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Doing better business – building a healthier workforce

It’s little surprise that Dry January and Veganuary are now pretty much staples of a new year.

There’s no better motivator to kick-off a commitment to a new you than after a holiday usually known for indulgence.

The pandemic has tested both our physical and mental wellbeing in a way we couldn’t have imagined this time last year. So for businesses, January offers the ideal time to tap into a world of good intentions and help employees improve their health and wellbeing – and maintain that commitment throughout the year to build a healthier workforce.

How does a healthier workforce help my business?

As well as being the right thing to do, providing access to tools, support or benefits that can help improve your employees’ health and wellbeing can mean less sickness absence.
In turn, this can reduce the direct costs of say, overtime, temps or contractors.
It also lessens the impact on productivity caused by losing key expertise and experience – an area where smaller businesses can struggle to fill the gap.
The CIPD’s health and wellbeing report 2020 found that 37% of organisations said stress-related absence had increased, while common mental health conditions like anxiety and depression had increased in 60%.

Stress was also one of the biggest causes of both short and long-term absence.1

Despite this, only 33% who reported an increase in stress-related absence were doing anything to tackle it, while 41% of businesses said they were reactive rather than proactive in their approach to employee wellbeing.2

But while getting to grips with stress is one of the key components of promoting a healthier workforce, any wellbeing strategy should look at ways to improve not just mental health, but physical and even financial health.

How do I improve my employees' health and wellbeing?

1) Ask your employees

Don’t try to second-guess what people want. Instead, you could carry out a company-wide survey of potential changes or benefits that people would like to see.

Even by just asking your employees what their current health and wellbeing goals are, you’ll get some insight into what steps or improvements are likely to be effective and or well-received.

However, whatever measures you put in place, don’t think it’s job done and sit back. Keep your health and wellbeing initiatives under review to make sure they’re proving popular and effective.

Ask employees for feedback on how any measures could be fine-tuned, or simply to find out what obstacles there currently are to take-up.

You won’t get everything right first time, so take any opportunity to make improvements.

2) Think flexibly

The CIPD’s 2020 health and wellbeing report found 60% of people said workload was the biggest cause of workplace stress.3

Look out for people who may be coping with heavy workloads, working long hours or at home outside of their normal hours.

Find out the reasons behind it and act appropriately, whether that’s delegating some work to others, revising unreasonable deadlines, or removing the expectation of attending unnecessary meetings.

Employees may also be juggling work with childcare and/or elder care or other demands outside of work.

Where appropriate, a flexible approach to working hours or allowing people to work from home can free-up time for people with domestic responsibilities, remove the stress of a daily commute and show your people that you both trust them and care about their welfare.

3) Be proactive about work-related health problems

One in four adults in the UK have musculoskeletal problems,4 such as RSI or back pain.

You have a legal duty to ensure your employees are protected from work-related health problems, so carry out regular reviews of health and safety in general – ‘slips and trips’, and identify and act on issues.

More specifically, check, or encourage your employees to check that their workstations are ergonomically sound – especially when many of us are still working from home.

Are they having to twist? Are their seats fit for purpose? Is there glare, noise, dust? Do they need wrist rests or footrests?

4) Check and use the tools you already have

You may be surprised how many businesses (and their people) aren’t fully aware of exactly what certain benefits offer.

Check any existing employee benefits for extras that come with them.

For example, is there access to an Employee Assistance Programme offering expert advice on a range of lifestyle issues, such as money, childcare or elder care or relationships?

These can all trigger stress and affect employee wellbeing.

Does a heath cash plan cover a top-to-toe heath assessment?

5) Adopt healthy practices

It’s no revelation that a healthy diet coupled with plenty of exercise is great for our all-round health and wellbeing, but our busy lives can often get in the way of good intentions.

Hopefully, 2021 will see many of us be able to return to the workplace. And whether you have a workplace canteen or restaurant, vending machines or just a communal kitchen area, providing healthy options at work, even if it’s just access to fruit or salads are likely to be appreciated.

Making time for the gym or exercise classes or any physical activity can sometimes be difficult.

Or employees may not have the money for gym membership or classes.

While some businesses may offer a gym subsidy as an employee benefit, others won’t have the budget. The good news is that exercise needn’t cost a penny or impact on the working day.

Encourage people to take the breaks they’re allocated, and get out and about.

To encourage employees and instil a little healthy competition, a step challenge can give people a reason and a goal to focus on.

To encourage heathier journeys, the government-backed Cycle to Work programme allows employees to buy bikes out of their pre-tax earnings, avoiding tax and national insurance.

However, bear in mind you may need somewhere for employees to freshen up, get changed and store their bike, so it may not be appropriate for all businesses.

6) What external support is available?

There’s a wealth of expertise you can call on to boost employee wellbeing.

Some examples include help to stop smoking, personal trainers who specialise in gym work, yoga or pilates, or health organisations who will come to your workplace (depending on any Covid-related restrictions, of course) and carry out basic health checks, such as checking for cholesterol levels etc.

These will come with a cost, of course, but it’s up to you whether you want to pay for these yourself, subsidise part of the bill or invite employees to pay for what they choose.

7) Commit

While this may all sound like a lot of work, committing to employee wellbeing has clear benefits for both you and your employees.

“Fostering employee wellbeing is good for people and the organisation,” says the CIPD.

“Good health and wellbeing can be a core enabler of employee engagement and organisational performance, [while] promoting wellbeing can help prevent stress, and create positive working environments where individuals and organisations can thrive5.”

1,2 & 3 CIPD Health and wellbeing report 2020


5 CIPD Wellbeing at work

Topics: Doing better business

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