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Why companies need to prioritise wellness

We know that eating well, exercising, and taking care of our mental health are essential components in our ability to effectively connect with those we love, and create value in the roles we inhabit at work. However, incorporating these practices into days that require us to ship fast, adapt quickly, deliver results, and stay relevant continues to push wellbeing further down our priority list — after all, there are only so many hours in a day.

In a culture of high-performance, there is a badge of honour that comes with hustling hard and burning the midnight oil. So, it’s no surprise that we are stressed, and we are tired. Add in the pressures that have sprouted alongside the global pandemic, climate-change realities, and wide-spread recessions — wellbeing is no longer something that can easily be dismissed. Especially at work.

According to the World Health Organisation, one in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives. This places mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

Historically, wellbeing was something we were required to consider outside of our working identities. The sole responsibility and financial burden were placed on the individual. But in recent times, workplaces are starting to understand that wellbeing cannot be separated from work hours and that the key to engagement requires an integrated approach to wellness that is spearheaded, deeply understood, and implemented by leadership at all levels. “Organisations are understanding more and more that their success is directly tied to their people, no matter what industry they’re in,” explains Martine Beaumont, CEO of Select Wellness.

And when it comes to Australian’s in the workplace, there is still work to be done. When asked in a 2014 survey, 91% of Australians believed that mental health in the workplace is important despite only 52% believing their workplace is mentally healthy.

There is no doubt that a lack of emphasis on wellbeing impacts companies too. When it comes to productivity and engagement, 21% of Australians say they have taken time off work in the past 12 months because they felt stressed, anxious, depressed, or mentally unhealthy.

“This conversation is finally progressing beyond generic wellness offerings, such as fruit bowls, employee assistance programs, yoga classes, and mindfulness training. Whilst we firmly believe these should all be standard company benefits, they are, in three out of four cases, not delivering real improvements in wellbeing,” says Martine.

On top of this, only 56% believed they’re most senior leaders valued their mental health. This shows that on-top of workplace initiatives, there needs to be a shift in how leaders prioritise the wellbeing of those they lead and build strategies for encouraging wellbeing at a more granular level.

There is now an argument that management has an obligation to facilitate wellbeing for their team members, with studies by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention demonstrating that wellbeing — manifested as a combination of physical, mental, and spiritual health — is of primary importance in the workplace. This study also found that individuals with high levels of well-being are more productive at work and are more likely to contribute to their communities. Financial impacts aside, the workplace has also been identified as a relevant and appropriate setting to promote and support the mental health of workers for several reasons, including:

• Ease of access to a large number of people.
• Existing communication and organisation infrastructures.
• Opportunity to tailor interventions to support the needs of specific groups of people (e.g. shift workers) and within particular industries.

Looking to start or build your own wellbeing initiatives at work? Below we look at a few ideas from organisations to get you inspired. 

Examples of workplace wellness initiatives

Prioritising mental health

We know that being mentally and physically well is essential to workplace engagement. Understanding how you can best provide outlets of support while still protecting your people’s privacy is a foundational step in prioritising wellbeing at a preventative level.

As part of Accenture’s wellness program, the business management consultant company offers employee assistance programs (EAP) that provide confidential support for issues like stress, substance abuse, depression, and anxiety. Employees are also offered 24/7 online health services, which allows them to contact physicians with any health-related question.

Similarly Canva has taken their EAP that provides confidential access psychologists and other resources online after the whole team went remote this year.

Understanding the power of rest

While we know getting at least eight hours of sleep per night is ideal, the realities of life often mean people can have a night of disturbed sleep for many reasons. And, it’s hard to be a productive team member, when you are a tired one.

Companies like Zappos and Asana understand this and provide their teams with nap rooms that allow them to rest, recharge, and decompress. And while simply having nap rooms is not a “program”, naps do have clinically proven benefits when it comes to productivity. The overall idea, regardless if people want to have a nap or go for a walk is for companies not be so rigid in the ways their people spend their breaks and re-energise.

