How leveraging data can improve wellbeing

23Mar 17

Data analytics has emerged and grown as a critical tool throughout the healthcare industry, and workplace health and benefits are no different. As workplace wellbeing programmes continue to evolve, data analytics plays a key role in both shaping programme development and engaging employees in taking steps toward better health. Data can be used to determine programme design, encourage sustained participation, and measure success, among other strategies. By leveraging data throughout the development, implementation, and maintenance of employee wellbeing programmes, it’s possible to positively impact both the health of the workforce and the organisation’s bottom line.

Surveying employees about their needs and goals can generate helpful data to guide program development. If employees report being stressed about matters outside the workplace, introducing an Employee Assistance Program can provide welcome support. For organisations with employees looking for extra guidance on budgeting or saving for retirement, a financial wellness component can add value to the wellbeing programme. These are just a few examples of how data can be instrumental in designing a wellbeing program to meet the needs of each organisation’s unique workforce, Beyond program design, data can play a key role in driving participation in wellbeing programmes. By utilising data, it is possible to customise targeted outreach to address employees’ specific needs, more effectively engaging them in their healthcare. Not only can data personalise the message, but it can also help meet employees’ communication channel preferences.

Once a well-being program has been created and launched, it is critical to begin analysing data from the outset and again at certain intervals to assess whether the program is effective. By leveraging the initial aggregate data as a baseline, it will be possible to see year-over-year improvements in employee health, finances, productivity and more. An annual review of the data also provides a great opportunity to make necessary changes to benefits and wellbeing offerings to better address the changing needs of an evolving workforce and continue to see the benefits.

By incorporating data analytics throughout the lifecycle of a wellbeing programme, from inception through implementation through evaluation, it’s possible to create a more personalised offering that more effectively engages employees and promotes positive behaviour change. Utilising data can help ensure the success of wellbeing programmes, improving the health of employees and reducing costs for the organisation.

Article written by: Pam Mortenson, first published by Corporate Wellness Magazine: http://bit.ly/2mNusOL

How to improve employee wellbeing for a better bottom line

02Feb 17

Stressed and unhealthy employees aren’t good for morale or the business, so what can you do to encourage better health and fitness?

According to research by PwC, staff absence costs employers a total of £29 billion every year, with the average worker taking off nine days as a result of ill health. This can be due to physical illness but also the impact of stress and issues linked to mental health in the workplace, which has been rising in recent years as employees find themselves under more pressure to perform. On top of that, stressed and unhealthy employees are less likely to be effective or engaged, further impacting productivity and, ultimately, the bottom line.

Yet despite the growing understanding of the cost of having unhealthy employees, relatively few employers are doing anything about it. According to research by Group Risk Development (GRiD), just 18% are encouraging staff to improve their health, and only 22% are taking steps to get employees to be more active.

Small steps can make a difference

Employers can start by making some simple changes around the workplace. “Employers are in a great position to encourage improved nutrition, hydration and activity,” says Lucy Whitehall, wellbeing consultant at the Chartered Accountants’ Benevolent Association, an organisation set up to help accountants better manage their health.

Whitehall suggests putting water dispensers around the office to help staff stay hydrated, instead of sticking solely to caffeine, and the Association has also deployed a wellbeing app so its members and own staff can track their activity during the day.

Take advantage of summer

The summer months provide most opportunity to get staff more active. Jamie Mackenzie, director of marketing at Sodexo Benefits and Rewards Services, suggests latching on to the Olympic theme. “This could include introducing pedometers and encouraging colleagues to compete with one another to see who can take the most steps and take the ‘gold medal’,” he says. “Promoting local exercise classes or healthy lunches during the summer are also good short-term ways to encourage healthy habits.”

In the longer term, setting up a gym membership or cycle-to-work scheme could help people make exercise a part of their daily lives. The Cycle to Work Alliance suggests 86% of employees who take part in such scheme have seen health benefits, and 77% of employers say they have also seen improvements.

Don’t just target the healthy

Yet there is a concern that such initiatives will only be used by those who already have a degree of interest in becoming healthier, and that it is the harder-to-reach people who employers should really be targeting. “Traditional corporate health and wellbeing programmes can end up skimming the surface,” says Kirsten Samuel, CEO at employee wellbeing company, Kamwell.

“The benefits might look ideal: discounted gym memberships, cycle-to-work schemes, jogging clubs and lunchtime yoga. But these kinds of offers look and feel like they’ve been designed by the health conscious for people like themselves. They can be divisive, unappealing and in terms of overall organisational health, ineffective.”

