As the working population ages, long-term employee wellbeing will become a crucial component of sustainability planning for businesses. A new network of wellbeing experts, the C3 Workplace Health Movement, aims to facilitate this. Christine Hancock, Katy Cooper and Steve Haynes explain.
The health of individuals, as well as that of businesses and the national economy, is under pressure from increases in conditions such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stress. These conditions are largely driven by risk factors including smoking, poor diet, harmful use of alcohol and lack of physical activity.
In theory, the path to take is obvious: create a healthier, happier workforce and any business will be more robust and sustainable as a consequence. In practice, of course, this is easier said than done. However, a new network, the C3 Workplace Health Movement, is focusing its attention on practical ways to achieve a real improvement in wellness.
C3 Workplace Health Movement
The new movement brings together two successful seminar series (run by C3 Collaborating for Health and the Workplace Health & Wellbeing Movement) to form a single network of workplace health practitioners. It is not a sales environment; instead, its aims are:
- to provide a space in which those working in this field can talk freely about what works and what does not; and
- to hear from expert speakers on the theory and practice of specific aspects of workplace health.
The founders of the movement – who have backgrounds in both health and human resources – believe strongly that the workplace is an ideal setting in which to engage people about their own health. Most of us spend a very significant proportion of our waking lives in our place of employment, and the choices we make (whether that be the food we eat or the time we spend sitting down) will have a correspondingly significant impact on our health.
Challenge versus opportunity
As those who work in this area are aware, there are many barriers to successfully establishing and maintaining a wellness programme. These barriers are often underplayed at conferences and other places where workplace health professionals traditionally meet. The movement provides a confidential space in which to share these problems – examples of which include: lack of buy-in from senior management; difficulty in reaching employees who would most benefit from lifestyle changes; lack of upfront resources (for small and medium-sized enterprises, in particular); and the difficulty in demonstrating return on investment.
Failing to take action to overcome these challenges may mean missing a significant opportunity to improve the long-term health of the business and the individuals within it. Sharing ways in which difficulties can be identified and overcome helps workplace wellness practitioners create an environment in which everyone from the top to the bottom of the business, can reach a path to better health.
Networking seminar: changing behaviour in the workplace
The first seminar of the movement, held on 15 October, was on “What can the workplace do to optimise engagement in healthy behaviours?” Rather than highlighting specific initiatives, speakers Alan Newman, psychologist and behavioural economics expert and Chris Holmes, behaviour change lead at C3 Collaborating for Health provided valuable insights into how best to encourage employees to pursue better health:
- Context is key – anything you do will have to be tailored to your employees.
- Do not underestimate the knowledge that your employees already have – employees who suffer from, or who have family members suffering from, conditions such as type 2 diabetes or dementia will already have a good knowledge about how to manage the conditions, while other employees may already be users of wearable technology, such as pedometers – so find this existing expertise in your organisation and build on it.
- Be honest about your motives, and be ready to answer the questions “who are you to tell me to change?” and “where does your authority come from?” If you are interested in productivity, do not pretend that you are only interested in individual wellbeing, because you will be found out.
- It is easier to change the environment than to try to change individual behaviour.
- Be alert for unintended consequences of your programme.
- There are no silver bullets – but any wellness programme must include an aspect of self-monitoring (that allows individuals to see the changes) combined with another technique such as goal setting and feedback on performance, to encourage commitment.
- There is confusion around the plethora of largely untested “solutions” on the market (and little evidence on what has worked on the whole); when commissioning wellbeing services, you need to know what questions to ask about how a particular programme aims to influence behaviour.
- Consider going outside the workplace to include families.
The organisers of the event are currently consulting with members of the movement on topics for future seminars, with possibilities including engaging shift workers, smoking cessation and the challenges of assessing return on investment.
The C3 Workplace Health Movement welcomes enquiries from workplace health practitioners who are interested in joining. Please contact: [email protected]