For many, after a Christmas period of TV and overeating, 1 January will have ushered in a predictable list of new year’s resolutions: ‘This year I really will get fit/lose weight/eat healthily/give up smoking/drink less/spend less money, etc.’ While a degree of cynicism may be appropriate, this time of year presents an opportunity for employers to put in place new wellbeing initiatives, or reinvigorate those that may have fallen by the wayside. Schemes put in place now may have more uptake, as employees are already thinking about making lifestyle changes and will be more likely to make the most of suitable workplace schemes.
Many employers will already offer a range of wellbeing benefits, from cycle-to-work schemes, fitness classes and subsidised gym memberships to outdoor meetings, healthier options in vending machines, mental health workshops and confidential advice helplines. More comprehensive schemes recognise and engage with the effects of external stresses too, such as financial worries. The benefits of promoting physical and mental wellbeing are well-known: reduced sickness absence, increased productivity, the opportunity for employees to build positive workplace relationships and, as a result, increased employee engagement, satisfaction and retention.
Wellbeing initiatives need not be costly or extravagant. It may be as simple as encouraging employees to eat lunch away from their desks and phones (perhaps in teams to combat loneliness), providing information on local lunchtime exercise classes or, if you have any outdoor space, giving employees the opportunity to flex their green fingers at a lunchtime gardening club. The impact of any given scheme will depend on your workforce, so consider surveying employees first to find out what they are most likely to engage with.
As a starting point, consider promoting the ‘Dry January’ campaign. Participants commit to giving up alcohol throughout January, raising money for six charities working closely with alcohol-related issues. Alcohol Concern provides an app to help participants track their progress and see how much they are saving in terms of money and calories. It also provides support throughout the year if required.
In previous years, according to Alcohol Concern, 49 per cent of participants lost weight, 62 per cent had better sleep and more energy, and 79 per cent saved money. Research suggests there are also longer-term positive effects. Employers could promote Dry January in the workplace through posters and encouraging teams to take part and fundraise together (participants are more likely to complete the challenge if they have a ‘Dry January buddy’).
Tips for employers to support wellbeing
• Develop a programme of initiatives and benefits to promote employee wellbeing, tailored to your workforce. Ask for employee input when designing the programme to ensure maximum engagement.
• Promote awareness of existing wellbeing initiatives (eg, if you have a mental health first aid scheme, publicise details of your trained mental health champions).
• Consider promoting external initiatives such as Stoptober, Dry January and Movember in the office – use posters and other tools provided by campaign organisers.
• Encourage managers to be supportive (eg, organising social events that do not centre around alcohol and not requiring employees to shave during Movember). Be careful to avoid singling people out or putting pressure on anyone who does not wish to participate.
• Think about what additional support may be appropriate for those taking part in external initiatives and/or making their own lifestyle changes. This could range from signposting external resources and services to creating internal support systems that encourage staff to share their progress and to motivate and support each other.
Investing in effective wellbeing initiatives could produce significant returns in terms of productivity, engagement and retention, and might make those new year’s resolutions a little more achievable.
By Madeleine Mold, as published in People Management on 8th January 2018