Corporate health in tough times: when employee wellness really counts August 1st, 2012, by Ken Buckley

In tough economic times, organisations find themselves with fewer people, working under greater pressure.

In the past, one of the first costs to go was what senior management saw as the “touchy feely” stuff – the engagement programs, the social events – and the employee wellness programs.

In an effort to “streamline” their operations, they cut the massages, the health seminars, the team fitness challenges. They didn’t want their people distracted by posters about nutrition, they wanted them focused on achieving their targets. “Profits are slipping and it’s to get down to business.”

Fortunately, this trend seems to be changing. Increasingly organisations are discovering that having healthy staff actually saves money in the long run.

This last GFC was an interesting case in point. While some businesses took a scatter-gun approach to cut all non-operational costs, the smarter ones continued to invest in their employees’ health.

A survey by the UK Institute for Employment Studies just after the GFC found that employers in both the public and private sectors recognised the importance of continuing to focus on staff wellbeing in a downturn.

The Institute says, “Employers appear to have accepted that improving wellbeing has positive implications for staff efficiency and, ultimately, the profitability of their business….It becomes more important than ever to keep people at work and working at their best when they are there.”

When you have fewer people trying to do more, you need to make sure those people are in good health, both mentally and physically. You want your employees to be in a state that allows them to be fully productive.

Organisations are also realising effective wellbeing programs don’t have to cost the earth. There’s a number of impactful initiatives you can take which will not only show your employees you care, but which have a positive effect on overall productivity. (See also, Ever Wondered How Much to Spend for Your Corporate Health Program?)

Here’s a list of ways to boost employee wellbeing for free:

  1. Communication: encourage your managers to increase their person-to-person communication with team members. Simply asking “how are you going with everything today”, and listening to the answer, can make a world of difference to a stressed employee.
  2. Remind employees of the existing supports you have for them – their HR representative, any employee assistance programs or counselling programs, any mentor arrangements or peer support networks.
  3. Open up your flexible work arrangements. Our instinct when times are tough is to tighten controls, but conversely, staff allowed to work flexibly often report feeling less stressed.
  4. Increase organised social events. Again, management often instinctively cut back on social events in a downturn, often more as a symbolic gesture of duress. But organising a team walk at lunchtime or an impromptu soccer match in a park can not only help teams bond but also boost motivation.

We’d love to hear about how your organisation is helping employees’ wellbeing at a low cost? Share your ideas here in the comments below.

Healthworks has a wide range of low cost options for improving your employees’ health, wellbeing and productivity. Call us on 1300 90 10 90, or send us an enquiry or visit our website for more information.

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