Initiatives that engage everyone

One option could be to offer health screening to all employees, which can then be used to tailor specific initiatives. Food business Danone, for instance, managed to identify issues around obesity and a lack of Vitamin D in its workforce after using Bluecrest’s screening service, and has since reduced the number of employees with high blood pressure by 16% and those with raised BMI by 9 per cent.

Other initiatives can directly target specific issues. Back pain and musculoskeletal injuries are a major cause of absence, so in some workforces physiotherapy might be appropriate. Phil Clayton, managing director of Physio Med, gives the example of Bradford District Care NHS Foundation Trust, which estimates it has saved some 6,762 working days by providing fast access to treatment rather than waiting for staff to use NHS physiotherapy treatment.

Be mindful of mental health in the workplace

Physical health is only part of the issue, and employers must also target mental health and stress if they want to make a real difference to employee wellbeing. Employee assistance programmes can have an impact here, and these are often already included as part of broader group risk policies, alongside other benefits such as mental health first aid training and fast-track access to counselling.

Allowing staff to have more control over their own lives and working patterns can also make a big difference in terms of reducing stress, suggests Daniel Lucy, head of research at Roffey Park Institute. “By developing a management style centered on trust, employers can enhance feelings of control and autonomy, which are both key aspects of a healthy workplace,” he says.

“There is plenty of evidence to show that lack of control and autonomy can contribute to a whole host of negative health outcomes, such as increased incidence of mental ill-health, musculoskeletal disorders and cardiovascular disease.”

These are all measures worth considering as elements of an overall wellbeing strategy.

Employee wellbeing isn’t just their own business, it’s actually a big factor in yours. 

How to create a business case for employee wellbeing

29Jan 17

Making a business case for wellbeing initiatives is problematic. Intervening in employees’ personal lives by providing a batch of benefits is one thing, but how can you demonstrate the ROI on major wellbeing campaigns and programmes?

There is often confusion initially about the scale and scope of what “employee wellbeing” covers. It can include everything from physical health screenings, mental health workshops and wellbeing portals to the physical environment of the workplace. This raises questions about what is going to be most effective in your company.

What is relevant to your staff? What is window dressing? What can be measured? As yet there is no gold standard in the industry for measuring employee wellbeing – every organisation has their own method, because each has different priorities, their own problem areas and are at varying stages of their journey in introducing a culture of wellbeing.

There is also no shortage of broader evidence of why investing in health and wellbeing is so important for organisations. At the moment, some of the strongest evidence comes from US employers.

But the UK has also come a long way in the past few years, with more companies than ever before investing in initiatives as well as wider strategic campaigns, some linking wellbeing to business strategy.

So how exactly do you convince senior executives that health and wellbeing is not the woolly, “nice-to-have” concept of the past, but a smart business decision? Here is how you can go about it.

Do your research

Organisational leaders want the facts, figures and evidence, so make sure you go to the table prepared. Not only will this mean you are taken more seriously, but you cannot create a comprehensive business case without doing the groundwork. You are also planning for the future by providing a baseline starting point for benchmarking year on year.

Always link the argument back to key business priorities and strategic drivers. Be clear about what you already provide in terms of health and wellbeing as a business, what needs to change and why.

Research what is important to employees and what the key health concerns are via surveys, talking to staff and health risk assessments. Be clear on the basic stats to build a picture of the current challenges – how much does sickness absence currently cost the business? What is the current level of staff turnover and what does this cost?

To help you get this data, and before going to the executive team, it is useful to run a pilot scheme; a one-off wellbeing initiative or event that will help you connect with employees and gauge opinions. Make use of existing and standard industry evidence in terms of the benefits of well-being for productivity and performance – making sure it is specifically relevant in terms of organisations of a similar size and sector.

Set up metrics

Measuring and tracking return on investment is challenging when it comes to wellbeing programmes, as there are so many factors that influence productivity and business performance. However, there can be no doubt that happy, healthy people in a similar culture perform better than unhappy, unhealthy staff in a negative environment.

The most common metrics include sickness absence, OH referrals, staff turnover and engagement scores in employee surveys. You can also look at impact by measuring degrees of collaboration and innovation.

It is harder to put an exact figure on measures such as productivity, presenteeism and leavism (the practice of taking leave in order to catch up on work), but some basic formulas can be used to at least provide an indicative measure.

It is worth remembering that behaviours do not change overnight – especially culture change – but consistently measuring your progress will help you start to forecast improvements and set realistic goals. Even if the data is not perfect, it is better to at least make a start.

Agree key metrics (both remedial and preventative) and over time you will start to identify trends that will help you focus your resources and investment in wellbeing more effectively. Create a management information dashboard that is updated quarterly and shared with relevant parties to showcase wellbeing highlights. The more data you can provide, the better.

