As disruptors and startups thrive and continue to challenge conventional workplace practices, we are seeing something of a sea change in the way that employees balance their work and their life.
In the UK, for instance, a 2018 YouGov study found that only 6% of people work traditional 9-to-5 office hours. Employers are choosing to improve their business through a culture of health, allowing their employees to dictate when they work, and offering them opportunities to become more productive in their workday.
Silicon Valley natives such as Google and Netflix are primarily responsible for this shift, offering generous benefits packages, high-quality working facilities, and innovative incentive programmes. Given the success of these companies, it's no surprise that more businesses are now following suit, implementing an environment of wellness to improve productivity and enjoy reduced long-term costs.
A Culture of Health in the Workplace
According to US health insurance firm Cigna, this concept refers to 'a workplace culture that supports health improvement'. To put it simply, it is a proactive HR strategy that prioritises the wellbeing of employees and recognises that organisational success and employee health are inextricably linked. Most commonly, companies achieve this through a reevaluation of their leadership involvement, company policies, benefits packages, and incentives and events within the company.
Why Are Businesses Adopting This Approach?
In a 2018 study of 47 companies, insurance consultants Willis Tower Watson found that after two years of implementing a culture of health, the companies in question saw a decreasing cost trend and an increased efficiency of at least 5% above the national average.
This change isn't just driven by progressive leadership, either. In the US, for instance, the primary health conditions affecting millennials – the dominant workforce demographic – are depression, high cholesterol, hypertension, and tobacco use. All of these factors are often the result of a sedentary lifestyle and a lack of health awareness, which creates billions of dollars worth of health care costs for employers.
By implementing a culture of health in your organisation, you can significantly reduce these risk factors. Take the example of US health insurance firm, Aetna, which cited a 28% reduction in stress level, a 20% improvement in sleep quality, and a significant decrease in health care costs for their firm as a result of its mindfulness programmes in 2015. For each employee, the company gained 62 minutes per week of productivity – worth around $3,000 each. It also saw a 7.3% fall in paid medical claims per employee, which amounted to $9m in savings.
Introducing a Culture of Health in Your Business
As Aetna illustrates, successful organisations understand the benefits and value of high-performing health programmes. To implement your own programme, you need to focus on the three core areas of participation, subsidisation, and efficiency.
With these concepts in mind, here are some of the key steps you should take:
1. Understand Your Employees and Identify Costs
Before you look at benefits, you must first understand your employees and their pain points. In this context, consider some of the following typical needs:
- Physical (sedentary lifestyle)
- Emotional (high stress or loneliness)
- Social (work-life balance)
- Financial (retirement plans or student loans)
Once you have identified what kind of issues are affecting your workforce, you can begin to look at what you, as an organisation, can provide in order to change and assist.
There are numerous tools that your company can use to aid in this process, such as the UK government's Workplace Wellbeing Tool, which estimates the cost to your organisation of absence, presenteeism, and ill-health, while estimating the impact of wellness programmes and calculating benefit-to-cost ratios. Ensure that you research what assistance is available to you.
2. Create Environmental Changes and Optimise Communications
It's not enough to suggest a healthy routine to your employees; you need to implement it into your everyday business operations – like Google. By actively encouraging its employees to seek out healthy food, Google provides relief from an everyday problem that many of its employees face. By supporting more wholesome nutrition, staff become more productive.
Companies such as Netflix, meanwhile, offer employees unlimited sick leave and holiday leave, as well as maternity and paternity leave for up to a year. They actively encourage their employees to take control of their schedules and create space for their life outside of work in whatever way they see fit. This fosters more productive efforts at work, higher retention rates, and greater job satisfaction.
3. Provide the Right Tools for Your Employees
In the above-mentioned Cigna study, it was found that 84% of employers focus on increasing choice in their benefit provision. This allows each employee to craft a healthcare wellbeing programme that best meets their individual needs.
The highest-ranked companies in this regard provide a wide variety of tools for their staff. Some of the most popular methods are weight management programmes, flexible working hours, and on-site tobacco bans, while a third of the companies in the study offer online lifestyle coaching and stress management tools for better access.
Employers have also found that employees benefit from personalised programmes, with 44% of companies using data for targeted outreach on health and wellbeing online, through mobile apps, and face-to-face meetings with healthcare representatives.
4. Lead by Example and Reward Employees for Participation
A recent study by Rand found that introducing lifestyle management programmes can reduce absenteeism. The key element of success in these programmes is evidence-based, with active employer participation.
In addition, evaluating a reward system that works for your employees is crucial to showing the value of their participation. Value can be conveyed through monetary or non-monetary bonuses, such as points towards insurance premiums or airline tickets, special mentions in a company newsletter, or discounts at certain retailers.
Whatever you opt for, a range of scalable incentives can create a greater goal for your employees and foster community efforts.
Examples of Cultures of Health
Aetna is not the only example of an organisation taking the lead and identifying patterns between wellness and performance, as these other companies have demonstrated:
Online travel giant Expedia introduced a 'Wellness Allowance' for its UK employees in 2013, with the aim of encouraging healthier lifestyle habits. Employees are entitled to between £400 and £1,200 to spend on fitness-related items, allowing each member of staff to choose the kind of fitness regime that suits their lifestyle best.
In a company blog post, programme manager Todd Johnson explained the impact of this approach. "I purchased a smartwatch for fitness my first year at Expedia, which helped me think about my fitness more intentionally (breathing, standing up from my desk, tracking workouts)," he says. "It really changed my perspective on both growth mindset and fitness."
With short lunch breaks and booked up schedules, many employees are inclined to order fast food during the workday. However, Google's cafeterias offer catered lunches and snacks to team members throughout the day, with an impact so beneficial that a free, in-house cafeteria is now standard for many organisations.
As well as the nutritional benefits, healthy communal eating programmes also encourage interaction between people from different teams, and the cafeteria provides a place where employees can gather and relax.
Hotjar, a Malta-based behavioural analytics startup, offers employees a work from home option with a €4,000 office supply budget, and a personal development budget worth €1,000 per annum.
As a result, staff are able to enjoy the benefits of a flexible schedule, decreased spending, and a generous budget to set up a home office that keeps their mental and physical health in good condition.
Much like at Aetna, employees at Facebook found that they were suffering from poor sleeping habits that were impacting their work.
Therefore, on top of the company's already generous benefits package, Facebook now offers its employees in-office sleep pods. Employees have reported that the ability to have this short break has improved their overall health, productivity, and creativity during work hours.
Businesses are now focusing on developing cultures of health across many avenues, expanding beyond the traditional provision of low-cost health care. Gone are the days of the simple health insurance contribution, with organisations focusing more on building healthier work environments and assisting in the management of healthier lifestyles.
It's all to your benefit, too. As well as increasing performance and productivity, a culture of health and wellbeing is a key competitive advantage for talent attraction and retention. Therefore, if you haven't already, take the time to sit down and consider if your business could be doing more in this regard. After all – it's in everybody's interest.
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