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Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard Magazine

Health Matters—Tips on wellness

Thinking about developing a workplace wellness programme? MEGHAN RUHA has some advice to help you get started down the right track.

An average adult will spend just under two-thirds of their waking hours in the workplace. They will consume approximately a third of their daily food intake while they are there, and will shape much of their behaviour around the requirements of their job and work hours. It is not surprising, then, that the workplace is one of the most influential settings when it comes to the health and wellbeing of our population. Knowledge and behaviours picked up in the workplace not only affect our workers but, if taken home at the end of the day and implemented within the home and community, also impact heavily on the wider population.

While personal motivation and attitudes play a key role in the choices people make, the setup and culture of the workplace can have a significant influence. An employee who wants to swap pre-packaged snack food for a fresh salad, for example, may find this difficult to do if there are no refrigeration facilities available or if the workplace culture means they will get hassled for doing so.

Supporting employees to make good health choices while they are at work does not have to be time consuming or costly. There are many easy ways to implement activities that can have a big impact. The key, of course, is to ensure that anything you put in place is a suitable match to the health needs and motivations for change among employees within your organisation. In addition, it is important to ensure the roll-out of activities is formal and systematic, and that key health indicators (for example sick leave, engagement and accident rates) are monitored closely for improvements. Consider the following recommendations:

Management buy-in

Ensure you have commitment and buy-in from senior management; their presence and participation are essential.

Nothing in isolation

Avoid doing activities or events in isolation. To achieve and maintain long-term outcomes, it is important to adopt a comprehensive and strategic approach.

Baseline info

Capture baseline information about your employees before rolling out a wellbeing programme to ensure you have something against which you can measure change and achievement. This data should include, for example, estimated costs relating to health indicators, services and facilities already available within the work environment and how frequently these are accessed, and information on current health behaviours and attitudes amongst employees. Survey employees to identify priority wellbeing issues within your workforce and to identify areas in which they are motivated to make some changes.

Form a group

Set up a group to drive your programme forward; leaving it in the hands of one employee could mean it gets put aside for other priorities or lost altogether.

Action plan

Support the working group to develop an action plan based on your baseline results to work out what you are going to do, what you want to achieve, and how you are going to measure success.

Regular evaluation

Re-evaluate regularly to ensure your wellbeing programme stays relevant to the changing needs of your employees.

Communicate regularly

Communicate with employees on a regular and transparent basis so they understand your rationale for offering activities, can see where things fit in the bigger picture, and can follow any improvements made over time.

Regardless of the approach you adopt, it is essential to ensure your wellbeing programme continues to receive the same degree of time and recognition as other areas of your business operation. Maintaining momentum can be one of the most difficult elements, particularly if communication stalls and employees are not updated on a regular basis. Here are a few lessons learnt through experience with local organisations:

Involve middle management

Middle managers can be a key point of resistance if they are not involved in the introduction and planning of the programme, as they are often the ones who need to account for the performance and outputs of their teams. Ensure middle managers are involved in identifying benefits to be gained, and that expectations around implementation are a realistic match to work deadlines and requirements at the operational level.

Achievable timeframes

Set achievable timeframes for implementation and stick to these wherever possible. Stalling at key points in the process can reduce employee trust and participation in the programme. Examples include delays between establishing a working group and taking that first step, or between gathering data from employees and turning those results into a plan of action.

Share responsibility

Ensure your working group is functional and that responsibilities are shared among all members. Relying on one or two key people can put progression at risk if they get busy, take time off or leave the organisation.

Prepare before action

Ensure support systems and staff engagement are confirmed before focusing too much on activities. If this isn’t done, participation rates are likely to be very low.

WorkWell’s free support, including access to a team of advisors and assessors, is available to organisations within the Bay of Plenty and Lakes regions. However everyone can access the range of information resources on the website at

MEGHAN RUHA is project lead for WorkWell, a service of the Bay of Plenty District Health Board.

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