Include external context

There are a number of contextual factors that make health and wellbeing investment more than just an issue of performance. What are the benefits to the organisation in terms of its positioning and reputation?

Wellbeing benefits can be an important part of employer branding and workplace culture, as well as being platforms for solid recruitment and retention.

The Government is also increasingly interested in shifting responsibility for healthcare to individuals and employers. This is due to a number of reasons, including the budget constraints on the NHS, the pressure from an ageing population, the digital revolution (which has given everyone greater access to health information), and rising levels of chronic illnesses such as diabetes, obesity and heart conditions.

So include “duty of care” issues in your presentation to the board, such as the Fit for Work scheme and NICE guidelines on “Workplace policy and management practices” (2015), designed to improve the health and wellness of employees.

Be holistic in the offering

By far the best wellbeing programmes are those that are holistic – appealing to more people rather than appearing to be limited activities for the few.

The holistic model used by Kamwell includes: the vibrancy of physical health (movement, nutrition, sleep, recovery); mental wellbeing (psychological, emotional and spiritual); the security of finances; the enjoyment of careers; the quality of relationships; and the contribution we each make to our community and environment (workplace and eco).

There is no such thing as one-size-fits-all, so do your research, understand your audience well, offer something for everyone, learn and evolve, and then grow and scale your programme.

Encourage role models and champions

Find a regular slot to update senior leaders on the wellbeing programme and understand their individual interests. This will help to engage them across the different initiatives (some top executives might already have a keen interest in running or cycling, for example). Get them to lead, sponsor or participate in any initiative that relates to their personal interests – or even their health issues.

Some leaders have been brave enough to talk about their battle with mental health problems in the past. Sharing their personal stories is an extremely powerful and effective way of engaging with employees and helping to break the stigma.

If you plan to run a cancer awareness campaign, think about the role for senior leaders. When Hewlett Packard ran its lung cancer campaign, all the posters featured the managing director promoting the value of early detection of lung cancer. Seeing a senior leader personally involved made more people take action.

Senior leader involvement sets models of behaviour from the top down, validates the business case and demonstrates the benefit of what the wellbeing programme offers. And with their stressful roles, is also of personal value.

If wellbeing programmes are not supported at the top of the organisation, line managers will not follow. Managers need to understand that they have some responsibility for the wellbeing of their team members, and the bigger positive impact this can have on their people and the business.

There continue to be managers who do not allow line reports to take a lunch break or expect regular overtime – and it takes clear direction from the top to change these types of attitudes and behaviours.

Think about the diversity of audiences. Target interventions that speak to different groups, their issues and their “pain points”. Encourage ambassadors in all areas to conduct research and engage employees.

Explain the scaling methods

Once you have created a programme that works well for one location, team or demographic, the next question is how you scale up that success.

A way to build confidence and support at the top is to recommend pilot phases to allow for a period of testing and learning, and then create a blueprint that can be easily replicated.

Foster a community that socialises, online or in person, so that those within the programme spread the word to other parts of the business.

A network of wellbeing champions will support your message, brand and activities – enabling you to scale both nationally or internationally.

Get the presentation right

Focus on the facts and how they link back to the organisational strategy. Some people respond best to visual information, some to written, and some to oral – so make sure there is something for everyone.

It is more engaging to leave behind the traditional HR-speak on this occasion, and talk more in broad-brush terms of creating a great company culture that delivers high performance.

What Does An Award-Winning Employee Wellbeing Programme Look Like?

27Jan 17

Reed Business Information has shown how investing in employee wellbeing changes people’s working lives. And the 2016 CIPD Award for Best Health and Wellbeing Initiative has confirmed it’s taking a lead that other employers can learn from.

While most organisations are looking to include a few health benefits and initiatives to keep their employees engaged and performing, ticking the box of ‘things an employer should do’, RBI has taken a whole-hearted approach and seen the impact.

Living Well

RBI’s Living Well programme was initiated and led by former global marketing director Lawrence Mitchell in 2014. In a short space of time the work of Lawrence and the Living Well cross-functional team has changed the everyday working environment, culture and experience for RBI employees in 50 offices around the world.

The CIPD judges praised the ‘resourceful’ approach that led to widespread changes to energise and transform the experience of working at RBI: collaborative work spaces, standing desks, wearable tech, alongside a variety of offerings, events and challenges aimed at getting as many staff engaged, educated and creating new healthy habits. There’s been wellbeing challenges, social media competitions, mindfulness courses, mental health training, opportunities for ‘deskercise’, massage therapy, health coaching and nutritional testing – to name but a few.