With many companies now working from home, people managing their time and still maintaining healthy sleep practices has become a new challenge for many. Before the pandemic, research showed that people who work remotely often end up working far more than their counterparts at the office. The challenge for companies now is to support their team members to establish their own routines through understanding their natural rhythms of when they are most productive and making sure they take breaks that energise them (and they actually return to do the work afterwards). In conjunction with “not always being on” and knowing when to finish work for the day and get some rest.

Empowering team members with tools to self-regulate stress

No matter how many wellbeing initiatives an organisation has, there will invariably be times when a person will experience heightened stress or tension. Empowering team members to find healthy strategies that allow them to self-soothe in these moments is a great way to provide them with tools that serve beyond the four walls of your organisation.

Wegmans is a supermarket chain that offers personalised yoga, meditation and Tai Chi classes. The classes and techniques are personalised to the needs of individual person in order to help them learn self-soothing skills relevant to their prior knowledge or experience with these practices. 

Google has gone so far as to develop the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute, that has now become an independent non-profit educational institute where individuals and teams can undertake programs such as Adaptive Resilience that uses “a mindfulness-based approach to build the behaviors, mental habits and practices that promote personal resilience”.

Supporting lifestyle changes

Healthy habits take work. And this is a concept Microsoft understands. Not only does the company offer education and resources for smoking cessation, weight management, and fitness training alongside its gym and fitness facilities. Microsoft has long held “Know Your Numbers” health screening events that provide team members and their spouses with screenings for heart disease, diabetes, cholesterol, blood pressure, mammograms, and flu shots.

Teaching environmentally-friendly practices 

Education and upskilling is a common element in company wellbeing programs. Taking this a step further, ECOS is a company that also promotes education around sustainable practices in their offices. Each facility has an organic garden from which their team members can take fruits and vegetables. Staff members can also swap clothes and household items instead of throwing them away. Additionally, if people want to trade in a car for a more environmentally-friendly one, the company will help pay for that. 

Facilitating family time

Working parents often feel the pang that comes with juggling work and home demands. Especially when navigating a young family. Hasbro is a toy company familiar with bringing joy to parents and kids and in keeping with its mission to “deliver joy, creativity, and connection around the world and across generations” the company offers paid leave for both parents, assistance with foster care, and adoption leave.

In Australia, Deloitte has been recognised for its 18 weeks of paid leave including superannuation for all new parents regardless of gender or caring role. They also run the ‘Reconnect Program’ which gives new parents coaching to help them navigate parenthood while trying to advance their career.

Encouraging fun and play

Play is an important ingredient to creativity and innovation — something that as adults, we don’t leave much time for. That’s why shoe and clothing retailer, Zappos introduced an initiative called, Wellness Adventures. During these adventures, small groups of people from different departments are taken offsite for the opportunity to do something fun together away from work. Whether it’s a sports lesson, a rousing game of laser tag, or jumping around on a trampoline, the focus is about having fun and reigniting the power of play. 

Companies are also now recognising the power of the natural world and its positive effects on the brain. Looking for initiatives where their teams can spend time in nature and have experiences together. This is something Canva has been offering its team members through a partnership they have with a farm near their office in Sydney. Staff can stay at the farm for a weekend and help with whatever seasonal work needs to be done. The added benefit is the farm also supplies all the produce for the staff kitchen and meals. Together building a sustainable practice of growing, harvesting and composting that will benefit both parties and the environment.

Starting your own wellbeing initiatives at work

If there’s anything we’ve learned about wellbeing programs, we know that in order to be effective, there can’t be a one-size-fits-all model. While building or petitioning for a robust wellness program can feel overwhelming — particularly as you look to multinational organisations as examples — it’s important to first consider the state of your current workplace and look for what is immediately needed. 

“Employees need to feel that their organisation genuinely cares and is not simply ticking the wellness box,” says Martine. “This can only be achieved with individualised wellness programs that honour the reality of how completely different each of us and our specific circumstances and needs are.” Martine encourages those who are looking to facilitate workplace wellbeing to take time to identify what the true needs of people are and build from there.

While there are no definitive answers in building perfect wellbeing initiatives, there is mounting evidence and expertise to show that incorporating these ideas into the workplace with purpose not only impacts the bottom line, but facilitates an opportunity for all team members to be empowered to create their best work, and reach new creative potential both for themselves and the companies they work for. 

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