The mention of ‘wellness’ can bring to mind visions of new age healthy living hysteria, avocados and yoga. But if you ignore the hyped-up Instagram influencers and ‘naturopaths’ and take wellness for what it is, advocating and promoting better health and wellbeing, there are in fact a great many benefits that businesses can realise by implementing health and wellness programmes.
Studies in US workplaces found that companies who run wellness programs experience 28% less employee sick leave than their comparators and saw a 19% reduction in absenteeism. When looking at the people within an organisation who are enrolled in wellness programmes, those that participated experienced 70% fewer sick days. So, for those American organisations with a commitment to employee well-being, they’re able to trace the effects all the way back to their bottom line in increased productivity, fewer absence days and lower health insurance premiums.
When looking at the UK, the British Heart Foundation writes that each year, we lose £140million working days to sickness absence at the cost of £29billion. Presenteeism, where people come to work while ill, and thus less productive, is thought to cost employers £605 per employee per year. It seems that efficiencies and savings could be made in working on employee wellness if these numbers could be reduced, and that doesn’t take into consideration the possibility of improved company culture, greater morale and the increased employee happiness that might occur as a consequence.
Below, we illustrate four ways UK employers can improve employee wellness to aid business growth.
1. Encourage Physical Exercise
The health benefits of regular exercise are well known, but their profound impact on work on productivity are rarely given the recognition they deserve. According to a study by Vitality and RAND Europe, employees of all ages can reduce their work ‘impairment’ by 3.2 days per year if they go from doing no exercise at all, to 150 minutes per week.
For businesses, fewer sick days and greater productivity often translate into greater profits and efficiency. Indeed, Nomura, an investment bank, was able to use predictive models of employee health to save £3m on presenteeism. Nomura now run a cycle scheme and have an integrated medical and fitness centre. While this may not be possible for most small businesses, it’s easy and cost-effective to provide discounted gym memberships and to set up company sports clubs.
2. Promote Healthy Eating Initiatives
Heart disease, diabetes, strokes and heart attack are among the developing world’s biggest killers and a growing body of research points to poor diet and lifestyle choices as being the key culprit. Before these life-threatening illnesses emerge, it’s not uncommon for chronic illness and general sickness to set in.
The same Vitality health and RAND Europe study found that 3.5 productive days per year are lost by employees with poor diets; they also claim that reducing fat intake to a healthy range can reduce work impairment by 2.5 days per year. Some employers like the UK’s Phoenix Group has built a locally sourced menu to promote healthy eating in their offices. Dun & Bradstreet has offered nutrition workshops to employees, inviting specialists in to speak. But your approach doesn’t need to be so involved or expensive, to begin with. Simply making healthy snacks freely available like fruit, can be a good start.
3. End the Stigma Surrounding Mental Health
Mental health gets much more attention now than it used to, which is a fantastic step forward, but this hasn’t ended the stigma. In a workplace that has become increasingly connected, it can be difficult to draw the line between ‘work’ and a person’s personal life, which can result in an unhealthy balance that induces stress.
The Office for National Statistics estimated that 11.5% of sickness absence was due to mental-health issues. Vitality health estimates that 33 productive days are lost per year to moderate or severe depression by the 5.6% of employees who suffer from it. The same report also suggests that these employees can reduce their ‘work impairment’ by 31 days if they no longer suffer from depression. That’s not to say that employers can ever be equipped with the tools to eliminate depression, it would be great if they could, but at the very least, they can make it possible for staff to come forward and seek help when they’re affected by mental-health issues; acknowledgement and acceptance are important first steps.
Some organisations run ‘mindfulness’ sessions and provide eLearning courses on the subject, some provide access to meditations apps, while others raise general awareness to foster positive conversations around the subject. If you are part of a small business, a good conversation doesn’t cost very much to start.
4. Make your workplace a safe space
For many professionals who work in office environments, often the biggest perceived risks to their wellbeing are fires, tripping at work or the chronic pain from poor posture. For some employees, the risks they face are more serious.
In industrial settings, everyday machines used for work can be the cause of life-changing injury or even death. The UK Health and Safety Executive reports that in the period from 2017-18, 144 workers were killed in workplace accidents, the top cause being ‘falls from height’, followed by ‘struck by moving vehicle’.
In their last report on non-fatal injuries, the HSE stated that more than 70,000 people had been injured at work, whereas the Labour Force Survey (LFS) stated 609,000 people had been injured during the 2016/17 period. These UK injury rates are among the lowest in the world, but workplace accidents still pose a very real threat. While work injury compensation might be claimed after the event, prevention is better than any attempt at ‘cure’. It’s best then to encourage a culture of workplace safety, providing training and an abundance of the necessary equipment employees need to do their jobs safely.
Often, it helps to make an individual responsible for monitoring workplace safety and for enforcing safety protocols, keeping logs of all health and safety events, injuries, breaches, or where processes change to allow for improvement. Work with your employees so that where hazards arise, staff feel comfortable enough to quickly report the incident so that remedial action can be taken.
Workplace safety not only helps to mainatain and build a trusted brand, but it can also help to attract great talent. Even if you ignore the directly positive impacts of a safety-led culture, simply avoiding the fines and legal costs imposed when avoidable accidents occur immediately represents savings of tens, if not hundreds of thousands. Work to make your workplace a safe space.