Wellness is defined as ‘being healthy in body and mind, especially as the result of deliberate effort’. It’s an approach to health that emphasises preventing illness and maintaining good health, as opposed to simply focusing on treating diseases.
Modern corporate wellness programs extend beyond traditional ‘health and safety’ and ‘occupational health’ schemes to tackle ‘lifestyle’ risks associated with modern work. These risks cluster round the gradual, almost silent, development of
LTCs or ‘chronic’ diseases now account for the bulk of health spend and time off work in developed nations. According to the King's Fund, LTCs now account for 50% of all primary care appointments in the UK and 70% of all hospital admissions.
The trend is global and accelerating. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that, by 2020, LTCs will account for almost three-quarters of all deaths worldwide.
In the US, workdays lost due to LTCs now cost employers $153 billion a year in lost productivity; cost estimates that include ‘presenteeism’ (when a person is at work but unable to perform at full capacity) are even higher, ranging up to $1 trillion.
Just like work related accidents, LTC
Creating a culture of wellness
Most experts agree that a ‘culture of wellness’ is what corporates should be aiming for; a holistic system where the 'pillars' and 'essential elements' listed below blend seamlessly, and where wellbeing is propagated at all levels of the business as if it were built into the company’s DNA.
This is no simple
This is not just a question of organisation. If it were the high-tech health and benefits hubs that have proliferated within HR departments over the last decade would have fixed the problem.
Much more important are issues of leadership, philosophy and approach.
There is a wealth of evidence-based material on designing effective workplace health programmes. Most include the following traits:
Pillars of corporate wellness
Health and safety: Not sexy but fundamental. These interventions are underpinned by statutory requirements and good corporate governance and policy. They protect against
Management of ill health: Reactive by nature, this is the big money maker of the corporate wellness sector. Health insurance, absence management, and rehabilitation management programmes dominate. It is generally held that corporates spend too much in this area and not enough on prevention.
Prevention: The area of corporate wellness that is changing fastest. Traditional components include biometric screening, wellness weeks, on-site gym facilities and smoking cessation schemes. Common problems revolve around the evidence base for biometric screening (there is not much of one for those under 45) and staff engagement, especially with gyms and other ‘sports’ based activities.
Essential elements of corporate wellness
Tailored design. Wellness programmes should be specific to the individual workplace and the needs of staff. Successful programmes recognise diversity and are designed to meet the needs of both individuals and the business. One size will not fit all - flexibility
Holistic and joined-up. Effective wellness programmes take a comprehensive view of human health:
Supportive work environments. There is a growing focus on building and office design in corporate wellness. This stems from a growing consensus that ‘lifestyle’ conditions are ‘environmental’ problems and that we spend so much of our time at work. The CDC has recently launched
Start small and scale up. Wellness schemes should be comprehensive but a step-by-step approach is recommended. Start with the basics, for example, sedentary behaviour or work related accidents, and work up. Schedule interventions logically and according to where the published academic evidence base is strongest.
Focus on what is sustainable. Changing a behaviour is one thing, sustaining that change quite another. A common mistake is to launch initiatives that cannot be sustained from a resource, infrastructure or policy perspective. Creating healthy habits is the key. See more on behaviour change below.
Be consistent. Staff perception of the workplace as a healthy environment is important and obvious contradictions will not be missed. A program that seeks to encourage better nutritional choices while operating food outlets that promote junk foods are likely to flounder, for example.
Involve your staff. Consult and involve employees in program design, implementation and evaluation - it’s the best way overcome ‘them and us’ type barriers. Creating networks of health champions
Consider incentives. Rewards can be a powerful motivator but need to be structured carefully to avoid unintended consequences. Focus more on recognition than hard financial gain and take care not to create a culture of winners and losers. Celebrating participation is key.
Measure and adjust. Set objectives and KPIs in the knowledge that improved health outcomes, especially around LTCs, may be hard to determine in the short to medium term. Softer measures around staff engagement can serve as
Return on Investment
Return on investment (ROI) is a contentious subject in corporate wellness.
The big health authorities, including NICE in the UK, calculate that a well designed and operated wellness program will reduce sick days by up to 30%, while at the same time producing an array of less tangible benefits around staff retention, productivity and reputation.
However, a slew of articles in the American press in recent years have called out providers for making unsubstantiated claims and, as a sector, the case for corporate wellness bringing down employee
The most comprehensive studies reveal a mixed bag. There is no standard ‘plug and play’ model that can be trusted to deliver ROI. Success hinges on good programme design and implementation.
Perhaps the best evidence for this comes from a study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. It found that winners of the Koop National Health Awards for workplace health outperformed the stock market by a factor of 3:1 from 2000-2014.
The Koop Awards are not just another ‘healthiest companies’ listing. Named after the late Dr C. Everett Koop, US Surgeon General from 1982 to 1989, they are independently adjudicated and were established specifically to reward organisations that can demonstrate they have:
reduced the need and demand for medical services
met the objectives of the CODs Healthy People's workplace targets
created net healthcare and/or productivity savings as a result of improving population health
Koops award winners in the study included Johnson & Johnson, The Volvo Group, FedEx and Citibank. In the 14-year period tracked, Koop Award winners’ stock values appreciated by 325% compared with the market average appreciation of 105%.
The study authors concluded: 'This study supports prior and ongoing research demonstrating a higher market valuation - an affirmation of business success by Wall Street investors - of socially responsible companies that invest in the health and well-being of their workers when compared with other publicly traded firms'.
Effective behavioural interventions have three key prerequisites - capability, opportunity and motivation.
