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The physical attraction of workplace wellbeing

Nov 20, 2018, 13:19 PM
Getting the basic physical aspects of wellbeing right
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Workplace wellbeing programmes have come a long way in a relatively short time. Although they are normally associated with large organisations, there are many reasons why small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) can also benefit. And the best place for your client to start is to get the basic physical aspects of wellbeing right.

1.3 million reasons for your smaller clients to think about wellbeing

The aims of workplace wellbeing: boosting morale, reduced absenteeism and improvements in productivity are shared across all types of businesses the length and breadth of the UK. However, wellbeing is still a relatively new concept for many SMEs and has yet to make a big impact on a sector (1) representing 99.3% of the enterprises in every main UK industry, where 5.7 million businesses generate around a half (51%) of all private sector turnover.

Although most of these businesses are sole traders and non-employing companies, 24% of them – 1.3 million businesses – employ people who could potentially benefit from workplace wellbeing initiatives in some form or another. For SMEs, the bottom line is that wellbeing in the workplace can prevent physical and mental illness and increase employee productivity.

For SMEs, workplace wellbeing can often throw up more questions than answers:

  • How effective is it?
  • What are the cost savings?
  • How do you measure it?

These are all valid queries about a fast-moving field where ‘soft’ observational measurements won’t necessarily produce ‘hard’ quantifiable business results. In the wider world, the most objective, neutral measure we have is workplace sickness absence rates.

The bad news about sickness absence in smaller enterprises has always been the mathematics: ten people off sick in a 100-person company can mean panic stations, whereas the same number of people on sick leave in a large corporation will mean business as usual.

Workplace wellbeing in practice:  getting physical 

Physical wellbeing is often the best place to start. Huge changes aren’t necessarily required and – with energetic internal promotion – good outcomes can occur at relatively little cost.  In today’s sedentary workplace environment, the basics should ideally begin with desktop assessments to ensure that employees are sitting correctly, rather than comfortably.

The next steps could be health risk assessment questionnaires, which can help pinpoint key issues, while the promotion of healthy eating in the workplace can also bring benefits. A good place for your client to start is with the contents of the workplace vending machine. Then there are working practices to consider: does a ‘long working hours’ culture really deliver business benefits if it leads to long term sickness? Do employees have a healthy work/ home life balance? By deploying procedures which deliver the basics, the programme can be extended to cover external features, such as gym discounts. The overall aim is to boost engagement and productivity.

For your clients with modest budgets, it might be easier to focus on tried and tested physical improvements, like making sure employees take regular breaks from their workstations.

Workplace wellbeing:  there’s an app for that

It’s clear that not all clients will have the financial muscle for a multimedia wellbeing campaign, but advances in digital media mean that they don’t necessarily require a Hollywood budget.  Recent advances in digital technology have brought health and wellbeing apps to the workplace. These are provided by innovative group protection providers or may be sourced independently. Broadly, these apps fall into two categories: ‘digital health’ and ‘digital doctor’. 

Digital health apps aim to track and improve an employee’s health by managing specific conditions and fitness priorities such as goal-setting for running, cycling and swimming. They also allow employees access to free, personalised health information about health and wellbeing issues, such as healthy eating, losing weight, sleeping better, lowering stress levels, or simply being more active. 

‘Digital doctor’ apps can offer employees access to NHS qualified GPs, letting employees book video consultations with a doctor, receive remote diagnoses and get verbal advice on simple medical queries from a GP via a live chat facility. 

Workplace wellbeing: fast forward to the future 

To sum up, the concept and implementation of workplace wellbeing has developed fast; from academia, to government, to the corporate space to the digital arena with urgency and determination. It’s rapidly becoming part of the conversation in large organisations and will inevitably spread to the SME sector, with digital applications leading the way. And a future with reduced absenteeism, productivity improvements and inclusive, caring workplaces could be closer than we imagine.

1. Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy : Business Population Estimates for the UK and Regions (November 2017)

GR02194 11/2018

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