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The Justification For Workplace Health And Wellbeing Strategies

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Dr Nicola Eccles, Director of Research at CP Active and Senior Lecturer at the University of Huddersfield discusses why it’s important for companies to invest time and resources into an effective health and wellbeing strategy.

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There is a clear and growing remit for employers to address the workplace health and wellness needs of their employees.

Employers have a captive audience with their employees remaining within their spaces for upwards of 8 hours a day.  Employers are often sedentary with a range of work-related challenges which can create stress and anxiety.  Opportunities for breaks, time to reflect, for the preparation of nutritious food and adequate hydration and the opportunity to say no, are rare within the workplace.

This has a significant impact on both short and long term physical and mental health.  Previously, employers have not considered these issues as part of their remit or responsibility.  Employers assume that ‘leisure time’ is when individuals could pursue their health and wellness. But really, workplace health and wellbeing forms a large part of overall wellbeing.

However, within contemporary society, leisure time is a flawed concept. Work infiltrates beyond office hours, individuals have increasingly long commutes and the roles and responsibilities of both caring for the younger and the older generation is something which many people of’ working age’ contend with.

Whilst some insightful employers are beginning to perceive that the workplace health and wellness of their employees may be something for which they should take some responsibility, there is an even more pressing justification for employers to create healthier environments for their staff.  This is down to the tangible benefits which are created from a business perspective once you invest in the health of staff.

Productivity is a hard concept to measure given that all jobs have variations in remit and how they are enabled.  However, there has, in recent years, been a growing body evidence to support the return on investment which employers will directly feel once they implement interventions and strategies which focus on health and wellness within the company.

What Are The Benefits Of Workplace Health and Wellness?

Goetzel et al (2014) have demonstrated the way in which over the last 30 years there has been a growing acceptance and recommendations for employer involvement. Research has consistently shown the benefits for employers of engaging employees in workplace health and wellness programmes.  Of particular note is the reduction in employee absenteeism (Aldana et al 2005 and Dongen et al 2011) and reduced medical costs.

Ekelund et al 2015 and Stamatakis et al 2011 have demonstrated multiple layers of positive impact through increasing activity discouraging sedentary behaviour within the office environment.  The 2015 ‘Expert statement’ offered employers guidance on encouraging employees to be more active.

Unfortunately, this has not transcended into practice within offices in the UK.

Indeed, there has been a call for further research with senior management to understand limitations and barriers to practising active working.

In terms of mental health and psychological wellbeing (PW) there has been a tangible rise in public interest and demand for answers to the issues which many people are facing.  Recent developments helping to raise the profile include the publication of Business in the Community’s National Employee Mental Wellbeing Survey and Mental Health toolkit for employers in 2016, as well as in January 2017 the Prime Minister’s independent report on companies’ actions to support mental health and Mind’s first Workplace Wellbeing Index: https://www.mind.org.uk/workplace/workplace-wellbeing-index/

Employers will need to understand that there may be a lag between investment in workplace health and wellness and a return on investment through the markers of increased productivity and reduced absenteeism.  However, the tangible benefits of a workforce who feel cared for and the building of a shared community to enhance health beyond a pure focus on their job remit will be something which employers can see and feel much more immediately.

“Several literature reviews that weigh the evidence from experimental and quasi-experimental studies suggest that programs grounded in behavior change theory and that utilize tailored communications and individualized counseling for high-risk individuals are likely to produce a positive return on the dollars invested in those programs” (Goetzel et al 2008).

Crucially, the work of Wellspace is founded on the principles of behaviour change and in particular methods of Motivational Interviewing which are accepted as the most effective way of changing health behaviour.

In terms of a return on investment (ROI) the majority of US based studies demonstrate that well-designed wellness programs lead to a ROI ranging from $1.5 to more than $3 invested over a time frame of two to nine years. “Even if one assumes for the sake of argument that any limitation of each particular study leads to an ROI of less than $1.5 to $3, there are other benefits to these programs, such as increased job performance, overall well-being, and happy and thriving employees who contribute to business and community success” (US Chamber of Commerce 2016).

The Bottom Line

Overall, investing in employee wellness can lead to higher retention, less absenteeism and therefore greater productivity, as well as an overall healthier workforce.  Interventions and strategies which focus on psychological wellbeing should be a central feature within this.

Wellspace can help you look after the workplace wellbeing of your employees by allowing them to take control of their own wellness. By gathering data on their wellness app, they can see the impact of their sleep and activity levels on their mental health.

The data also allows you to tailor your training and wellbeing programme to suit the needs of your staff.

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