Well being: Employees can find their own way to healthiness

If you want to introduce a wellness initiative to your company, find out what your staff want first to ensure they actually take part.

The most effective wellness programmes come from the very top of the company, says Tommy Hutchinson, the co-founder of the Global Centre for Healthy Workplaces. Antonie Robertson / The National
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It’s not often that a company offers its staff the chance to clock off early, especially a bank. But Karin Overgren, who heads human resources for JPMorgan Chase in the UAE, Lebanon, Egypt and Qatar, says one of her company’s most successful wellness programmes was their work-life balance initiative.

“We asked employees to find one thing in their work week that would assist with their work-life balance,” says Ms Overgren, also a certified health coach. “I go to the gym once a week at lunchtime, another person might pick leaving early on a Thursday to spend time with the family, or come in late on Sunday mornings to go for a run on the beach. We’ve had lots of positive feedback.”

But Ms Overgren says not all her initiatives have fared so well. Two years ago when organising a wellness week, she set up sessions of office yoga. “Unfortunately they weren’t as enthusiastic as me,” she says. “We had a low turnout. I learnt that you really have to ask people what they want in terms of wellness, because it’s very personal. Now I do a survey each year to see what people want.”

Employers increasingly realise the long-term benefits that workplace wellness programmes can provide. A study published this year by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Truven Health Analytics and the American Heart Association showed that employers with wellness policies had fewer workers with high blood pressure, tobacco use and physical inactivity.

But programmes must be tailored to fit the company.

Emma Carbery runs mindfulness training programmes through her Dubai company The Workplace Yogi to help employees alleviate stress and stay focused. But she says her standard mindfulness-based stress reduction programme needed tweaking to adapt it to the corporate environment.

“A huge element of that programme is meditation and, let’s face it, sitting around a boardroom table with your colleagues meditating is not the most natural thing to do,” says Ms Carbery. Her revised programme, Thriving Minds, focuses on productivity – not just thinking productively, but working productively.

q&a mind and body fine-tuned

Tommy Hutchinson, the co-founder of the Global Centre for Healthy Workplaces, tells Jessica Hill how to keep employees happy and healthy:

Who in a company should be driving the corporate wellness programmes?

The programmes need direction from the very top – the chief executive and the company’s board of executives all have to be on board. Companies like to be seen to be doing something. Where they allow the brand managers and the PRs to drive these programmes it might seem to do well, but it isn’t real.

Your organisation conducted a global survey with other partners on well-being initiatives. What did it find?

That only 52 per cent of employers worldwide are measuring specific outcomes from their wellness programmes. In the US, 59 per cent of employers say they don’t know if their wellness programmes are having an impact on healthcare cost trend (their top-stated objective). These findings underline the need for more awareness and education around evaluation, as well as for systematic planning aligned with a continuous improvement cycle.

What was the most encouraging trend?

The increasing globalisation of employers’ wellness programmess among multinational companies. More than half of the mulitnationals surveyed implemented a global wellness strategy. This has occurred in spite of major challenges because of differing cultures, laws and practices around the world.

What were the most common components of wellness programmes?

Human Resource polices related to flexible work arrangements and paid time off ranked as No 1, with employee assistance programmes rankingNo 2, driven by their prevalence in the US, Canada, Africa and Australia.

What did the study identify as the main objectives driving wellness strategies?

Improving workforce morale, reducing sick leave and disability, improving workplace safety and reducing presenteeism.


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