How Can Employers Encourage Health and Wellbeing at Work?

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Healthier employees are happier employees, and that’s a real bonus for an organisation! These employees are more productive at work, and they have less time off sick. In fact, these are just two of the benefits, and there are many more besides, but still many employers are unsure how they can implement a health and wellness policy that really works. 

We’ll show you how you can involve every member of staff in improving their own health and wellbeing, and enjoy themselves along the way. We’ll also tell you about some lesser-known benefits of a healthier workplace, and give you some inspiring ideas. 

What Exactly is Health and Wellbeing? 

What exactly do we mean by ‘health and wellbeing’? As defined by the World Health Organisation ‘Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing - and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.’

With that in mind, health and wellness must include the following:

1. Engaging in adequate physical activity - That’s around 150 to 300 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity each week.  

2. Healthy eating and hydration - We need eight to 10 cups of water a day and a balanced diet that includes fruit, vegetables and a variety of healthy food and snacks to get the nutrition we need. 

3. Being a non-smoker and working in a smoke-free environment. 

4. Alcohol consumption within recommended limits, or no alcohol at all.

5. Social and emotional wellbeing - Everyone should feel safe and supported at work, and there should be policies in place for dealing with bullying, stress, mental health issues, or other complaints. 

Why Does Health and Wellbeing Matter to Employers? 

An employee who is in less than good health is more likely to be stressed, dissatisfied in their job, and absent from work because they are unwell or need to attend medical appointments. They are more likely to make mistakes as a result of physical and mental fatigue, and when they are at work, they will be less productive. 

Now consider that most Australians spend about one-third of their lives at work. When you think of it like that, it makes good business sense to invest in making their work environment a place that promotes health and wellbeing. 

Staff health and wellbeing programs should not be viewed as a cost to the organisation, but rather as a long term investment. If, however, spending extra money is not an option, there are lots of things you can do without spending a dollar, and still expect to reap the rewards of healthier employees. 

Where Do Employers Start?

If you are looking to implement a health and wellbeing policy from scratch, start by asking your employees what they would like to see. If you have shift workers who find it difficult to get to the gym during opening hours, they might appreciate a mini gym onsite so that they can workout before or after a shift. If you have lots of working mums, they might like to see an exercise class during their lunch break, or they might prefer relaxation, meditation, or yoga. 

Some employees might have different concerns entirely, and would prefer for you to help them eat a healthier diet. If your place of work is away from shops, cafes and restaurants, your staff might want to have a snack bar on the premises. Snackwize can supply a free snack stand that fits perfectly on the bench top in your break room. You fill the stand with healthy snacks from a Snackwize Snack Box, and when someone wants to grab something to eat, they choose what they want. If you want to charge for the snacks, ask staff to deposit the right amount of cash in the Snackwize money box. 

Whatever your initial thoughts, the ACT Government recommends that you take the following steps: 

•  Start by establishing workplace commitment, getting managers onboard, and identifying key leaders. 

•  Speak to staff personally, or by way of a questionnaire to identify personnel and workplace issues. 

•  Construct a program and implement the initiatives you have chosen to put in place. 

•  Evaluate and refine your program as necessary.  

The Importance of Physical Exercise 

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Adequate physical activity is at the heart of good health, yet 70 per cent of workers nationally are not sufficiently physically active. Physical exercise is good for the heart and blood pressure, it helps to control weight, and assists in the prevention and management of over 20 medical conditions and diseases including diabetes. It is also good for emotional wellbeing, and can assist in relieving stress.

Here’s some ideas for getting your employees more physically active: 

• Set up a lunchtime walking group where employees meet and walk together. 

• Host a Walk Challenge where employees count their steps on an app. The person with the most steps after a week, a month, or six months, is the winner. 

• Just like the Walk Challenge, a Step Challenge counts the number of steps climbed, so participants are encouraged to take the stairs instead of using the lift. 

