How to implement an effective workplace wellness programme

The COVID-19 pandemic has put a spotlight on health, safety and well-being in all parts of our lives, not least in the workplace. As a result, more companies than ever before are considering employee wellbeing and the ways in which their business can support it.

Employee wellness interventions can include a host of different benefits ranging from mental health support, flexible working and "duvet days" to subsidised gym membership, investments in improving the workspace and healthy eating options on site. There is no one-size-fits all solution and the best initiatives will be tailored to the company, its employees and their shared needs.

Why invest in employee wellness?

Incorporating innovative and comprehensive workplace wellbeing programmes into company culture brings countless benefits to both the business and its employees. Employee benefits aimed at supporting health and wellbeing show the company’s commitment to its workforce, thereby increasing job satisfaction and staff retention. Moreover, estimates from Deloitte show that for every £1 invested in mental health in the workplace, employers can receive up to £5 back. Meanwhile improving the physical workspace to allow for greater movement and flexibility can lead to increased engagement and productivity.

Why do it now?

The pandemic has forced many businesses to rethink their approach to employee health. Not only has it required companies to make changes to their physical working environment to ensure safety, it has also brought attention to mental health. The combination of furlough and working from home has put added stress on employees. This coupled with personal issues such as worry about loved ones, finances, illness and social isolation means that addressing mental health has become essential. With many businesses now planning a return to the office, organisations have a unique opportunity to refine their relationship with their employees, introduce a new approach and promote health and well-being.

How to get started:

According to Deloitte, the most successful workplace interventions:
  • offer organisation-wide initiatives supporting large numbers of employees,
  • focus on prevention,
  • use technology to tailor support for those most at risk.

1. Find out what employees want

This one is critical. Involving employees at the very start of any workplace wellness initiative to find out what they want to get out of it and what they think it should offer will ensure your scheme is successful, and that both your business and your staff reap the rewards. Be sure to engage with staff at all levels of the organisation. What benefits would they like to see on offer? Should you focus on mental health support or would an investment in a better and healthier workspace benefit more people? Ask about daily struggles both in and out of the workplace. A company-wide survey would be an effective way to help senior management better understand the areas of concern as it would reach all employees and allow for anonymity, which may encourage some workers to be more open about their needs.

2. Provide a balance of physical and mental health support

A successful workplace wellness programme should offer choice and flexibility. Different employees will benefit from different parts of the programme, so the more options available the more people it will reach. In addition to not taking a one-size-fits-all approach, the scheme should address different aspects of workplace health, including both mental and physical wellbeing.

Encouraging greater levels of physical activity in and out of the workplace not only benefits employees by helping to improve their fitness levels, but it also has a knock-on effect on emotional wellness by boosting energy levels and mood, relieving stress, increasing self-esteem and improving memory and sleep. Interventions that can help support physical health include active office furniture, Cycle to Work schemes, on-site exercise classes, healthy eating options in the company canteen and group fitness challenges. AJ Products offers advice and products to help you set up a healthy workspace.

To better support mental health, businesses could consider offering an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) that will provide independent and confidential advice for any worries an employee may have around their wellbeing, finances, employment or any other issue that may be affecting them. It is important to take a broad view of what is classed as mental health support so that corporate wellbeing programmes address all stress factors in an employee’s life.

3. Communicate opportunities

Once the scheme is up and running, it is essential to communicate the benefits on offer and regularly remind employees of these perks. Even with wellbeing initiatives in place, not all companies succeed in creating a culture of permissibility where staff feel they can make use of the perks at their disposal. As well as frequent communication of what is on offer, it helps to contextualise and remind staff why you offer it: highlight the benefits of talk therapy, exercise, flexibility and time away from the office desk. Another effective way to increase participation is to ensure that all members of the leadership team proactively use any benefits on offer by talking advantage of flexible working, using activity-based workspaces and joining in with any company-wide fitness challenges.

Holding monthly or quarterly roundtable sessions with employees to discuss a wide range of wellbeing-related themes will help keep the scheme relevant and in the forefront of people’s minds.

4. Show managerial support for the programme

Workplace wellbeing initiatives can only work if employees feel they have permission to engage with these initiatives and can take the time to do so. This permission should be role-modelled from the very top of organisations and employees should be actively encouraged to take part.

When it comes to mental health, it is important that the company promotes an open culture to try to end the taboo of speaking out about concerns and personal struggles. Once again, this comes from the top. Employees need to be able to speak openly without fear of being treated differently or worrying how it might affect their career opportunities. Organisations can do this through inductions and training, running internal communications campaigns and recruiting mental health wellbeing champions. As a manager, simply asking people how they are doing can start a conversation around mental health and provide the opportunity to discuss any worries.

5. Use apps and other resources

There are lots of resources available for businesses looking to get started. To find the right Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) for your company you can visit EAPA UK (Employee Assistance Professionals Association).

Businesses can also provide mental health support to employees by sharing information on where to find helpful resources such as websites, podcasts and books that individuals can turn to for help. You can find recommendations via AJ Products’ guide for improving mental health at work.

Workplace fitness apps such as HealthCheck360, Hotseat and MyFitnessPal are simple ways to help employees improve their physical wellbeing by setting goals and reminders, tracking movement throughout the day and encouraging healthy competition between colleagues! *

As part of our Return to Work series, AJ Products has been looking at what companies can do to support employee mental health and reduce anxiety around returning to the office, how to adapt the workspace to improve fitness as well as how to implement hybrid working post-pandemic.

*AJ Products is not affiliated with any of the companies listed and does not benefit financially or otherwise from recommending them to our readers.