Safe Work Australia reports that stress costs Australian businesses more than $10 billion per year. And research suggests the direct financial impact on Australian business of mental health issues is in the vicinity of $11 billion every year due to absenteeism and reduced productivity from unwell workers.
As more organisations recognise the links between productivity and health, wellbeing is quickly emerging as one of the most urgent workplace imperatives of 2017.
Many are now subscribing to a new approach that doesn’t simply look at the issue from the perspective of risk, but as an essential part of a high-performing workforce.
Do workplace wellness programs work?
When an Australian study considered the combined effects of self-rated work performance and absenteeism data, they found that the healthiest employees are almost three times more effective than the least healthy. Where the healthiest employees worked approximately 143 effective hours per month, the least healthy worked only 49 effective hours.
However a recent Comcare survey conducted by the Federal Government found that workplace health and wellbeing programs have the potential to significantly improve the health of employees.
It found strong evidence that multi-component interventions that address physical activity and nutrition are effective in increasing physical activity levels, promoting healthy eating and preventing obesity. It also found that interventions that use a comprehensive approach are effective in preventing and controlling job stress at an organisational level.
So, what are organisations doing to improve employee health?
You will have seen stories about the numerous businesses, but especially tech companies, which now provide kitchens stocked with healthy breakfast options, catered lunches and natural snacks such as fruit and nuts, to encourage staff to grab a muesli bar between meetings rather than a processed chocolate bar from the convenience store downstairs.
At the new corporate hub at Sydney’s Barangaroo, a newly opened ‘wellness centre’ created by Fitness First offers workers pilates, yoga, BARRE and relaxation classes, along with treadmills and ellipticals.
At PricewaterhouseCoopers and the new International Convention Centre in Sydney, silent contemplation rooms are also available to employees.
“More and more we are finding that members are looking for a wellbeing dimension to exercise, so our mind and body classes… help members to rebalance, de-stress and restore their body’s natural equilibrium,” says Andy Cosslett, Global CEO of Fitness First.
There’s also a burgeoning market for external programs to assist companies in overhauling unhealthy practices.
OzHelp Foundation, a national men’s mental health organisation recently launched an online health check up called Web Tune Up (WTU), which uses a series of questions to give participants up-to-date and personalised health information.
“With so much going on in an organisation, health and wellbeing issues can often be pushed to the wayside,” says OzHelp Foundation CEO Tony Holland. By providing employees with hard evidence, the program is geared to “give employers a real wake up call when it comes to their staff members’ health and wellbeing” and can be the difference between letting these issues continue or addressing them proactively.
Others such as the Happy Body At Work (HBAW) program developed by ABC Commercial aims to ‘start conversations within workplaces that de-stigmatise the disclosure of feelings of fatigue, low mood and anxiety.’
Is it really up to employers to make sure staff eat their 5 fruit and veg a day?
For many companies, however, it’s simply not feasible to outlay extra costs for employee health.
Sue Ellen Watts, founder of HR consulting firm wattsnext maintains that employee’s health and fitness is a personal responsibility. “As employers we are not our employees’ parents,” she says. “It is not up to us to make sure they eat well, get enough rest and stay fit.”
However she does believe that SMEs should make an effort to promote a “wellbeing-focused workplace.”
One success story comes from her workplace’s employee-developed program #projectfit, which involved each worker being given a Fitbit and challenged to reach a 10,000 steps-a-day goal. On a Slack channel called “Wellness,” employees share red-faced post-workout photos and celebrated weekly winners.
The approach taken means that people are engaged because they want to be, rather than feeling obliged, Watts says. It also turns a workplace fitness initiative into an engagement exercise, encouraging employees to connect through a common goal not directly related to day-to-day work.
So, what do you think?
Is it up to your organisation to make sure your people live healthy lifestyles?
Have you developed a wellness program? What were the results?