• Arrange lunchtime classes or activities such as yoga, belly dancing, pilates or stretching and toning exercises. 

• Organise and encourage corporate teams for local activities. From fun runs and obstacle courses to boat races, your staff will love the competition and team camaraderie. You can provide them with tee-shirts featuring your company logo and encourage colleagues to go along and support them on the day.  

• Encourage employees to cycle to work. Provide bike racks, showers, changing rooms and lockers, and distribute information on local cycle routes and cycling safety. 

Adding an element of competition can make activities much more fun, and rewards and prizes needn’t cost a fortune. You can announce winners and celebrate achievements in newsletters, on the company intranet, or on social media if relevant. You’ll find you get a lot more people onboard if you adopt this approach. If, however, you are able to spend a bit more on your health and wellness policy, an onsite gym is a great idea. 

An Onsite Gym 

If there isn’t a gym nearby, or you simply want to offer employees onsite facilities, you could install your own gym. You can start with basic equipment like a stationary bicycle, a rowing machine, a treadmill, floor mats and dumbbells. Remember that if your gym isn’t supervised, you might need CCTV, or you will need to think about buddy systems and user alarms to ensure safety. Don’t be put off though. The benefits outweigh the risk: for example, in the event of a fire or an emergency, fitter employees are more likely to evacuate the premises safely.

Gym Membership 

Corporate membership is a great way to get people into the gym or swimming pool. You could offer a subsidised rate to make gym membership a bit cheaper for your employees. An added bonus to this is that you don’t have to undertake the expense and inconvenience of installing your own gym facility, and your employees will benefit from expert advice and guidance.

Healthy Eating and Drinking at Work 

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49 per cent of workers nationally aren’t eating enough fruit and vegetables. However, there are lots of ways you can encourage healthier eating at work. For example, you can make it easier for staff to prepare or reheat food that they bring in from home. You will need a clean, well-equipped room to act as a kitchen, or a staff room with fridges that are regularly cleaned. The room will need to have tables and chairs, a sink, microwave, a kettle and anything else you think would make for a pleasant eating environment. 

Take Regular Breaks 

Encourage every member of staff to take a break from their desk or workplace at lunchtime. They will be more likely to make healthy food choices than if they just reach for the nearest item of food to dispel the nagging hunger pangs. 

Drink More Water 

Provide staff with free, refillable water bottles and access to a water cooler or fresh, cold tap water. You could have your company logo on the water bottles, and that way you also benefit from free marketing. Consider having fruit delivered to work so everyone has access to free fruit throughout the day. This works well in encouraging people to try new fruits that they wouldn’t necessarily choose to buy when out shopping. 

Eat Healthy Snacks

You could have Snackwize Snack Boxes delivered straight to your place of work. Our goal at Snackwize is to make healthy food a more convenient option than junk food. If this is something that you would also like to see, let us know, and we can collate a Snack Box for you to try at your place of work. If you and your employees like particular snacks more than others, we can include more items of your choosing in your next box. That should really encourage hungry workers to reach for a bag of nuts and dried fruit, organic popcorn or veggie crisps instead of a more fattening or salt-laden alternative. 

Other Ways Employers Can Support Staff 

As well as encouraging more exercise and healthier eating, remember to promote wellness in general at work. There may be staff who would benefit from help and advice with weight management, issues with alcohol, and smoking cessation. Put up posters in staff rooms and make literature available so they know how to access relevant support groups if and when they want to.

Organisations that implement health promotion strategies in the workplace can reduce their workers’ health risk factors by up to 56 per cent, and can expect productivity gains of up to 15 per cent. It’s a win-win situation. You’ll find employees are happier and they’ll be more loyal to your organisation when they know you care about them - which means you retain skilled employees and see less staff turnover. 

You don’t need to spend a fortune to see employees making healthier choices as a result of the changes you have made in the workplace. Start with making healthy snacks available, and get to thinking how you can encourage everyone to be more physically active. Everyone benefits in the long run!

Conor Reynolds