Wellness schemes benefit employers as well as staff

Every working day after 7pm and throughout the weekend, the staff at Health Innovation Network are encouraged to disengage with email. If anyone is determined to write messages out of hours, they are urged to save them in draft and hold off sending them until the next weekday morning. “We want to make sure people switch off, so we have a curfew for recharging. You need to be with your family and have a digital detox,” says Tara Donnelly, the chief executive. The move is one of several initiatives she has overseen to help ensure her organisation promotes healthier living for its staff as well as clients. Her approach reflects that of a growing number of top executives from employers of all sizes in the public, private and non-profit sectors alike. They are exploring ways to promote better workplaces in order to recruit and retain staff, support their health and, in the process, boost productivity. Health Innovation Network, a unit of the UK’s National Health Service that employs 70 staff, including nurses and paramedics, has a particular justification. It specialises in supporting innovative but proven approaches to effective healthcare, such as doctors prescribing gym sessions rather than just drugs to tackle pain, depression or the development of chronic illnesses. Help offered to staff at Health Innovation Network range from free yoga and mindfulness classes to desks that can be used standing up, mental health awareness training and the provision of showers to encourage physical exercise such as cycling to work. Employees can join the book club or running club, and are encouraged to leave their desks to chat with colleagues in the office garden. “It feels very appropriate that we do everything that helps people live a healthy lifestyle ourselves,” says Donnelly. “Our only asset is our staff. We need to look after them and keep them. It makes sense morally and it makes business sense.” There has been similar thinking outside the healthcare sector, too. Skyscanner, an internet travel search site, offers subsidised gym membership, weekly massages, treadmill desks and access to a mindfulness app. It recently launched an extended leave programme for longer-serving employees, a chance for expatriates to spend three weeks back in their home country and for any staff member to work for up to a month in another country where the company has offices. “We believe it’s our duty to provide a workplace in which employees can thrive,” says Julia Clement, talent director. “Some of our initiatives have been driven by employee requests and suggestions, some are natural parts of our office design, and others are driven by our culture and values as a business.” The increased awareness among employers has been tracked in Britain’s Healthiest Workplace survey, devised by VitalityHealth, the health insurer, and produced in association with Rand Europe, the research institute, the Financial Times, the University of Cambridge and Mercer, the human resource consultants. The survey seeks to identify the extent and impact of such interventions and this year generated responses from nearly 32,000 employees in 167 organisations. “There has been a growth in interest,” says Shaun Subel, director of strategy at VitalityHealth, which has built a significant business model in several countries by offering health insurance and providing incentives to encourage the take-up of activities to improve wellbeing.   Excerpt from The FT, read the full article here.

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