Attention to Wellbeing Could Save Businesses Billions

13/09/2013 10:54 BST | Updated 12/11/2013 10:12 GMT


Despite the fact that companies are willing to pay good salaries, benefit packages and training programmes to keep and nurture talent, many will often overlook their staff's health and wellbeing.

The fact that sick days cost the UK economy about £29 billion last year shows that this is a costly mistake. Not only are unhealthy employees more likely to become ill, but a high proportion of long-term work absenteeism is due to stress.

Research released earlier this year showed that 28 per cent of adults who are stressed said it was down to work-related issues.

Numerous studies have shown that employees who are happy, relaxed and positive tend to be more creative, productive and hard-working than their stressed and unhappy peers. In short, taking care of employees' health and wellbeing will not only reduce the number of sick days taken but will help increase the overall success of a business.

Health and wellbeing come down to three main factors: diet, exercise and relaxation. Improve these three areas and you will often get a healthier, happier and more productive workforce.

Arguably the most important of these three factors is diet. Despite the concern over the rising obesity problem in the UK, many Brits are still choosing unhealthy foods. For employers this can affect more than their employees' waistlines. Eating unhealthy food laden with sugar, fat and salt is proven to cause peaks and drops in energy levels, which ultimately leaves workers feeling tired and irritable. Research has also shown that those who eat healthier foods tend to be happier and have a more positive outlook.

While diet is important, regular exercise shouldn't be dismissed. Exercise is proven to enhance concentration, collaboration and energy levels, as well as reducing stress and improving overall health. It also helps to manage weight and improve fitness levels. Exercise, along with a generally healthy diet, are the cornerstones to having a happy, healthy and productive workforce.

What many people overlook is the importance of relaxation. It doesn't matter how healthy or fit you are, if you don't find the time to relax and get enough sleep you're likely to feel tired, irritable and lack concentration. Often referred to as the work-life balance, relaxation is as important as diet and fitness in leading a healthy lifestyle. The recent case of Moritz Erhardt's death after allegedly working a 72-hour shift as an intern at Bank of America highlighted the extreme dangers of working long hours and has resulted in the bank reviewing the work-life balance of its junior employees.

Clearly improving employees' diet, fitness and work-life balance will lead to a stronger and happier team, but how can an employer make their workers eat healthier, exercise regularly and rest?

The truth is they can't and shouldn't. Instead employers need to talk to their staff, find out if they want to make changes and collaboratively how the business can adapt to help them.

Setting up a work sports team and making employees train every Wednesday evening probably isn't going to be beneficial. But providing a discount membership at the local gym and offering flexible working hours so that employees can fit in exercise sessions will encourage those wanting to get fitter to do so.

When it comes to encouraging a work-life balance, there is no point in telling an employee with a heavy workload to go home at 6pm, as they will only have to work at home or spend the evening stressing about not getting their work completed. Instead it is important to not overwhelm workers or expect them to do regular unpaid overtime. There will always be times when staff need to work longer hours than normal, and most will happily accept this, however by constantly demanding too much of employees it will only increase stress and pressure within the office, which normally results in an increase in sick leave.

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