As a result, there’s been a reduction in staff absence and staff turnover, with 82% reporting they’ve been motivated to make healthy changes to improve their wellbeing. Employee satisfaction is up and RBI’s people say they are feeling more energised, resilient, less stressed, and more valued by the company. All of which has helped contribute to the progress being made by the business.  

Working with RBI

Kamwell has been sharing its wellbeing expertise with RBI and co-ordinating their Living Well programme since its inception in late 2014. For us, the work is a good example of how our collaborative approach and Holistic Wellbeing Model can deliver ROI and improved performance and workplace wellbeing for our customers. 

World Mental Health Day

10Oct 16

Today, 10th October, is World Mental Health Day. This date is internationally recognised, as an opportunity to raise awareness about all kinds of mental health issues.

The theme for this year’s World Mental Health Day is psychological first aid, and the support that we can all provide to those in distress.

In this context, distress can mean many things, ranging from witnessing a traumatic event to having a panic attack. The need for psychological first aid — also known as mental health first aid — might seem obvious for those working in an industry where staff are likely to be first responders to a trauma, such as in the emergency services and social services. Or for aid workers in war zones or regular areas of conflict. But ideally the basics should come naturally to all of us.

Because trauma can happen anywhere (think terrorist attacks in major cities) and to anyone (family, strangers, colleagues). It sends waves of impact through networks of friends at home and at work, and through whole industries and communities. So it’s a useful skill to have in any workplace.

In the same way that many remember the basics of physical first aid, such as ‘A, B, C: Airway, Breathing, Circulation’, today is a day to learn about mental first aid. So what exactly is psychological first aid?

Although psychological first aid is a term that has been used since the 1940s, it has become more widely known over the last 15 years. The World Health Organisation (WHO) — which drives World Mental Health Day all around the world — lists many international organisations that recommend the term, including the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) in the UK, and the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH) in the US.

The WHO describes psychological first aid as ‘a framework for how to respond in a natural, supportive, practical manner, emphasising listening without pressuring the person to talk; assessing needs and concerns; ensuring that basic physical needs are met; providing or mobilising social support, and providing essential information.’

You don’t have to do a ‘psychological debriefing’ or ask someone what happened, as this could make them relive the event. You needn’t ask someone to explain their condition, and don’t have to have detailed knowledge about mental health problems — just be there for them.

People are often afraid of saying ‘the wrong thing’ when it comes to mental health. So here’s some advice from the charity Rethink Mental Illness about how to help someone who’s having a panic attack:

 Panic attacks are sudden episodes of intense fear or discomfort, accompanied by symptoms like an accelerated heart rate, sweating, shaking, shortness of breath, choking feelings, chest pains or discomfort, feeling sick, feeling light-headed, and fear of losing control or dying. If you encounter someone who is having a panic attack, here are some helpful tips on how to deal with the situation:

What you might say:

         “Would you like to go somewhere quieter?”

          “I see this is very frightening for you. Is there anything I can do to help?”

         “Is there something that usually helps you in this situation?” or “Is there anything I can do that usually helps you?”

 What you might do:

          Try to speak to the person in a reassuring but firm manner and stay with them.

         Be prepared for the possibility they will have an intense desire to escape. Never grab, hold or restrain them. If they want to move around, suggest that they stretch, or go with you for a brisk walk.

         Encourage them to try and control their breathing. You could ask them to breathe in and out on your count.

         If the symptoms do not subside within 15 minutes, consider seeking urgent medical advice. When in doubt make the call, even if only for advice.

Panic attacks can happen to anyone, not just people with a history mental health problems. It could be the very first time someone has experienced feeling like this. In a workplace situation, witnessing an accident where someone has been badly hurt can sometimes trigger these sorts of symptoms. So train drivers, factory workers and builders operating heavy machinery could be particularly at risk.Panic

But there are many other triggers too. Personal problems at home can also lead to extreme reactions. People experiencing domestic abuse, or struggling with addiction, can experience intense feelings wherever they are, at any time. These days technology means that we’re increasingly connected, so anyone can receive bad news via their phone, wherever they are — in the office, at lunch, at their desk. They might go into shock. And different types of mental health problem can lead to different types of distress, such as feeling suicidal, severe anxiety or hearing voices. Moreover, mental health problems don’t discriminate, so they affect CEOs and workers on the factory floor alike. It could happen to any of us.

Employers should remember that using psychological first aid can lessen the impact of a traumatic incident — whether work-related or not — in terms of an employee’s long-term health and their ability to return to work. So why not think about psychological first aid as part of your company’s wider mental health strategy? A good employee wellbeing programme will always have mental health as one of its priorities.

