Supporting a healthy, happy workforce

Jennifer Saxon
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There's only so much employers can do to influence the health of their employees. Some businesses have tried to turn wellbeing into a competitive sport – along with league tables and prizes.

Others provide health insurance programmes that reward people for their tracked exercise.

However, interventionist programmes are risky. For every eager participant, you can bet there are two who are silently resentful of the prescribed regimen.

So, how can a business influence the wellbeing of its employees without alienating them?

Wellbeing boosters

Research shows that by exercising in the morning, we can boost our energy and brain power for the rest of the day.

Practising mindfulness has been shown to have similar effects. It helps us strategise and encourages our ability to focus on tasks.

Businesses that try to tap into our competitive side by setting up fitness tracking or weight-loss contests don’t realise that this competitiveness can, for some, have a negative effect on their wellbeing. Instead, encourage positive steps to fitness and wellbeing that suit each individual. That could be taking regular breaks at work, doing an exercise class during the working day, or even encouraging people to pamper themselves occasionally.

Personalised support

Rather than pressuring employees to conform to an ideal determined by the exec team or a health insurance programme, businesses get the most from their employees by focusing on supporting individuals to be fit and healthy in a personalised way.

For example, by providing employees with a personal wellness budget, employers can give control back to individuals. Offering a standard gym membership perk is fine, but if employees don’t use it, it’s not really a perk.

Find out what activities interest them. Maybe its yoga or Zumba; it could be a boxing class, personal training sessions, or even guided meditation classes.

A culture of wellness

Management needs to demonstrate a healthy attitude to work. Whether its enforcing email free evenings, or taking a guilt-free morning off for a doctor’s appointment – people need to see their peers and managers looking after themselves. That goes for physical as well as mental wellbeing.

Are people expected to always be at their desks? Do people panic if they can’t get an instant response from a colleague? Encourage people to get up and move around during the day.

It doesn’t matter what the official message is – if people don’t see their managers or peers practising what they preach, nothing will change.

Discourage presenteeism

We’re not machines. If someone is sick, they should feel able to work from home, or take the time off to recover.

Where possible, businesses should track productivity and quality of work, rather than the hours people spend in the office. It’s easy to look at someone staying late and think that they’re a trooper, but do they actually get more high-quality work done in those extra hours at their desk?

Support mental health

Businesses must encourage an environment that supports mental wellbeing and treats it as seriously as physical wellbeing.

Our mental health influences our physical health. Stress, depression and anxiety make us physically ill.

Encourage people to be aware of how they’re feeling every day and to think about how they can give their best in their current frame of mind.

Healthy employees are more productive. But one size doesn’t fit all. Encouraging employees to take steps to improve their overall wellbeing and live the healthiest lives they can will benefit not just the individual, but the business.