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Why Workplace Wellness Schemes Can Work (If They’re Done Right)

Mar 22, 2017

 

Do workplace wellness schemes really work? That should be the question on your lips if you want to explore new ways of boosting workers’ productivity and happiness. Some build fitness centres into their new HQs; others are introducing health and wellbeing sessions for employees. But so far, there hasn’t been a lot of robust research on whether any of these ideas actually work.

 

Sticks and Carrots – What Doesn’t Work

 

New York Times writers Austin Frakt and Aaron E. Carroll carried out a review for their “The New Health Care” column in 2015, investigating research done so far to discover the real effects of wellness programmes.

As the name of the column suggests, the aim of these programmes is a little different in the US. British employers looking for group exercise schemes or other wellness programmes are focused on increasing productivity and decreasing turnover through improved employee wellness. But across the pond, with employers expected to cover healthcare costs, wellness schemes need to prove that they can result in fewer doctor visits and fewer prescriptions.

Frakt and Carroll explain the increasing popularity of work wellness programmes, which aim, in their words to “motivate workers to monitor and improve their health.” They describe several efforts to motivate workers using both stick and carrot – from bonuses or improved benefits for workers who regularly have their health assessed, to charging smokers bigger premiums for company-provided health insurance.

However, they conclude that wellness schemes don’t live up to their hype. While they save money when they use the “stick” method to penalize those with unhealthy lifestyles, this isn’t because of lifestyle changes: instead, healthcare costs are just passed on to the employee. As a result, the employee is less satisfied with the company.

 

Let’s Go For A Run! – What Does Work

 

Just last month, though, a new study declared that through changing company culture, and communicating strategically, workplace wellness schemes can work!

It turns out that when health is a focus throughout the company, rather than an add-on, people respond. Interestingly, one of the key features in creating a healthy atmosphere is introducing a little healthy competition. One business organised employees into teams and encouraged teams to compete to see who could get people to exercise the most consistently. That might sound like a chore, but by the end over 90% were doing 20 minutes of exercise twice a week.

Other crucial features - according to the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, which carried out the study – include:

  • employees’ own ideas being incorporated into the programme
  • senior executives who lead by example (for instance, a CEO who’s proud of her weight loss rather than pretending she’s always been skinny!)
  • fun and social resources – a Google-esque ping pong tournament, or free yoghurt bar

When workers are skilled and valued, employers do a lot of brainstorming to work out how to keep them happy, healthy and comfortable within the company, providing them with an engaging, creative office space and investing plenty of effort into wellness programmes. Of course, we all know that finding the best office space for rent or encouraging employees to exercise should have some impact. But thanks to this new research, we can feel much more confident about what actually works.

CEOs and business owners need to make wellness schemes fun, social and accessible, and less like a stern parent’s ‘house rules’ – at The Brew Shoreditch Stables business club, we offer wellbeing workshops for all our members, and try to make sure that they’re engaging and enjoyable as possible. In this way, you can get maximum benefit for both your company and your employees.