Workplace health – the resistance within….


Workplace health – the resistance within….


In a world of social media and social sharing businesses all over the UK are increasingly aware of the need to embed workplace wellness strategies into their workforce. The trap that many Employers fall into is the ‘seeing to be doing good’ attitude with little thought about the practical considerations required to fully implement an effective Health and Wellbeing strategy across the business.

Not only is business looking at the long term health of their workforce they are interested in the message this conveys in the digital world. An Employer that attracts the best talent due to its unique approach to staff development and the benefits of choosing that particular employer over competitors should be central to any recruitment drive.

I am often asked by clients ‘to remove the barriers to staff engaging in health and wellbeing activities’. I often find the main barriers come about through internal resistance from process, key influencers not engaging with the H & W activities and a general reluctance to accept innovation. This is not true of all Companies but it often a common issue amongst my freelance clients I work with.

The key to unlocking this is a difficult one. First of all it depends where H & W fits within the Organisation. This is often in an HR or Health and Safety department, or traditionally it may sit within an Occupational function. The positioning of H & W is fundamental to its success, quite simply because where it is positioned in the business will send mixed messages to employees. Enforcement, surveillance or a little mistrust may be channelled from where the H & W function sits.

H & W relies on employee engagement to work. It needs its own identity otherwise it will get diluted within the regulatory processes of Health and Safety, the broad remit of Human Resources or the clinical nature of occupational health departments. But to the vast majority of businesses that at least have a Health and Wellbeing Function no matter where it sits, for now are leading the way in investing in it in the first place.

For now let’s forget the position of the H &W function and take a closer look at its conflicts with internal business processes. Just like public health programmes, workplace health programmes will have their detractors. May be from the very people it aims to engage. The importance of creating opportunities for involvement in H & W and incentive driven programmes, rather than forcing it – is crucial.

Employers also have to be careful not to be seen as medalling in peoples personal lives. For example the Government ‘Nanny state’ reputation actually helped to turn people off the health recommendations that were aiming to engage them! Business too has to take head of these pitfalls. By all means offer a H & w programme but keep it fun and keep it open. Reward and incentive based programmes will help to negate these misconceptions. Acknowledge some people will want to go to work, do their job and thats it. It won’t be for everyone.

However creativity must be embraced. Overall H &W needs to be fun. It needs breathing space to evolve and slowly change the culture of a business. Operating within squeezed business parameters creates a danger of it becoming too corporate and stifled of creativity. That way it becomes almost invisible to employees. It needs to be different, it needs to challenge boundaries (within reason), but overall to gain traction and credibility by senior management it needs to deliver results.

To deliver results it needs embracing from the top down. Some Businesses are pioneering some excellent projects. I work with businesses allowing time within the working day for staff to access nutrition and lifestyle advice run by an external organisation. This has proved a great way to deliver opportunities for staff to learn about healthy eating whilst at work.

A key component to the success of a H & W programme is to get people talking. May be surprising them with some visible prompts to take the stairs instead of the lift, or delivering education sessions based on topics based on employee feedback. Intrigue will create conversation and help spread the message by word of mouth – the ultimate form of marketing in my opinion.

The most successful H &W programmes benefit most from an employee led group or task force. That way a credible platform is created that can channel feedback into Management. H & W will then be seen as ‘tangible’ with members accessible to other staff and is an excellent way to collect feedback and suggestions through the workforce.

To bolster this I always suggest formalising the group with a ‘position paper’ or a ‘terms of reference’ document to give the H &W group an identity and brand. This will help to raise the profile of H &W across the business, but especially at senior managment level. The balance has to be struck to allow staff members to get involved in their H & W duties but being mindful that this is often additional time on top of their normal day to day job.

Challenging the detractors is harder. It is important not to create a one dimensional H & W programme based only on sport or physical activity. It must take into account lifestyle, sleep, stress and mental health which should be at the heart of any successful H & W programme. Overall health has many wider determinants that cannot be ignored.

Training sessions on emotional resilience, mindfulness and EAP programmes should be interlinked. An holistic approach will have far greater reach than a programme based on engaging the ‘fitties’ within an Organisation. Once that reputation has been created it will be very hard to change.

By its very nature results of an effective H &W programme can and will take time. This is not always aligned to the culture of a business where targets and outcomes are quantified in profit and sales for example. Capturing the benefits of a H & W programme and fighting against the ‘nice to have’ reputation will always remain a challenge.

But no matter how long it takes, any business taking the leap into H &W is making an investment into the future of their workforce. In a cut throat world where competition is tight any competitive edge can make a positive difference. Businesses that are both daring and pro-active in investing in their people now will surely reap the benefits of long term employee health. This will pay dividends when managing an aging workforce that future forecasts predict through delayed retirement patterns.

As well as been noted as a responsible and ethical employer it may also be the difference between business success and business failure. If you require support, advice or a H & W programme devised for your organisation contact , blog:

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