Posted on October 04, 2016 by Gordon Smith

Healthy and happy staff are absent less and more productive – that’s a fact.[1]

Throughout the corporate world, both employees and staff are changing their attitudes towards health and wellbeing in the workplace. 88% of CEOs now say they have a wellbeing programme in place.[2]

The focus is moving away from “health and safety” (avoiding accidents and illness) to a more holistic health and wellness approach (looking after the whole person). The shift is from the reactive to the proactive. Now, wellness is considered a part of corporate social responsibility.

What creates wellbeing?

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development have identified five domains of health and wellbeing in the workplace:

Health Including physical health, safety and mental health.
Work Including job demands, management, the working environment, the ability to control one’s work, whistleblowing procedures, change management, and pay and perks.
Values and principles  Including strong leadership, ethical principles and diversity.
Collective and social Including the employee voice, good relationships with colleagues and management.
Personal growth Including training, personal development, financial wellbeing, mentoring and coaching.

Physical health

Over the last 20 years or so, obesity has risen from 13% to 26% of the population[3]. It’s predicted that by 2030, nearly half of all men and women will be classified as obese.

To combat this, governments and local authorities have been busy promoting cycling, sport and walking. Increasingly companies and corporations are seeing themselves as jointly responsible for our health and wellbeing as well.

Despite this, we’re not getting enough exercise. The NHS states that adults should achieve a minimum 150 minutes of at least moderate activity over a week. The lack of such physical activity is a key cause of chronic, preventable conditions. In addition, the amount of time we spend sitting or lying down has increased – about a third of us spend six hours a day doing very little (sitting at a desk does not count as “doing something”.[4] The perils of sitting down are now well-known.

At motive8 we are continually striving to promote better physical health. There is a clear financial benefit: working-age ill health costs the UK economy £100 billion a year.[5] In 2014/15, a staggering 23 million days were lost due to work-related ill health[6].

But the picture is improving. By 2014, a full 13% of companies were giving access to an in-house gym to all their staff[7], and nearly a third were offering subsidised gym membership. This has had a significant impact on absence. Corporate gym membership is both a reward (akin to pay) and an investment.

Ideally, physical fitness and health should form a part of a wider strategy that incorporates stress reduction, emotional wellbeing, healthy eating and constructive relationships in the workplace.

Physical fitness has a positive impact on all aspects of health including mental health. [8] And unfortunately the reverse is also true – poor mental health is associated with increased risk of physical health conditions which can result in a vicious circle of poor wellbeing. Many health practitioners now believe that there is no real divide between physical and mental health and they are both simply aspects of “health”.

But mental health is an area of employee wellbeing that is at last becoming a topic of concern. One in three of us will experience some kind of mental health problem whilst in employment. [9] Attitudes are changing – the new generation of employees expect and demand good support networks at work:

“Millennials prioritise a healthy work–life balance and a positive workplace culture, and are more likely to turn their back on the business that trained them if these needs are not met.”
Emma Mamo, Head of Workplace Wellbeing, Mind.

Unfortunately, private companies are lagging way behind public authorities in providing support for those experiencing mental health problems.

Wellbeing can go well beyond the gym, of course, and we have tips on getting your corporate wellness strategy into place.

What is being done?

CEOs of companies are engaging with the wellbeing agenda. Many companies have built gyms for their staff. Many others have negotiated reduced memberships on external gyms. It’s now being recognised that corporate gyms can pay for themselves and even make a profit.

New offices are being designed with wellness in mind. For example, the Alphabeta building in Finsbury Square features an incredible internal cycle ramp to allow employees to cycle right up to their offices. It also incorporates a basketball court and darts club![10]

The UK government has opened the What Works Wellbeing Centre to better research and understand how to measure and improve wellbeing. There is a Workplace Wellbeing Charter which employers can sign up to, to state their commitment to the principles of wellbeing. Employee wellness is on the agenda but there is more to do.

“Employers need to implement a holistic approach to health and wellbeing that is preventative and proactive, as well as reactive,” states the CIPD.

Contact us to find out how our expertise in corporate wellbeing can help your company reduce absenteeism, improve morale, and drive productivity.

[1] “Increasing levels of physical activity are proven to have a positive impact on physical health and mental well-being. Physical activity is also known to influence work-related outcomes such as reducing sickness absence.”