Promoting health and wellbeing in the workplace is an integral part of OH practice, but aside from scrutinising absence management figures, it can be difficult to measure its value. However, a recent study of the effectiveness of a health and wellbeing programme developed for 260 employees at Cadbury Trebor Bassett offers a useful example of a wellbeing programme in action. The results of the project revealed significant improvements in the overall health, morale and productivity of the staff involved and they established a clear link between good health in the workplace and employee performance.
At the end of the programme, 58% of the participants measured had increased the frequency of exercise, almost two-thirds (63%) reported a better work-life balance and 58% had reduced or stopped smoking. And although the research was carried out on the employees during a sustained period of increased activity to meet a tight deadline, 70% of participants measured had an improved perception of their employer and half of the group reported they felt less stressed, despite being under greater pressure.
The research was carried out by Nuffield Proactive Health over a nine-month period, between January and October 2005. It followed a request by the occupational health department at Cadburys, which was concerned about the health and wellbeing of a team of 260 IT people responsible for implementing a six-month global IT project. Because of the tight deadline, the team would have to increase its productivity levels and would be unlikely to have much opportunity to take any holidays while the project was under way.
Dr Paul Kanas, head of OH at Cadbury Trebor Bassett, says, “Our priority is our employees’ health and wellbeing, and the IT project team was under pressure to deliver results with challenging timescales.”
Cadbury has a multidisciplinary occupational health team, which comprises Kanas, Sue Ward, the OH manager, five OH nurses, two reception staff, a medical secretary, part-time physiotherapist and chiropodist and an external counsellor. The team is based at the main Cadbury’s Bournville site, where the research took place. It looks after about 3,000 employees based there and at other smaller sites around the UK.
The IT project was to reorganise the business systems across all aspects of the business: procurement, buying, sales, finance and HR.
“It was a huge project with so many departments and sites affected that it touched everyone in some way,” says Kanas. “The 260 employees in the IT department were responsible for implementing the infrastructure change. They would be working under pressure over a period of months.
“We had collaborated with Sona [which later became Nuffield] previously so we asked them to come in and work with us to perform some additional tests such as a heart-rate variability test – which helps check stress levels – and Nuffield’s own form of posture analysis because the IT staff do a lot of work on laptops. We wouldn’t normally include these tests as part of our health checks so Nuffield was able to add this element,” he says.
Nuffield Proactive Health provides employee health, vitality and wellness programmes to a range of corporate clients. It was created in 2005 and combines the facilities offered by Nuffield Hospital’s national health screening and physiotherapy services, the corporate fitness and wellbeing services of Sona Positive Health and the specialist clinical services of Prestige Health.
The Cadbury wellbeing programme began with a ‘Kick Off’ meeting for team members, which was held in Oxford in January 2005 and was aimed at encouraging the group to work together in making healthier decisions in the workplace.
“The Kick Off event was designed to take them out of the office to focus for one day on their health,” says Kanas. “We’d already been running our ‘Fit for Life’ project at the company but Nuffield was able to add on a personal wellbeing element, which included one-to-one health checks.”
The talks covered nutrition, personal wellbeing, relaxation, energy and exercise and these were followed by 2km walks mapped out and led by Ward to illustrate how easy it is to reach the recommended 10,000 steps in a day. After their walks, the groups were offered a healthy lunch, took part in a nutrition quiz designed to show how they could make healthy nutrition choices, and enjoyed a one-hour relaxation session.
Staff were then given the option to sign up to the one-hour health check, which measured:
- blood pressure
- heart rate
- body fat
- lung efficiency
- hydration levels
- posture (using the Pneu map system, which creates a grid to measure the spinal curve of the back)
- measurement of resilience through heart rate variability.
A major consideration was the nature of the work carried out by the IT team, which involves a lot of sedentary work on screen. This can cause musculoskeletal problems.
Rick Crawford, a physiologist at Nuffield, explains: “Posture was a big issue and our Pneu map system allowed us to look at posture problems that people had at their desks and suggest ways that would improve their posture.”
The one-to-one checks remained confidential but could indicate the group’s overall level of health and fitness.
“We gave them individual feedback on what the results meant in terms of lifestyle,” says Kanas, “whether it meant drinking more water or exercising more. The feedback from the team was very positive. Some had gone in with a cynical attitude but admitted it had helped them change their outlook in life.”
Sophie Beecroft, a team member who took part in the programme, confirms this enthusiasm. “I came back from the Kick-Off event determined to do something positive for my health. I began to drink more water and reduce my coffee intake. I found it reassuring that when we were working under pressure the company was monitoring our health and investing in our wellbeing.”
Another team member, Riaz Hanjra was cynical about attending the Kick Off event, but found himself won over by its content. “My initial reaction when I heard about the Kick Off day was that it would be a waste of time, and the project would be subject to even more time pressure.
“I was soon won round, however, and was able to make some simple adjustments in terms of drinking more water and joining my colleagues for walks, which began to make a difference. It also became a social thing and gave people some common goals other than those associated with work.”
During this period the OH team continued its ‘Fit for Life’ theme, working with the facilities manager and the catering contractors to review the menus offered by the staff canteen. Fruit pots and vegetable servings were marked with ‘Take 5’ stickers to help indicate to staff if they were meeting their daily fruit and vegetable requirements. This initiative has, of course, benefited all the staff at Cadbury and the OH team continues its healthy choices programme with a ‘Get the Balance’ healthy eating initiative.
The health assessments of the IT team were repeated in October 2005 and showed that despite the increased workload, those tested were calmer without being less alert, their diets had improved enormously and they were taking much more exercise.
After piloting the programme at Cadbury’s Bournville site, the OH team has extended it throughout the Cadbury group, which now offers one-to-one health checks provided by Nuffield to all its staff.
Kanas says, “Overall I’m very pleased with the results. The talks and activities went well and we have now been able to use this model in other departments. It’s very motivating to staff to have us help them look after their health.
“Both the OH and Nuffield teams worked well together on this project. It’s always going to be a challenge working with an external team but we all found it fine.”
Results of health assessments carried out in October 2005
- 53% of measured population had increased exercise during the period
- 74% reported positive changes in their diet
- Body fat had decreased by 5%
- Posture had improved by 8.6%
- 82% of the measured population felt more aware of their health
- 53% of the measured population felt less stress since the project started
- 100% of the group said they would recommend the project to others.