You don’t have to delve very far into any HR or business magazine to stumble across the subject of corporate wellness. It’s a gathering trend, and if it isn’t already on your business radar, you should think about setting the wheels in motion. If you’ve yet to be convinced, read on …

Not so long ago, the offer of a 10% corporate discount at the local Virgin Active was seen as a progressive perk that carried the caring and sharing employer message along with it. Job done, proverbial box ticked. Then, hot on its heels came something much bigger; ‘corporate wellness’. Nowadays, if corporate wellness doesn’t form part of your company’s DNA you’re missing a trick. Employee welfare should involve all your employees (not just the ones willing and able to don the lycra and give the treadmill a run for its money). It is about offering your employees the support they need, when they need it. It is about providing the most health conscious work environment possible. And it is about creating the opportunity for people to engage in a healthy working life, however that is interpreted on an individual level. After all, not everyone is able or willing to join the gym. And looking after the wellbeing of your employees should involve a holistic approach that factors in the mind, body and soul.

On 31st May it is World No Tobacco Day. May also marked Mental Health Awareness Month and Family Wellness Month. There are countless other equally worthy causes on the broad topic of ‘wellness’ which doubtless have their moment in the annual diversity calendar limelight.   Raising awareness has a very important part to play, but shining a light on wellbeing at work (whether mental or physical) needs to form part and parcel of everyday life, all year round. And it needs to include everyone in your business.

Yet, interestingly, and all too often, those three little words (healthy working life) seem too much like suggested answers in a multiple choice question.

Would you rather:

  1. Lead a healthy lifestyle,
  2. Work hard and build your career, or
  3. Enjoy a fulfilling social / personal life

In some corporate cultures, option d) all of the above, simply doesn’t exist. But it should, because everyone stands to gain. That’s right: everyone. Including employers.

Healthy workers make for happy workers. And happy, healthy workers give rise to better productivity, increased levels of job satisfaction and lower business costs (through reduced absenteeism, and increased staff retention). There’s something wonderfully simple about this, and it doesn’t take Einstein to see the obvious net benefits for business. A Towers Watson / National Group on Health research study in 2011/2012 reported that US companies with the most effective wellness programmes experienced 1.8 days less absence per employee, and up to 40% increase in average revenue.

And yet … mental health problems cost employers in the UK £30 billion a year through lost production, recruitment and absence. In a 2013 survey conducted by Mind, 60% of workers said they would feel more loyal and motivated if they felt their boss invested in measures to support their wellbeing. 54% of women with children leaving the workplace do so as they need a better work life balance (Business In The Community). Such evidence suggests that the corporate world is still a long way off fully embracing not only diversity itself, but also the diverse nature of employee wellbeing. From women ‘return to workers’, to those with elderly caring responsibilities; from employees suffering mental ill health, to those rehabilitating from illness … the list goes on. The workplace is a diverse population, and the wellbeing needs of one group or individual will vary from those of the next. Some may value access to professional financial planning support. Others may benefit from counselling to manage stress or emotional difficulties. There are many groups of people for whom flexible policies can allow for a better work life balance. Or it may be that mentoring and peer-to-peer networking enhances workplace inclusion and engagement for others. So, whilst a subsidised gym membership probably does tick the wellbeing box for some, it certainly isn’t the standalone solution to corporate wellness for your entire workforce.

Let’s be clear; work is not therapy. But we spend a lot of time in the workplace, (in Britain especially, where we average 43.6 hours per week). So, creating an environment that allows workers to bring their whole self to work will surely draw the best out of them in terms of loyalty, commitment, productivity and engagement. And what’s not to like about that? By contrast, expecting people to park their health, life and emotional baggage at the door until they clock off just isn’t realistic. Even the most stoic of employees will crack eventually under that kind of pressure, and you won’t know about it until productivity has taken a significant nosedive and employee retention has sunk to new depths. Prevention, therefore, is far better (and cheaper) than cure.

If you haven’t already defined a strategy around corporate wellness, where should you start and what should you focus on? What it most certainly doesn’t entail is turning your managers into self-made counselling experts (awkward at best, dangerous at worst). Nor does it mean calling Maintenance to remove every confectionery vending machine from the corridors.   It doesn’t mean ‘guilting’ everyone into signing up for lunchtime Boxercise in the staff room, or casting disapproving glances every time someone exits the building for a cigarette. But it does mean creating choices for people. It means dovetailing those choices with the policies and corporate culture to support them. It means making those choices accessible and available to everyone in the business. And it means communicating a message that healthy, working and life are three words that your company wholeheartedly supports as part of the same sentence.

There are six key areas that we believe should form focal points for every corporate wellness programme, in order to support a healthy (physical and mental) working environment that enables every part of your workforce to perform at its optimum capability.

  • Fitness

We’re not suggesting everyone has to become gym bunnies. Exercise isn’t for everyone. Lycra most certainly isn’t. But giving employees the option to make fitness a feasible part of their daily life isn’t necessarily complicated or costly. It just needs to be practical and accessible. For example, corporate membership at the gym is no good unless it is on the doorstep. Encouraging a cycle to work scheme is no good without adequate bike storage, locker and shower facilities.

  • Diet

What people choose to eat is most certainly nobody’s business but their own, and nor is the workplace a substitute for Weight Watchers. But for those with specific dietary needs, or simply keen to make more healthy choices, it is important you make these available. We aren’t just talking about subsidising healthy canteen choices, but also the quality and type of food supplied for meetings, gatherings and overtime work, and the kitchen facilities available (however basic) for those preferring (or needing) to bring their own food in to work.

  • Rest

The concept of a ‘lunch hour’ is met with snorts of derision by many, and with just reason. For many deskbound workers, it is largely defined as the hour spent dashing to the nearest sandwich establishment and back, before engaging in one-handed typing whilst eating over the keyboard. (Unpaid, of course). Over a quarter of working mums never or only occasionally take a lunch break, according to a 2014 poll for This is far from a healthy lifestyle. Encouraging regular and appropriate breaks and time away from the desk, ideally in fresh air should be encouraged. This is one area in which leading by example is extremely powerful. If all your senior employees skip proper breaks and eat at their desks every day, the message (however unintentional) filters down the line that proper rest breaks are not the done thing.

  • Support

Well-being in the true sense is about emotional and mental health, as much as physical fitness and health. Creating and communicating the appropriate channels for supporting employees struggling with emotional or mental health issues is the first step. At managerial level, it comes down to regular communication on an individual level, and knowing who in your team may be vulnerable and need some support. Above all, it comes down to placing as much importance upon wellness and engagement as upon output and productivity. At corporate level, you should provide and encourage access to relevant employee assistance programmes and external professional support. Employees at risk of mental or emotional strain (whether that comes from within or outside the workplace) should have the opportunity and scope to reach out for support in a way that feels comfortable for them.

  • Information

Posters promoting healthy lifestyle choices, lunchtime seminars, and lifestyle related training courses (such as stress management or first aid) all help to reinforce the message that your organisation values the health and welfare of its employees.

  • Policy, Process & Corporate Culture

Of course, none of the above will work if the culture and operational infrastructure of the workplace isn’t aligned with the principle of corporate wellness. Policies need to be robust and fair (e.g. health & safety, sickness absence management, flexible working). Choices (such as access to employee assistance programmes) need to be openly communicated and easily accessible. Workload and resource needs to be sensibly monitored and managed. And your strategy needs to be aligned with intended outcomes based on your employee demographic. It needs to address real needs, not just those perceived by management – only then will it generate uptake and results. And only then will your business start to reap the kind of tangible rewards that make a noticeable difference to the bottom line.

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