Five wellbeing lessons Britain can learn from Sweden

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Christopher Pedersen, managing director of Convini Food Solutions, details the top five wellbeing initiatives/benefits from the Swedish working culture and explains how and why HR should be adopting more of these in Britain.

In Sweden, employee wellbeing is already an accepted practice. Swedish companies are in fact spearheading the culture of wellbeing throughout Europe by implementing a range of traditional and innovative strategies, to create a happier and healthier workforce. 

With so much innovation on offer, what can we learn from the Swedish culture when it comes to HR practices in the UK?

1. Sporting contributions are one of the most popular initiatives in Sweden. Instead of a token ‘fitness room’ in the office building, employees are more likely to receive an agreed sum or ‘wellness grant’ each year, which they can spend on sporting activities of their choice. Any money staff spend, is then reimbursed to them by the company. 

The intention here is for employees to take responsibility for their health and lifestyle, without the confines of a passive gym membership. Organisations look to complement these activities with special offers and subsidies from partner healthcare providers. This encourages employees to exercise together while improving their overall wellbeing and therefore encouraging a healthy lifestyle in the long-term.

2. Private healthcare and dentist care. The offer of subsidised, or in some cases free health and wellbeing treatments, for instance massages, is another popular workplace benefit offered in Sweden. By extending the wellbeing strategy to include complimentary benefits, and support to stop smoking, as well as the more traditional health insurance policies, Sweden is making great headway in boosting the health and wellness training of the workplace and educating on the importance of a healthy lifestyle. This is all with the aim of improving the wellbeing of employees and reducing absenteeism in the long-term. 

3. Many Swedish employees enjoy a general medical examination, offered every year for those older than 50 and every two or three years for employees under 50. It’s a practice that goes a long way in helping Sweden to become a country that has one of the highest life expectancies in the world.

4. Flexible working hours. This ranges from allowing parents to start work earlier or leave earlier to pick up children, to taking a relative to a medical appointment. This is essentially a ‘free’ initiative that can really boost morale within any organisation. However, though prevalent in Sweden, it has fallen out of favour with some British organisations – particularly private ones – over the last few years, with many opting for monetary-focused rewards instead. 

A 2013 work-life balance survey showed that the arrangements most popularly taken up by employees, are flexi-time and working from home, yet these are only offered at 34% and 30% of workplaces, respectively. The same survey found that the benefits of flexible working not only encouraged staff to go ‘the extra mile’ but it also found a ‘robust link between job quality and worker wellbeing’. The extent of the business benefit and the employee value placed upon it will however, largely depend on the demographic of a workforce. 

5. Free fruit/beverages or subsidised meals are commonplace in Sweden, no matter how big or small a company is. A free fruit basket is a widespread tactic used in the office environment, with some of Sweden’s biggest companies including Fortum, WSP Group, Egmont and Forma Publishing all claiming it is the most popular employee benefit they offer.

These initiatives, like other occupational health services offered in Sweden, all aim to work both directly and indirectly in preventing future work-related problems and to help to improve working conditions both medically and socially, while offering a great benefit.

Companies must step up

Recent years have seen a greater awareness of the value of wellbeing at work and this debate underlines the importance of health and wellness and its consequences for the working environment. Both Britain and Sweden have seen levels of absenteeism reduce in recent years, but Sweden has seen it drop every year since the millennium. According to the Department for Work and Pensions, British workers take 130 million sick days each year, an astounding figure, and a clear indication that companies could be doing more to prevent this.

As the impact of the financial crisis is loosening its hold on British businesses, now is the time for them to prioritise wellbeing and reap the benefits it can bring, as proven by Swedish companies.

Christopher Pedersen is managing director of Convini Food Solutions, a fully-accessible, self service, convenience store concept for the workplace.

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