Wellness at Work
I started this wellness at work blog post with a decent idea about what I wanted to say, but following my recent visit to Technogym I deleted the whole thing and started again – I had my mind changed completely about corporate wellness and the healthy workplace.
For the most part, the workplace isn’t a synonymous with health or health promotion. Quite the opposite actually – the typical workplace is over-stressed, full of terrible food and unhealthy people.
I work in the fitness industry and some of the non-fitness staff are actually many of the least healthy people I have ever met! A constant stream of biscuits, cakes, caffeinated drinks, terrible sitting posture and a heavy workload combine to a create an environment where health certainly isn’t promoted.
Why is the workplace so unhealthy? A healthy person is less likely to take sickness absence. They are more productive, happier at work and more sociable. It seems too good to be true.
The healthy workplace isn’t difficult to create.
1. Organic, self-funded cafe. With the buying power of a corporation organic food could be purchased cheaply and easily. The staff canteen could even be profitable to the company. By improving the quality of the food on offer and making it available at a lower price than the alternatives, you would encourage staff to stay on site and eat better.
Even if you don’t go for organic, there is no reason why you can’t buy in seasonal, local vegetables from local farms. The benefits go beyond health – the food is conveniently located, cutting down travel time, cost and distance. Less food miles = fresher, better food. You are also keeping money in the local community – a good economical move and great for local PR.
Our guide at Technogym told us that staff pay 1.50€ (£1.24 or $2) for their organic meal every day – this is in Italy, a country where you can’t eat a decent lunch for less than 10€. Even a McDonalds will set you back 8€!
Keeping the seasonings healthy (fresh herbs, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, sea salt rather than ketchup, mayo, table salt etc) will further improve the taste and health value of the food.
An army marches on it’s stomach – so fill those stomachs the best way you can and see the benefits for yourself.
2. Commitment to exercise – build a gym. A gym can be put together for a lot less than you think. With spare room in a workplace it isn’t unfeasible that a small gym could be set up for less than £1000. In a larger company a large gym matching a commercial set up could be achieved and even offered to staff for a small fee – again returning money to the business.
Not all corporate gyms have to match this one…
With a barbell and plates, a TRX Pro Suspension Training Kit
, a few dumbbells, a Swiss ball, a selection of kettlebells and a mat you have the start of a basic yet worthwhile gym. I myself successfully run a corporate fitness and wellness contract for over 40 firefighters using little more than this amount of kit.
The key isn’t to fill a room with lots of equipment, it’s about selecting a few pieces with lots of different uses. Versatility outweighs amount when it comes to gym equipment.
If a gym is out of the budget or requires space that you just don’t have, you can negotiate a corporate wellness package with a gym or gym chain. Leveraging the buying power of a large number of potential members will result in a heavy discount in almost all gyms.
See my article on reducing gym membership costs for more help.
3. Make the time for staff to exercise – adopt flexitime. There is a difference between allowing staff to live a healthy lifestyle and encouraging it. I’d be willing to bet a significant chunk of change that most HR departments and CEO’s would blab the empty rhetoric of wanting a healthy workforce, but actions speak far, far louder than words.
Allow your staff the ability to work in a flexitime pattern. A common excuse for not exercising is a lack of time – by allowing flexibility in working patterns you give an element of control back to employees, providing them with a chance to fit exercise into their daily routine.
Make lunchtime an enforced break from work. So many people work through lunch, eating packet foods at their desk as if it earns them some kind of kudos for working through their break.
At Technogym staff are allowed 2 hours away from their desk – the idea being they can have an hour to exercise and an hour to eat.
It is my opinion that employers have a duty of care to employees to ensure they are given a chance to leave their desk and enjoy a proper lunch break. Work isn’t a concentration camp.
Technogym allow 2 hour breaks at lunch yet still manage a presence in over 100 countries, serving 165,000 facilities worldwide and generating annual revenues in excess of £300 million. Now, tell me how a 2 hour break is impossible again….
4. Friendly staff competitions help create activity buy-in. Technogym organise friendly competitions between staff in all kinds of different activities – gym based challenges, gym visit frequency prizes, volleyball, basketball and football tournaments etc. Admittedly this is far easier when you have a staff of a few hundred or more, but there is no reason why sociable activity can’t be introduced no matter how large are small the number of colleagues in the business.
One business I know has a weekly cycling group amongst 4 of the staff. Another I know has 5 a side football matches every Saturday (the same two teams play each other every week). Encourage colleagues to exercise together, walk together, compete against each other – whatever works to encourage regular activity.
Aside from the physical health benefits, the team bonding aspect of regular social exercise will boost morale and performance. Team building and relationship building can’t be done through an annual soggy weekend lifting logs and completing assault courses. Real teams are built by meaningful interaction over a long time, sharing common interests and goals.
Build on these.
5. Office design to create health – improved ‘workspace architecture’. Arguably the most striking thing about the Technogym offices is the lack of chairs – they don’t really exist there. Instead, offices are filled with Wellness balls. I was cynical at first about these things – it’s just as easy to slouch on a ball, so I wasn’t convinced.
Until I tried it – here are my thoughts recorded in a previous blog post about the trip…
The Wellness ball is a patented Swiss ball with a double-density foam towards the base, making it more stable than the typical Swiss ball you would see in the gym. The wellness balls are covered with a washable material to protect your clothing.
Sitting on the wellness ball is a unique experience. Without doubt, there is far more core engagement and a requirement to improve your posture. Of course you can still slouch on the ball, but it’s not as easy as a normal chair. Research shows there is 66% more trunk movement on the ball and that people are far more likely to move around when on the ball as opposed to a normal chair, further improving back health.
The irony here is that so many people say they need an ergonomically-friendly chair ‘for their back’, when the reality is a lack of core engagement may even be a significant part of their problem, which is made worse by so-called ‘comfortable’ chairs. Technogym even report a drop in back issues when staff started using the Wellness ball.
At £230 per go (for a single unit, cheaper if bought in bulk), they are no more expensive than a decent chair but far more versatile and portable.
The work pattern is easy to change as well. At Technogym staff are encouraged to use the stairs rather than take the lift. Lunch has to be taken in the cafe – this again forces people to stand up from their desk and walk from their office. Little things add up. I heard of a French company banning internal email – staff have to walk to interact and speak with each other if they have to communicate! About time too! In one business I worked at it was common for staff to email each other whilst sat in the same room. Incredible.
The reality is that in the western world, obesity and health problems are on the increase – this will lead to more sickness absence, more cost to business and the overall economy and more cost to the NHS. Given work is the place where most of us spend at least a third of our day, introducing wellness at work gives us a solid foundation for improving overall health.
None of the changes I suggest here are groundbreaking, nor are they impossible to implement. If you champion the wellness at work message I have no doubt you will see positive changes in your business and productivity.
The benefits are clear – a happier, healthier workforce who feel invested in, motivated and thankful for such a fantastic working environment.
With almost no sickness absence and a growing business, Technogym are the standard bearer for wellness at work. The rest of us should take influence from them and their work.
For more information on my Technogym trip and a more in-depth look at the wellness village, take a look at these two previous articles…