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Healthy workforce – Healthy business

It has always been a challenge to articulate the business case at board level for investment in employee Health and wellbeing programmes. Years ago it was an ‘add on’, a nice to have ‘accessory’ made up of discounted gym memberships and if you were lucky the odd exercise session after work thrown in.

Years ago work was by nature physical, even if the working conditions weren’t anywhere near as good as they are now. But as the nature of our work changes so does the business approach to Health and Wellbeing. With a history of little purpose or strategy the once health and wellbeing vision was held by a few enthusiastic employers putting on challenges and leisure opportunities for staff outside of work.

For a large majority of us we are sat down too much. We may drive to work, sit at our desk for 8 hours a day, and drive back. Physical activity has effectively been erased out of our lives. Our job doesn’t require it, our lack of time restricts it, and quite frankly it’s too tiring to think about.

Physical activity means gyms after all. Those artificial environments made up of vests, lycra and strange weight machines which for a lot of us just doesn’t appeal. Exercise is sweat, muscles, marathons and the unachievable. Quite the opposite physical activity is that regular movement throughout the day. Stairs, work and at home. Normal, non – threatening environments. That way physical activity becomes normal.

So Health and wellbeing to business is promoting and improving the physical and mental health of its workforce through creating a collective sense of doing something good. Physical environment and its effects on mood and mental health. Health initiatives that are fun and help absorb the pressures of work and personal lives. The benefits of physical activity and the by product: endorphins that improve mood and stabilise energy levels.

The recognition of personal pressures, family caring responsibilities, personal difficulties all have the potential to snowball and become harder to juggle with work. No one is immune.

But in today’s world Health and Wellbeing isn’t just a ‘nice to have’ in business It now transcends that many policy areas, meets multi departmental objectives and is a catalyst for transformational change it levers reach far further than that accessory tag it once held.

Let me explain. I sometimes like the analogy of business as an engine. Every component has a job to do that is interdependent on the next component. You need fuel as an energy source, a spark and oxygen to create a controlled explosion and compression. Of course there is a lot more to it but you get my point.

Business is the same. Timing, departmental processes, supply chain, procurement, front line service, sales, transaction and after sales. Like an engine the fuel of the business are the sales – input and output. Without fuel there is no energy. Without an engine there is no energy or movement. Employees are the engine of business.

Now without oil to lubricate all those components the engine will grind to a halt. It seizes. It has fuel (sales / product /) but the engine isn’t working in harmony. You have guessed it. Think of Health and wellbeing being the oil of your business. Keeping employees engaged, moving, synergy, and business processes acting out in a smooth and controlled way.

Away from this analogy the business case for an effective H&W Strategy is overwhelming. The NHS has been quite open that it has to get its own house in order in terms of addressing the major challenges of its own workforce in terms of absences. The NHS knows the direct correlation between a healthy force and the end product of quality patient care.

Kevin Fenton, Public Health England National Director for Health and Wellbeing is absolute in the need for public health approaches to be embedded in workplaces. MSK and mental health topping the chart as major workforce issues.

As the penny drops, H&W starts to influence other areas of the business, just like the oil in an engine circulating around the components keeping everything moving. Suddenly the Health and Safety (H&S) agenda is been contributed to by H&W. Encouraging employees to take breaks, giving opportunities for physical activity, creating a captive audience stimulates alertness and impacts on energy levels.

Concentration levels are improved, that lunch time walk could potentially help avoid the afternoon slump that may have resulted in a lack of concentration hence an accident operating a machine. All hypothetical. But scenarios that have historically played out. Suddenly H&W acts as a pro-active approach to H&S as well as opposed to stand alone reactive measures.

As the oil flows around the business it meets the HR Department. Engagement rates in its yearly programme of employee health initiatives contribute to the departments objectives. HR is now not seen as just time, motion, holidays and line management protocol but a diverse and energetic H&W programme has changed the perception of HR internally.

As H&W is the oil it gets to parts of the business other initiatives don’t. How? It’s approachable and fun. If it’s embraced at Director level it sucks in parts of the business other initiatives don’t. It brings external partners into the business that normal processes wouldn’t and allows the business brand to expand into industry circles it wouldn’t operate in during normal business operations. Contacts and networking = fuel (sales).

Then there is recognition. Pay and benefits, the Health and wellbeing Charter and of course Investors in people that H&W helps contribute to. Essentially it adds value across the business whilst making a meaningful impact on employees working lives and individual health outcomes.

Oh and let’s not forget the branding and marketing in a world of digital prowess and social media wonder. An engaged workforce is a happy workforce. May be a little cheesy, but when people feel their workplace offers something different they want to tell the world. It is in its most basic form the ultimate marketing machine. Its self-propelled and reaches audiences that would otherwise cost a huge amount in marketing expertise to reach.

In one workplace we have desk to 5 k run groups. A year ago colleagues used to look a little perplexed coming out of the office to see the car park been used up as a warm up area. Now they don’t bat an eye lid. It’s a culture shift. The H&W programme doesn’t force anyone to get involved but presents an opportunity. And colleagues inspire colleagues. Word of mouth is gospel.

Facebook and twitter go wild as the company is portrayed to the social media world as a great place to work. In social circles it prompts the question from family and friends ‘what does your company do’? The brand gets exposure. It attracts talent. The business becomes a desirable place to work.

I have had people new to the business comment ‘I noticed the run group last night, how do I get involved, I love how you all do this’? Or ‘I love the vibe here and how at my induction we were presented with an over view of all the things we can get involved in’.

In my line of work I have run groups, walking / steps challenges, weekend activity pursuits (low level), pool bikes, yoga, nutrition and resilience training. The H&W programme has its own branding. T-shirts, website logo and merchandise which contribute to its communication efforts. Of course not all business can afford to resource such things, but a H&W programme does not need to cost a lot.

Then there is the ‘working together component’ – synergy. A simple lunch time walking group. But so much more than just the benefit of movement away from long periods sat down. In a big business floor 1 meets floor 2 and so on. As an indirect benefit of H&W comes new friendships and rapport between business colleagues.

Oh, and may be a more obvious one Corporate Social Responsibility. Do not forget the content and individual stories generated from a successful H&W campaign which gives you a constant supply of PR and media friendly literature. Take your pick. Align H&W success with product launches, new services or to bolster your credibility in new areas of business. Even use it as a tool to negate negative media.

Embed yourself in your community where you are based and regionally be seen as the leader in your field – H&W helps achieve this. It is a talking point. Most important for those businesses operating in a predominately business to business environment with little front line customer / community involvement. If you product portfolio evolves into a more customer to customer focus H&W provides an existing platform for which to build n.

So as you can see H&W is far more than just an accessory to business, more a necessity. Of course there is a plethora of information online about ROI, Business case, Absenteeism and presenteeism reduction. I keep up to date with this but this article is more about the whole picture of Health and Wellbeing and its wider contribution to business.

Then there are the more obvious concerns affecting the Western World re diabetes type 2, obesity and CHD amongst others that are attributed to our sedentary lives. An ‘active’ workplace contributes to reducing these risks. H&W culture is ethical. Embedding a clear strategy, direction of travel and implementation will help toward achieving better health of people and ultimately business.

For support, strategy and delivery of Health and wellbeing and CSR for your business contact me.

Andrew Picken is a practicing Health and Wellbeing consultant for private sector business. With over 10 years in Public Health, change for life, the Sheffield wide initiative to become the most active City in the UK by 2020 and regional health programmes I bring credibility and a network of contacts to support H&W programmes in business or communities.

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