Last week I had the pleasure of speaking at the Southern Cross Wellbeing Now event.
This was a gathering of around 250 corporates, with the aim of sharing ideas and information about workplace wellness.
What is workplace wellness? This is the commitment being made by more and more Kiwi companies, to help their employees get well, and to keep them well. It includes a wide variety of initiatives, from team Fitbit challenges to free health seminars to subsidies on healthy food in the cafeteria. Southern Cross itself has a comprehensive programme for its staff, which encompasses all aspects of wellness from financial to physical to mental. There are cooking classes and yoga sessions and knitting groups. They recently ran a workshop for staff on compassion.
Is this making you want to go and work at Southern Cross? I’ll admit the thought crossed my mind! And of course, there is a big benefit to companies who have wellness programmes in place, which is that the people who work in them feel valued and cared for, and in return they feel committed and loyal. The other benefit is that when people are healthy and well, they feel better, have more energy and work better. They’re more engaged and take fewer sick days. It’s a win-win.
It’s interesting that the motivation for companies to do this is not, primarily, financial. In the US – where workplace wellness has been around longer as a concept than here – experts admit that saving money has been the prime motivation for many businesses. This has had mixed results; people feel they’re being judged or even punished if they’re not taking part in ‘get healthy’ programmes. But here in New Zealand, the motivation seems to truly be that workplace wellness is worth doing simply because it is the right thing to do.
We spend most of our lives at work. We spend longer at work than we do at home with our families. It is logical that what we do at work has an impact on our health – often a big impact. We know, for example, that if we spend most of our time sitting down at work, we could spend hours exercising outside work but it probably won’t make us any healthier. We know that our environment impacts in a big way on our food choices – and that environments full of unhealthy vending machine food make it much more likely that people will eat more of that food. We know that shift work can have a significant negative impact on many areas of health, including weight and mental health. So it is logical that employers should shoulder some of the responsibility for looking after people when they’re at work, beyond simple health and safety measures to make sure they’re not injured.
My talk at Wellbeing Now focused on the idea that health is like wealth: worth investing in; worth spending time on; worth thinking long-term about. I could have added: worth working on as a team, a team which includes our family, our friends, our workmates and our employers.