Capability. The target group’s psychological and physical capacity to engage in the activity concerned. It includes having the knowledge and skills required. A common mistake is for ‘sports’ minded executives (the natural cheerleaders for corporate wellness) to assume a level of physical prowess in the workforce that does not exist among the majority of staff.
Opportunity. All the environmental factors that make the behaviour possible, or prompt or facilitate it. Crucial
Motivation. The mental processes that energise and direct behaviour. It’s important to note that these are not just conscious or ‘rational’ processes. Much behavioural motivation is subconscious, driven by habit and environmental and emotional ‘nudges’ or queues.
Behavioural economics or ‘nudge’
In 2009, the UK Cabinet Office commissioned the Institute of Government to produce a guide to the use of behavioural economics in policy making. The resulting report, Mindspace, sets out nine of the best evidenced subconscious influences or ‘nudges’ on behaviour.
Mindspace has been widely used in government and the private sector over the last five years with impressive results. It is especially useful in the area of workplace wellness where creating healthy habits is key. The table below lists the nine triggers, their description and example applications.
|Messenger||We are heavily influenced by who communicates information||Explains the importance of senior leadership in corporate health. Points to the power of ‘health champion’ or ‘healthy buddy’ networks.|
|Incentives||Our responses to incentives are shaped by predictable mental shortcuts such as strongly avoiding losses||Consider rewards (eg free fruit delivered to your desk) but structure carefully so not to create an atmosphere of winners and losers. Randomised/lottery prizes for active participants work best.|
|Norms||We are strongly influenced by what others do||A trickle can quickly become a flood. If you get some people cycling to work or using the stairs others will follow. If you can say ‘ most staff in our business walk between meetings ’ then do so.|
|Defaults||We go ‘with the flow’ of pre-set options||If getting people health news via email is a priority, make it the default option when staff join the business. They should take the initiative if they want to opt out.|
|Salience||Our attention is drawn to what is novel and seems relevant to us||Probably the simplest and most powerful to implement within a workplace. Hide junk foods, pushing healthy options to the fore. Visibly flag-up stair entrances and other opportunities for physical activity.|
|Priming||Our acts are often influenced by sub-conscious cues||Prime people to better regulate food portion size by using smaller plates and glasses in food outlets. Reverse on fresh veg and fruit counters. Also prime with knowledge. If your staff know waiting for the elevator takes 3 mins on average but taking the stairs just 1 min, they will be more likely to take the stairs.|
|Affect||Our emotional associations can powerfully shape our actions||Staff case studies are an excellent way to spark
|Commitments||We seek to be consistent with our public
||If someone commits or pledges publicly to do something, such as getting off
|Ego||We act in ways that make us feel better about ourselves||We behave in ways that boost our self-esteem but our view is seldom objective. For example, we consistently overclaim when asked about the amount of physical activity we do. But we are more likely to do it if it’s obviously seen/recognised by colleagues, the more senior the better.|
Common mistakes in corporate wellness
1/ Staff bring LTC’s into the workplace
Probably the single biggest obstacle to creating a culture of health within a business. The organisation’s leadership recognises that ‘lifestyle’ conditions such as type 2 diabetes are a problem for the business but - deep down - they feel responsibility sits with the individual.
This is an error, both factually and strategically. Most of us spend between a third and a half of our waking lives at work. What we eat and drink, the physical activity we achieve and the habits we adopt are all directly shaped by our employer. And that’s before you factor in our tendency to define our
Organisations which accept this have a good chance of success. They recognise their influence on staff health and therefore their ability to affect change. Those that don’t will struggle.
2/ Physical activity is just a PC term for sports
You do not need to be an athlete or a gym bunny to meet the recommended guidelines for physical activity.
The minimum recommendation for physical activity is 150 minutes of moderate physical activity such as brisk walking or pushing a lawn mower a week. Vigorous physical activity such as jogging or stair climbing counts twice, meaning you can get away with 75 minutes a week. You should also do at least 30 minutes of muscle building activity a week such as gardening or weights.
The problem with equating physical activity with
Performing in front of others
Having a special skills set (running, throwing, kicking etc)
Special clothes and changing in front of others
Putting aside their free time
Conversely, the best physical activity interventions are those that can habitually
3/ Health checks - the more the merrier
Health checks are not a panacea. Screening staff for health problems has a ‘common sense’ appeal but unless deployed selectively can do more harm than good.
Health screening can cause serious unintended harms. Such harms may relate to the intervention itself (
The golden rule in health screening is that a test should never be given to a population group unless it can clearly be shown that the benefits outweigh the risks.
In the context of corporate wellness, it is vital that this calculation is made with the individual in mind and not the business.
Summary 'pros and cons' of corporate wellness
Improved staff health, physical and mental
Cuts the direct and indirect costs associated with staff sickness and absence
Improves staff loyalty and engagement, reducing hiring and retention costs and improving productivity
Boosts corporate reputation and standing among staff, clients and stakeholders
Creates a wider good - by helping your staff stay well your business is benefiting society
Requires senior management time and ongoing investment
It needs to be done properly, ill-considered implementations may be received negatively
Results will take time to filter through - a company’s health profile cannot be changed overnight
Where StepJockey fits
StepJockey fights sedentary behaviour in multi-storey offices by
Our unique smart signs and gamification platform enable employers to make their offices visibly healthier and more active without the need for large-scale capital investment. Benefits include:
- more active and engaged employees
- rich-data for wellness and CSR reporting
- health, time and carbon savings
StepJockey has labelled more than 13,000 staircases in over 100 countries. Clients include large corporates as well as many hospitals and public authorities.
StepJockey is proud to be making offices healthier and more productive all over the world. Find out how!Get in touch