Many organisations have offered mental health first aid training to their staff recently, including UCL University, Arsenal in the Community and the news provider ITN.

Lesley Everett, ITN’s director of operations, who leads the mental health awareness initiative at ITN, says: “Taking part in the training has made us all much more confident to support someone who may be experiencing an issue with their mental health — from stress, to anxiety or depression. I now feel that I know much more about what to say and do in an informal chat or in an emergency, and would be able to reassure someone that help is at hand.”

So in order to support World Mental Health Day today, why not think about how psychological first aid could strengthen your company?

Find out more about the wellbeing workshops that Kamwell provides here.

Reed Business Information offers employees personalised health and wellbeing programmes

06Oct 16

Reed Business Information (RBI) created the RBI Living Well programme to help their Reed employees feel well and perform well.

Lawrence Mitchell, marketing director and programme lead, says: “We set up the programme to enhance the energy and the performance of our staff, which in practical terms means that we’re energising and helping staff to feel good about themselves so they can not only feel better, but work better, which will enhance not only their own performance, but the performance of the business.

The business information and data services organisation’s Living Well Programme is based on a five-pillar framework. This includes eating well, moving the body and keeping fit, mental health and resilience, giving back, in line with the organisation’s charity agenda, and getting support, which is about staff tapping into employee networks and getting support from peers.

As part of the programme, which health and wellbeing services provider Kamwell helps to deliver, staff are offered access to wellbeing events, which may offer, for example, free gym classes, massage therapy, mindfulness training and nutritional advice and testing.

“It provides customised one-to-one services, as well as broader opportunities for staff to engage,” says Mitchell. “We think about employees as whole people and recognise that each employee will want different things based on who they are and where they are in their life journey, so we offer a range of benefits for them to engage in.”

Empowerment is at the heart of RBI’s programme, with employees encouraged to take responsibility for their own health and wellbeing. “As an [organisation] we are responsible for making it easier for employees to be healthier and for them to feel their best,” Mitchell says.

The organisation uses the programme to help improve employee engagement and staff retention and to improve the value of the employer brand.

Is there a place for personalisation in a benefits strategy?

03Oct 16

By Clare Bettelley 3rd October 2016 3:00 pm

The initial personalisation of employee benefits can be traced back to the 1980s, when the term referred to employers offering staff a wide choice of benefits to take up, typically on a flexible or voluntary basis, in the hope that they would appeal to at least some of their workforce.

But now personalisation refers to a precise, data-driven approach to benefit and reward strategy design that ensures that perks are relevant to individual employees who are, therefore, more likely to take up and value them.

Added value

As part of this evolution, employers are becoming more of a facilitator of benefits, whereby they offer staff access to a wide range of benefits that can be personalised, such as nutritional or DNA testing, and which can therefore add value to their workplace experience.

Alastair Woods, partner in the reward team at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC), says: “[The] personalisation [of benefits] is about employers providing some level of customisation to individual employees and not just groups among their workforce, but within an existing framework, rather than offering radical choice. Choice allows employees to extract value.”

Advances in technology have been instrumental in enabling employers to customise their benefits proposition. Employers are now able to access and mine data from their benefits portals relating to, for example, benefits take-up trends, which they can use to inform their benefits selection for staff. Mark Ramsook, a senior consultant at Willis Towers Watson, says: “Without technology, it’s unfeasible to consider how employers can manage benefits data, identify trends, and track and enable the purchasing process [of these benefits].”

Interactive benefits

Technological development is also benefitting employees in the form of increasingly interactive benefits portal interfaces. Employers’ previous static platforms that stored benefits information in the form of PDFs have been transformed into portals that allow employees to create and personalise their own user accounts from which they can select their preferred benefits. Increasingly, staff in many organisations can flex the value of these benefits up and down, and perhaps even extend access to perks to close family members.

“Choice allows employees to extract value because where there’s choice, there’s more understanding,” says Woods. “Employees are putting greater value on something that’s relevant for them.”

As well as strategy, many benefits can be personalised, such as company car schemes. Organisations can work with company car providers to enable staff to define everything from their budget to the type of seat covering and engine that they want for their car.

Similarly, health and wellbeing benefits, from health cash plans to dental healthcare, can be personalised by staff. Kirsten Samuel, managing director at health and wellbeing services provider Kamwell, says: “By having choice and flexibility at their fingertips in regards to health and wellbeing, employees can feel truly supported, empowered and energised to take control of their wellbeing.

“I have experienced so many instances first hand, where employees have told me about the difference their organisation’s health and wellbeing programme has made to their lives, not just as a means to ‘fixing’ a health problem. It offers an opportunity to enhance their wellbeing, enabling them to thrive in their personal and professional lives.”

