Magazine article Management Today

Feelgood Factors

Magazine article Management Today

Feelgood Factors

Article excerpt

Sedentary lifestyles, poor diet and stress can cause sluggishness and absenteeism at work. Keen to pep up employee performance, firms are putting in place wellness initiatives such as quit-smoking programmes, wholesome canteen food, gym passes and even spa breaks. Will the investment pay off? Helen Kirwan-Taylor reports.

Not showing up at work on a Monday morning is becoming a bit of a national habit. And skipping Fridays is also increasing in popularity. The fact that employees now routinely miss up to nine days of work per year, collectively costing their employers more than pounds 11.6 billion annually, is making even the most laid-back companies sit up and pay attention.

According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development's employee absence survey, employment sickness is up 3.7% over last year. Add to that the alarming evidence of mounting ill-health in the population at large - alcohol consumption in the UK has doubled since 1980, for example - and employers can no longer deny that there's a wellness problem in the workplace.

HR executives have been trying to solve this knotty problem for some time. Are employees not showing up at work because they hate their jobs, or are their jobs making them ill? So critical has the subject of wellness at work become that top consultancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) was invited to present its findings on the subject at the World Economic Forum in Davos this year.

Deaths from chronic diseases such as cancer, cardiac and respiratory conditions - those most frequently linked to age and an affluent, sedentary lifestyle - are rising, while deaths from infectious diseases are falling. As a result, more than half of the multinationals surveyed by PWC for its paper Working Towards Wellness expect to introduce corporate wellness programmes in the next five years.

The alarming state of affairs is making companies reconsider the definition of their duty of care. 'Companies used to look at productivity in the workplace as a government issue, but, increasingly, they are having to take it on board,' says Stephen Bevan, director of research at the Work Foundation. He reports that at any given time, 3%-5% of the population are off work, and a further 25% are at work but operating below par.

Corporate wellness offerings vary from weight-loss programmes, yoga classes and massages to free lunches, gym memberships, stress counselling and confidential helplines. In fact, companies are now competing to show how caring they can be to their employees. The latest wellness perk is weekend spa breaks with companies such as in:spa, run by two former Goldman Sachs bankers. 'Companies are talking to us about making spa breaks with us part of their bonus scheme,' says Gillian Crotty, director of in:spa in London. 'We have already got one-day workshops lined up with companies that are putting health and wellbeing at the top of their list for employee focus.'

And not without reason. Getting a good name in this area helps a company to attract the best people, who tend to bring in the most revenue. And today, the best people all expect health perks of some sort - a good gym, at the very least.

Cadbury Schweppes and the Royal Bank of Scotland have enlisted the help of companies like Nuffield Proactive Health, a comprehensive health service that offers a range of popular health and fitness programmes - on site. BP and Virgin - among others - have enrolled staff on Allen Carr's anti-smoking courses, at an average of pounds 250 per person. PepsiCo even paid workers pounds 51 each to fill out a health questionnaire; respondents deemed at risk were sent to a health coach.

Companies are lining up to try to boost the wellness of their workers. Says Kate Kelly, head of employee relations and reward at Marks & Spencer: 'We have an occupational health service staffed by professionally qualified occupational health advisers to help our people with work-related issues. …

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