Workplace wellness programmes are a set of initiatives set out by organisations with the aim of creating a healthier workforce. They are based on the premise that healthier and happier employees will be more committed and productive, which will benefit organisations greatly in terms of performance and reduced sickness absence.
Developing a workplace wellness programme will benefit employees (who will be more healthy and motivated and will feel more valued by the organisations they work for) and employers (through lower rates of absenteeism, higher productivity, increased staff retention, etc.)
A whole host of initiatives could be included in a workplace wellness programme, including a combination of the following:
- Introducing the concept of ‘walking’ meetings instead of sitting at a meeting desk.
- Desk exercises and simple stretches whilst at work.
- Using the stairs rather than the lift.
- Walking over to talk to a colleague rather than calling or sending an email.
- Using regular breaks in the day for stretching or walking around.
- Encouraging regular health check-ups and dental appointments.
- Setting up lunch-time keep-fit, pilates or yoga sessions.
- Offering the services of visiting physiotherapists, chiropractors, masseurs, etc.
- Parking further away from work or getting off the bus a stop earlier.
- Standing or walking while on the phone.
- Setting Outlook or mobile phone reminders for breaks.
- Encouraging staff to bring in fresh fruit as a snack one day a week (e.g. ‘Fruity Fridays’).
- Organising sport-related charity events (e.g. a fun run) which would encourage team-building and help staff keep fit.
- Providing herbal tea or water fountains as an alternative to fizzy drinks.
- Encouraging people to bring water bottles to work. Drinking more water also means more frequent ‘toilet’ breaks, which gets people away from their desks.
- Offering shower and changing room facilities for cyclists.
- Offering a ‘salary sacrifice’ in exchange for discounted gym membership.
According to a 2008 report by Price Waterhouse Coopers (prepared for the Department for Work and Pensions), chronic disease rates are on the rise, partly due to lifestyle factors. If poor lifestyle choices can be tackled in the workplace through a focus on wellness, this could lead to a reduction in some chronic conditions (e.g. musculoskeletal disorders, cancer and depression), which themselves cause short-term and long-term sickness absence.
Communicating openly with staff also helps create a working culture in which employees feel confident about discussing any work/health issues with their line managers. Encouraging staff to contribute ideas to workplace wellness programmes will help improve staff buy-in and enhance their sense of having some influence over determining the culture of the organisation. Fit for Work offers free, expert and impartial work-related health advice to GPs, employers and employees in England and Wales via its website and telephone line (0800 032 6235 for English speakers and 0800 0326233 for Welsh speakers).