Creating this sense of empowerment is key for employers keen to increase employee engagement and become an employer of choice. Nicky Moffat, director at What Good Leadership Looks Like, says: “Empowerment benefits organisations because it enables the collective and creative power of [employees] to be mobilised in line with a common vision or goal.

“[Employees] who are empowered have ownership of outcomes. They can use their expertise, initiative and skill to complete tasks and feel a much greater sense of satisfaction and value than if they had simply been told what to do.”

Personalised working practices also help to empower employees. Flexible working is a case in point. Martha How, reward partner at Aon Employee Benefits, says: “Empowerment is about staff management and about, for example, [employers] asking employees how they want to work and allowing employees to carve out their own working time.”

Standardised benefits approach

Perhaps the biggest obstacle to more employers taking this approach is the desire for standardisation for which many organisations, particularly larger multi-national entities, strive across their benefits policies and systems.

Peter Reilly, principal associate at the Institute for Employment Studies, says: “Frequently, [employers] want to signal that everyone is part of the same [organisation] with harmonised terms and conditions. Standardisation is also cheaper to operate [for employers]. Both tendencies militate against personalisation.”

Clearly, there is a long way to go before more organisations embrace the modern definition of personalisation, but change is afoot, particularly around reward, given the bearish economic climate and consequent lack of pay rises.

“We’ve got to a place where there’s a head of steam and pent-up frustration [among employees] with reward generally, [because] it hasn’t really changed, says PWC’s Woods. “It has always been about salary, a bonus if [employees] are lucky, a pension and some core benefits, but I think in the next few years we’ll start to see a greater array of choice.

“Now, more than ever, there is a greater need for the customisation of reward because of the diversity of the workforce coupled with the [downturn in the] economic cycle.”

This diversity, be it in the form of age, culture, religion or life choices generally, therefore needs more than a generational segmentation exercise across organisations’ communication strategies as employees demand more of a consumer experience from their employers.

The employee view: mental health support

11Sep 16

How Lloyds Banking Group supports good mental health through line manager training and an inclusive culture

My mental health experiences have completely changed the way I approach working life. A year ago I decided to temporarily step down from my position as colleague services and business management director at Lloyds Banking Group. I had been struggling with depression and anxiety and couldn’t see the situation improving unless I took some time to focus on getting better.

During this time I was also diagnosed with bipolar affective disorder. Some would see these episodes as setbacks, and in many ways they are. But they have also been huge learning opportunities for me, transforming the way I interact with both my employer and my colleagues.

A key example of this is my relationship with Lloyds Banking Group. I used to see employment as a one-sided service contract, but I now see it as a collaboration between equal partners. This shift has come as a result of the support and time I received from the group. I know now that it wants me to perform at my best and feel healthy. Understanding that this is a shared goal and that I can take as well as give has been a huge help in managing my condition.

Being aware of my triggers means I’ve put a number of measures in place to ensure I strike the right balance between looking after my mental health and being the best colleague I can. For instance, one side-effect of my medication is short-term memory problems, and sentences can come out muddled if I’m tired or stressed.

I’ve discovered that concentrating on one thing at a time enables me to perform at my best. One way I manage this is allowing five to 10 minutes between each meeting to review my daily plan and refocus. Where possible I try not to rush inbetween appointments or check my phone during meetings so I can stay focused and avoid overload.

I also know that if I’m not feeling well it’s best to address the problem head-on. This is usually as simple as taking some time out and rescheduling, allowing me to reset and return to work refreshed either later that day or the next. I’m lucky to work in an environment where I can be open and honest with my colleagues, and they understand that occasionally these things happen. The support I received from the group was crucial in my recovery.

Everyone is different, and what works for me isn’t necessarily appropriate for someone else with the same condition. I’m grateful to have been given the space to explore this, but I know that others aren’t so lucky. As a line manager myself, my own experiences have made me aware that you can’t always tell when someone is struggling. So I try to be as open and approachable as I can.

Mental health has long been a big taboo in the workplace, but it doesn’t have to be. Training is essential to demystify mental health and ensure line managers are well-equipped to handle whatever might come their way. It’s something that businesses from the smallest to the largest can implement.

Lloyds Banking Group supports this with a set of broader initiatives, including dedicated intranet pages and a support number for all colleagues, as well as an ‘Access Network’ that connects staff with mental health problems or disabilities through newsletters, events and mentoring schemes. But most important is the group’s inclusive culture.

Every organisation should strive to foster an inclusive environment. Sometimes that involves the business being flexible and making accommodations, or individuals taking the time to listen to colleagues. No organisation is perfect, but keeping lines of communication open is a good start.

