expecting their work-life balance to improve over the next 5 years, according to the Professionals Report from Investec Private Banking, health and wellness offerings are becoming part of the evaluation process employees go through when choosing an employer.

Lauren Armes is Editor-in-Chief of Welltodo, a global website featuring content on the wellness industry and business aspects of wellness, health, beauty, technology, fitness, food and drink.