· 5 min read · Features

HR reward special 5/7: it is no good having the best wellbeing programme in the world, if your staff don’t know about it

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Health and wellbeing in business, if used strategically, can bring a host of benefits to employers: staff absence is reduced, productivity increases, employees become energised and motivated and engagement levels rise. But for employers to make the most of the wellbeing agenda, healthcare has to be branded to staff as an employee benefit in an engaging and compelling way. There is a knack to striking the balance between benefit and business strategy when it comes to wellbeing…

Schools of thought

Oliver Gray, MD of employee wellbeing services company, EnergiseYou, says: "Health and wellbeing is an employee benefit as much as a business strategy. It can be used to help staff in times of stress or illness, but it can attract, retain and show employees they are not being seen as 'machines'.

"The communication should be put to staff as: 'You work hard and we want to support you.' But an employer will have to make staff see wellbeing as an employee benefit, or something that can reward them, in order for the employer to benefit from it.

"There is very much a 'new school versus old school' view of employee wellbeing, with some employers looking at it as a way of reducing absence and others as a way of creating a creative, fun and engaging work environment. It is a win/win for business."

Shifting up a gear

A health and fitness initiative for shift workers was launched earlier this year, backed by the Mayor of London, Sport England and minicab company, Addison Lee. Broadcaster Sky was the first employer to make the programme available to all its employees nationwide.

Shift into Sports provides shift workers with access to sports, fitness and pay-as-you-play opportunities at low cost and with no long-term contracts by taking advantage of facilities during off-peak times. It was designed to help the UK's shift workers take advantage of subsidised leisure activities at a time of the day that best suits them, while also ensuring that fitness and leisure facilities no longer lie dormant during the nine-to-five working day.

Following a pilot by London-based Addison Lee, Sky's investment in the programme in April gave 16,500 employees, and in particular its broadcast production staff, customer service staff and installation engineers based throughout the UK, the opportunity to benefit from a wide choice of health and fitness offers.

Ralph Tribe, director of business HR for Sky, explains: "Sky has been instrumental in the national rollout of this fantastic partnership with Shift into Sports, as a means of providing flexible and low-cost access to activities for our employees, and in particular, our shift workers.

"Providing subsidised access to physical activity through Shift into Sports is another benefit we have introduced for our employees, part of our commitment to health and wellbeing in the workplace."

Sky employees register on a bespoke website using an employer passcode to find offers in their local area. Activities available include going to the local gym, swimming, organised workouts in nearby parks, and team sports such as five-a-side football.

Have a heart

More than a third of employees believe their bosses don't care about their happiness and wellbeing in the workplace, according to the British Heart Foundation (BHF). The survey from the BHF, published in February, also found two-thirds (67%) do not think their organisation offers any opportunities to get fit and healthy.

Almost a fifth (18%) of employees rate their daily stress levels as seven out of 10 or above. Respondents reported that stress from work spilled over into their home life and free time. Over a third (39%) claimed stress from work made them feel more tired than usual, and more than a quarter (29%) said they find it difficult to sleep.

The survey also revealed that more than one in 10 (11%) workers fail to do any exercise on an average working day and over a third of workers (34%) also admit to taking one or more sick days during an average month.

The BHF is urging employers to think more about workplace health and join its Health at Work programme.

More than 2,000 workers, from bankers to healthcare professionals, were surveyed for Health at Work, which is sponsored by Legal & General.

Team of champions

Barbara Gallani, director of food safety and science at the Food and Drink Federation says: "Health and wellbeing in the workplace has moved up the boardroom agenda in the past few years.

"As part of the Government's Public Health Responsibility Deal, launched in 2011, the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) and many of its members pledged to take action to improve public health; this included employee health. Members are committed to creating and sharing resources. FDF has launched a free toolkit for employers, and all those involved in workplace wellbeing, which provides guidance on how to enhance staff wellness programmes.

"We have created an eight-step guide for employers, which we believe will help develop effective programmes for staff: Decide what you want to achieve; determine what your team needs; find out what resources you have access to; create a project team; develop a programme; communicate; launch the programme; evaluate.

"The development of any workplace wellbeing scheme must stem from the business objectives, be it to support staff recruitment and retention, drive integration in the team, or reduce staff absence. Start by asking colleagues what potential health issues they perceive and how a workplace wellbeing programme could help them personally.

"Workplace wellbeing schemes don't need to be expensive, but they do need to be cost-effective. Find out what resources you can make use of, be it a meeting room-cum-Pilates 'studio', or local sports facilities available for free. People will be your best resource; collectively they will know the local area and have the creativity needed to develop and roll out an engaging programme.

"To launch and maintain a successful campaign, you will need a committed team of 'champions' to do the programme development, activity planning and communication. A mix of departmental representation, seniority and personalities will encourage diversity and spread the word. Plot out what achievable activity can take place, while bearing in mind that ad hoc staff activities boost staff morale.

"Make the most of every communication method: staff meetings, intranet, bulletin boards or email. If employees don't know about initiatives, they won't make use of them. Constant dialogue is essential.

"And lastly, it is essential to evaluate the success of your workplace wellbeing regularly - what worked or didn't and why? Establishing what the ROI has been, and where the real benefits were delivered, are key to continually improving your staff offering."

Creating a buzz

Media agency MEC Global has set itself a strategic business objective to be the best agency in its sector to work for and, from 2008, already had a flexible benefits scheme in place. Last year, it made the decision to place wellbeing on top of this.

Clare Alger, HR director at MEC Global, explains: "Wellbeing was part of our strategic mission, but we really wanted to listen to staff feedback. This workplace can be a pressurised environment and we wanted to help the physical, mental and financial wellbeing of employees. In order to do this, we needed to seek their input, so our wellbeing provision could be creative and leading edge."

The organisation, having a young workforce with an average age of 28, chose to use social media channels Facebook and Twitter to communicate its wellbeing offerings. These included energy workshops (provided by EnergiseYou), massages, an onsite GP for employees who visits monthly, financial advice, 50% discount on gym classes, sleep clinics and smoking cessation. It also provided desk-drop postcards for all 470 London and Manchester-based staff and new recruits are advised on wellbeing through onboarding.

Through this method of "creating a buzz", as Alger puts it, absence has reduced, staff do not take hours off work to visit doctors and Alger says MEC has one of the lowest staff turnover rates in its sector, saving on recruitment spend. But 99% of staff think the organisation is a great place to work and 92% believe think the employer cares about their wellbeing, pushing engagement scores up, to boot.