Jon Howcroft Stemp is business management director at Lloyds Banking Group

Is getting more sleep better for your career?

25Aug 16

Traditionally, in the macho corporate world how little sleep you get is often a badge of honour.

High-profile bosses such as Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer, PepsiCo’s Indra Nooyi and Fiat Chrysler’s Sergio Marchionne all boast of thriving on just four hours sleep a night.

Basically “sleep is for wimps” and the sooner you get up after you’ve gone to bed the better is the gung-ho attitude.

Yet what if the opposite was true: that the more hours you had in bed, the better it was for your career?

“It was unsustainable. I couldn’t do my job any more,” a 23-year-old management consultant at a big corporate firm tells me.

The issue was sleep, or rather the lack of it. She had never been a good sleeper, but starting her first professional role pushed her to breaking point.

“It was a shock compared to university. Expectations had increased and I was juggling a lot of balls. I had a harder time winding down and disconnecting,” she says.

While she fell asleep easily, she would wake up again just four hours later with her mind racing and was unable to drop off again.

At work she found it hard to concentrate and couldn’t produce as much in the same time. At weekends she avoiding socialising to try and recuperate ahead of work on Monday again.

In the end she paid to do a one-day sleep course which gave her techniques to help her cope, including breathing exercises, taking short breaks to switch off during the day, as well as regular exercise.

The experience was so helpful that she told her employer, who is now funding some places on the course for staff.

She believes people should be more open about how not getting enough sleep affects their performance at work, although she’s not willing for me to publish either her name or company.

In fact, as I find out when trying to speak to people for this article, while some firms are beginning to look at how well – or not – their employees sleep, they’re rarely willing to say so publicly.

One exception is accountancy firm PwC. Three years ago, the blue-chip firm included a section on the importance of sleep as part of a training programme on resilience.

The course, which was done by 4,500 of its UK staff, focused on how to keep physically and mentally well while doing a demanding, fast-paced job.

The level of interest was so high that 18 months ago the firm opened up the course to all its UK staff. As part of this, it brought in a specialist sleep expert to run sessions and put tips on sleeping prominently on its intranet.

It’s still too early to measure the impact of the training, but anecdotal feedback has been positive and the firm is currently assessing additional options to help staff improve their sleep, such as apps and online training courses.

“Apart from doing the right thing, there’s a hard commercial edge to this. Sleep is absolutely crucial to performance,” says Sally Evans, senior manager of diversity and inclusion and employee wellbeing at PwC.

Yet while the detrimental effects of not getting enough sleep on work performance and health have been well documented, there is far less research on the opposite: the benefits of more sleep.

One exception is a Stanford University School of Medicine study which found basketball players at elite college level were able to improve their on-court performance by increasing their sleep to 10 hours a night for five to seven weeks.

In the UK, research by the Rand Corporation, based on data from 21,822 employees, found that the productivity of those who slept between seven and eight hours a night was significantly better than those who slept less than five hours a night.

Similarly, a recent survey of more than 7,000 US adults found people who reported getting more sleep also had a higher overall sense of well-being than those who said they got less sleep.

But surely how well you sleep is a personal matter. Is it really appropriate for an employer to get involved?

Sleep and insomnia specialist Dr Guy Meadows, the founder of sleep consultancy The Sleep School, says it is not about forcing people, but giving them the information they need to “make the right choice”.

“In the past sleeping was referred to as cheating. The tide is changing. You can’t get away from the wealth of scientific research showing sleep deprivation is mentally, emotionally and physically damaging,” he says.

He started running a programme aimed specifically at companies after several firms came to him saying that internal surveys had highlighted sleep as a major problem.

“People were saying they were stressed and couldn’t switch off.”

Dr Guy Meadows’ tips for better sleeping:

  • Everyone has a different inbuilt, genetic number of hours they need to sleep ranging from four to 12 hours. Most people (90%) need between seven and eight hours sleep a night
  • Make time for yourself during the working day, take moments to switch off
  • Set an alarm to go to bed
  • Stop watching box sets until late at night
  • Don’t have your mobile phone in your bedroom, the blue light it emits reduces sleep quality

 

US mattress industry booming thanks to new focus on sleep

The consultancy, whose clients include PwC, Lloyds, Unilever, Olympus, Ogilvy & Mather and smoothie-maker Innocent, initially asks employees to fill out details about their sleep and then it gives them a score so they know how well they’re doing, before giving them tools to improve it.

All of this data is anonymous and only shared with the employer as averages.

