Last week the Irish government announced a “Healthy Workplace initiative”, the objective of which is to get staff in the public sector more active. I was delighted to see such an initiative being launched but also surprised at the lack of coverage it received in the media. Did you hear about it?
In case you missed it, the key points were:
- Promoting ‘Active Travel’ – switching to smarter ways of travelling to and during work, by foot, by bike, by public transport or through car sharing;
- Setting up walking, running or other activity and exercise groups;
- Healthy eating options in staff canteens – making the ‘healthy choice the easy choice’;
- Smoking cessation programmes and making campuses smoke free zones;
- Supporting positive mental health and wellbeing by encouraging employees to deal with stress, personal difficulties and to seek help when necessary.
Health promotion at the workplace is not on the radar for many companies in Ireland, and for those that do have a workplace wellness policy, it’s often way down the list of priorities. From what I can tell, these type of initiatives in Ireland tend to be higher up the priority list for either small start-up companies or the so called “tech giants” (large multinational companies with young, dynamic leadership teams). I’m sure there are exceptions but the above mentioned business types seem to understand the long term benefits that supporting the health and wellbeing of their staff can provide.
How can you "sell" a workplace wellness initiative?
So what can be done in the private sector to get more companies to buy in to this? Can we as employees get this on our company agenda? If you could get in front of your senior leadership team how would you sell a Healthy Workplace Initiative to them?
Why don’t I answer that last question for you. Here’s what I would do in three steps:
Let’s start by highlighting some of the advantages of a workplace wellness programme to the management team, remembering to include benefits for the employer AND the employee:
- Healthy employees tend to be happier and more productive employees
- Lowered expenses due to better performing workers, lower absenteeism and reduced health care costs
- Improved wellbeing and job satisfaction = raised retention rates
- Employees more able to complete job responsibilities and more energy and vigor to give to family and friends (improved morale)
- Camaraderie amongst co-workers (team spirit)
Ok so you’ve highlighted the benefits to the management team and they’re interested. The next step is to hammer home to them what they will need to do to ensure employee engagement and to make an initiative of this type a success:
The Management team need to visibly participate in the organised activities, that means the CEO, CFO, CTO etc heading out for a run at lunch time or whatever the specific activity is. They will encourage others to follow their lead by taking part.
- Provide meaningful incentives for employee participation. To achieve this they will firstly need to find out what motivates employees. A survey or some employee led workshops can help generate ideas.
- Build a small community of employees who are passionate about wellbeing and support them in championing the initiatives (wellness champion network).
- Once up and running, share and promote success stories that show employees how their peers are improving for the better.
- Make sure there’s something for everyone i.e. don’t target a specific group or type of activity. If you only have aerobic exercise on the agenda that will put a lot of people off. Choose different campaigns and different activities and keep changing these regularly.
Finally you’ll need some actual ideas for the type and nature of initiatives and activities to promote. A great first step is to welcome ideas from employees. You could whittle down these suggestions at brainstorming sessions with your wellness champions. If you’re still struggling, you can use the points highlighted from the government initiative above as a starting point, plus here’s a few ideas I came up with earlier:
- Organise expert speakers to give talks to staff on health related subjects such as Nutrition, Mental Health, Personal Training, Meditation etc.
- Promote standing (or even walking) meetings at your office to highlight issues with sedentary lifestyles
- Stock vending machines with healthy options as well as the usual junk. Have you ever seen a vending machine with healthy options???
- Have fresh fruit delivered on site each morning. The Fruit People would be happy to help.
- Provide the option of standing desks for employees. Research shows a combination of sitting and standing throughout the day is the ideal option
- Free morning mindfulness session to relax and focus employees at the beginning of the day
- Support running, football, tag rugby and other staff groups with incentives for all that participate
The Healthy Workplace Initiative announced last week is a great first step in making workplace wellness programmes the norm for businesses in Ireland. If you are in the public sector, I’d love to hear about the initiative when it’s up and running so please do let me know how it progresses.
For those of us in the private sector, can we follow suit? I’ve done the easy part by outlining the steps above, the challenge is now with you to get this detail in front of your manager.
Can you do it??? Let me know how you get on!
Yours in health,
P.S I love talking about wellness so feel free to drop me a line to discuss any of the above. Contact me directly: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Low Down
Brian Crooke is a wellness consultant specialising in the design, improvement and auditing of wellness initiatives for Irish businesses. He is the founder of Office Worker Health, a platform dedicated to promoting health and wellbeing to the working population.
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