Are businesses responsible for staff health and wellness?

This is a summary of a Twitter discussion on #NZLEAD with HR, OD and Learning & Development professionals around the world.

The truth is, the world is changing. Life it is more complex, stressful, demanding, and the rate of change is like never before. We have targets and KPI’s aligned to increases and bonuses. Sometimes just working hard isn’t enough. With the rate of change and the globalisation of markets we now must not only be educated in our subject, but also be constantly re-educating ourselves and keeping up with the world around us.

With all of this new pressure placed on employees, we started the tweet chat by asking the question;

How responsible are businesses ultimately for the health and wellness of their people?


The answers we received were varied. Many agreed that businesses are responsible for the work environment and space. This included providing natural light and less sedentary work. Others commented on their responsibility to provide a safe workplace – and this included promoting employee wellbeing.

Kylie Telford provided a great overview by highlighting “both parties have an obligation to each other and themselves”. Corinne Torres went more into detail here with “Health is the individual’s responsibility but the employer can help with this by empowering people with knowledge on how to make informed choices, however employers should create environments in which everyone can flourish, to create and maintain a healthy culture”.

There was a clear link between engagement, productivity and wellness. Sandy Wilkie commented on how “wellbeing and engagement are mutually reinforcing”.

There was a general consensus around the obligation and ‘duty of care’ businesses have to provide health and wellness opportunities to their staff, who then have the choice to take these up. But a focus on wellness was also considered an incentive for increased staff engagement and productivity.

We then looked at what health and wellness opportunities are currently being offered by the organisations of the people who participated in this chat?

Some initiatives included;
Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
Healthy eating sessions
Reduced health insurance
An onsite gym and company sports teams
Onsite Yoga and Pilates
Cycle promotion
Walking groups
Healthy recipes
Volunteering and health screening
Standing or walking meetings
Eye Tests
Fly Jabs
Health checks
Subsidised entries to events such as the Auckland marathon
Competitions logging KM’s walked

Angela Atkins suggested some alternative options such as having a green wall at work with edible stuff like fresh carrots and organising ‘seated desk aerobics’. That sounded like fun. Perhaps like the ‘deep vein thrombosis’ exercises you can do in the plane.

Angela had even heard of companies than pumped oxygen into offices at 3pm each day.

All of these initiatives are great, however one factor that was really jumping out at me was how many people define wellness by the physical dimension alone – that wellness is achieved through exercise, keeping active and eating well.

As Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz put it “A successful approach to sustained high performance, must pull together all elements and consider the person as a whole”.

To operate effectively and at our FULL CAPACITY, our energy needs to be constantly renewed in four key dimensions.
PHYSICAL - fuelling our physical energy
MENTAL - sharpening our capacity for focus
EMOTIONAL - developing emotional resilience
SPIRITUAL - strengthen our sense of purpose

In order for us to perform at our best we need to commit to balancing our energy expenditure with our energy renewal (recovery) in all four dimensions.

While many organisations are doing well encouraging physical wellness, there was an obvious opportunity to integrate the physical with the other dimensions to further increase individual performance levels.

Everyone wants to perform to their best, executives want this from their teams and all individuals want this for themselves. So we asked:

What health and wellness initiatives have had the biggest impact on personal effectiveness and increased productivity in your workplace?

It would seem stress management/resilience type initiatives have had a positive effect on individuals. These are initiatives that educate and empower staff to make choices that positivity impact stress and resilience as well as help individuals understand signs of stress.

The problem, however, isn’t the stress. Stress can actually be a stimulus for growth. The problem is the absence of disciplined recovery and balance in our lives in the lead up to the stressor. When we learn to expend and recover our energy regularly, we can easily manage the stress in our lives.

Of course there are always going to be challenges to getting everyone involved in wellness initiatives. Hence we need to offer a variety of options and personalise these to the workplace and to the individual.

For example, if we offer free gym memberships many felt it was up to the individual to be motivated to actually go. Others commented on the ‘fit getting fitter’ and questioned whether it is more of an incentive to go to the gym when memberships are paid for by work.

Things like gym membership and fruit bowls are not going to actively encourage employees to take responsibility for their own health and wellness. Sure, gym memberships are a great way to encourage physical health but motivation and desire comes through the other dimensions.

Let me demonstrate how our workshops integrate these four dimensions and how they work together.

SPIRITUAL: The dimension of self-leadership.

Here we align our lives to our goals and values.What are your goals in life? Who do you want to be? What is the burning “yes” that is going to get you to the gym or keep you physically active?

EMOTIONAL: The internal climate that supports peak performance.

Individuals learn to take responsibility for their lives and develop self-awareness and resilience.What feelings and thoughts are holding you back from going to the gym? What evidence do you have these are true? What strategies can you take next time you come across a road block?

MENTAL: the cognitive.

Individuals learn to give up listening to the little voice telling them to go home and watch TV. They take back control of their lives.

What feelings are you experiencing and what thought is triggering these?Are you linking this experience to a different experience?

Once we address all four dimensions the motivation comes naturally.

So how can we create a culture of health and wellness for the long term?

Culture is the KEY for true wellbeing.

These cultures are created by organisations being consistent and following through on commitments. Not dropping the initiatives and the focus when times get tough. It becomes a “this is how things are done around here” approach.

Health and wellness cultures are created by making wellness fun, keeping up with the awareness, driving enthusiasm, mixing it up and partnering with different providers for new themes. Pam Flannery had a great idea around ‘getting engaged staff involved’.

But ultimately a health and wellness cultural is developed when everyone is on board and everyone understands ‘why’. The executive and management team ‘walk the talk’. People take responsibility for their own wellness. People stop eating lunch at their desks, they go on walking meetings and they are seen to be doing the right things.

Alison Smith points out that “much of bad practise is enshrined in cultural norms so we need to step out and forge a new path in our individual actions”.In my own experience, I used to sneak out at lunch time to go for a 20 min walk to avoid being judged. Feeling relaxed allowing my right brain to flourish and I often came up with my best ideas and solutions to problems, not to mention returning to work energised and positive to be around.

David Cullen summarised this perfectly “When there is a culture of wellbeing among employees the benefits are widespread”.

At Rise and Shine we take an integrated perspective on wellness. We offer a workshop on each dimension and take on a long term view to establishing a culture of wellness. When individuals take responsibility for their own health and wellness and regularly recharge themselves in four key dimensions they maintain a high level of performance and eliminate unnecessary signs of stress.

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