For companies, paying to help improve employees’ sleep and prevent them “burning out” or making costly mistakes makes “valuable sense”, he argues.

But in an increasingly global world where employees are often required to travel or take calls from overseas at unsociable hours, can check work emails around the clock and are able to work from home as easily as they do in the office, is getting more sleep really realistic?

Nancy Rothstein, who consults and lectures on sleep wellness to employers, says it is but only if corporate culture changes accordingly and if more people are willing to talk openly about the issue.

If a senior executive is sending emails into the small hours, or doing long days then those lower down the hierarchy will feel obliged to follow suit, she says.

Addressing this, she admits, is a relatively slow process with the idea of sleep as a company issue still new, but she believes it is “an executive imperative”.

“The culture we’ve created is not sustainable. Everyone’s crying, ‘I can’t keep this up.'”

For the graduate management consultant the change has been that she can now keep up with her job’s demands. While she still has sleepless nights, these periods now last for three nights not three weeks.

“And when it does happen I don’t go into panic mode. I know I have the tools to deal with it,” she says.

Original source can be read here

What are employees doing to address obesity?

14Jul 16

Published in Forbes: By Karen Higginbottom

Obesity in the workplace in the Western world is an increasing concern, both for employers and productivity. Officially, more than one-third (35.1%) of adults over the age of 20 in the United States are classified as obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The implications of a sedentary workforce shouldn’t be underestimated: Sitting is more disruptive to workplace productivity than cyber-loafing according to an Ergotron 2016 JustStand Index. Banking is a pretty sedentary profession, so how does the sector fare when it comes to supporting the physical well-being of its employees?

U.S. firms are more advanced in delivering well-being programs than their U.K. counterparts. Approximately, half of U.S. employers offer wellness promotion initiatives, according to a 2013 survey by RAND and larger employers are more likely to have complex programs.

So what are organizations doing to ensure the physical well-being of their employees? Twenty-nine percent of employers identify obesity as a significant issue for their company, according to a global 2015/2016 Willis Towers Watson Staying@Work survey of 1669 employers in the U.S., Europe, Middle East and Asia. The research found that two-thirds of employers offer gym subsidies, but only 18% of employers offer weight management programs. More than half of employers sponsor fitness challenges between locations.

Some financial institutions have on-site gym facilities and classes, comments Kirsten Samuel, managing director, employee well-being specialist for Kamwell. “Other things like cycle-to-work schemes are widely used by employers in this sector. There are more creative scheme coming in such as the introduction of ‘High Octane Rides’ in Barclays , where staff have the chance of getting bursts of activity from using exercise bikes in between meetings and other tasks.”

Wellness programs have been a part of the benefits package for quite some time, remarks Jeff Oldham, vice-president, Benefitstore at Benefitfocus. “However, some of the larger enterprises are incorporating more innovative programs to address the varied needs of employees and encourage engagement to augment the more traditional wellness programs like on-site flu shots and vaccinations, smoking cessation programs, health screening and nutrition solutions.”

Finance firms are also looking to partner with the wearable tech providers to supply their workforces with fitness gadgets like Fitbits to monitor physical activity – a good way of getting people to think about their levels of activity, said Samuel. “There are examples of some even going as far as to create internal corporate challenges where individuals and teams can compete against each other.”

Why does physical well-being matter in the workplace? There is a lot of data showing the links between stress, depression and weight gain. Chronic stress is implicated in the development of obesity, and prolonged chronic stress pushes up blood sugar, impacts on the immune system and has a wide number of metabolic effects.

The ways in which physical fitness and increased mental agility link to productivity and reduced sickness absence are recognized by large employers and employees alike, remarks Samuel. “Organizations are aware of the fact that healthy, happy employees can be a catalyst for high-performing individuals and teams.”

HR can play a vital role in developing corporate well-being programs, added Samuel. “It’s the job of HR to understand the mechanics of its workforce and the relationship between people and organizational performance. Health is part of the formal duty of care that employers have and that falls into the HR remit. More than this, HR is the function best equipped to make the important links between well-being and the broader business and people strategy and has the tools to leverage employer and employee buy-in to well-being programs.”

In the U.S., the focus on physical wellness has been accelerated by rising health costs and the new requirements of the Affordable Care Act, said Oldham. “It’s also proven to be an effective way to improve productivity and reduce absenteeism. However, HR is not just focused on physical wellness programs but is also looking for ways to address emotional well-being, mental health and financial wellness as physical ailments are often a symptom of a larger cause and other life stressors.”

Oldham added that regardless of what a wellness program is looking to address, it’s important they are inclusive for all employees and can be tracked alongside individual goals to show that they are actually helping to improve the health of employees.