The wellbeing audit: working from a solid baseline

No matter what size a business is, it can benefit from investing in the health of employees

Vhi Rebalance

If a company wants to improve health of the workplace it should start with the metrics. Photograph: Getty Images


It’s well established that healthy workplaces tend to be more productive and enjoy lower rates of absenteeism than their less healthy counterparts. But how does an employer know if their workplace is healthy or not?

The answer is a workplace wellbeing audit. Measuring the healthiness of a workplace starts with establishing the health status of the employees working there. This information gives them a baseline which they can use to compare and contrast their organisations against national and other health statistics.

“The first step in measuring healthiness is to audit and measure the health of a company to identify underlying health issues and triggers”, explains Vhi health economist, Leah Russell. “In order to gather insights on the health and wellness status of an organisation, certain measurement systems need to be deployed in order to obtain results in areas such as physiology, body composition and certain lifestyle habits of employees.”

These results will inform the organisation of the current position regarding the health and wellness status of their employees. “Once this type of assessment is carried out on an annual basis, companies can benchmark themselves against national or sector averages and determine any improvements which have been made through the implementation of workplace health and wellbeing solutions”, Russell adds. “That in turn allows the organisation to gain an understanding of the health and wellness profile of employees and informs its approach to future health and wellness strategies.”

There is no single clinical indicator of health, according to Dr Ui May Tan, health and wellbeing clinical lead at Vhi. “As medical professionals, when we assess an individual we take into account so many variables to judge their health. Just because we are not sick, doesn’t necessarily mean we’re healthy overall. Equally someone who is extremely fit from a physical perspective, could be struggling emotionally. We should think about workplaces in the same way. Looking at numerous health touchpoints provides that multi-faceted insight needed to assess the overall health of a business - this view is known as the ‘holistic 360 view’. By tracking this on a regular basis, as you would your own health, issues can be identified quickly and, in many cases, resolved before they become critical. This is how running any successful health programme works with constant re-measuring, rescaling and re-promoting.”

There are benchmarks available, Russell adds. “Healthy Ireland is a brilliant resource. It is a new national framework for action to improve the health and wellbeing of Ireland. The reports publish current and credible results on various topics such as smoking, diet and nutrition and wellbeing to name a few, reflecting a representative sample of the population aged 15 and older living in Ireland. The World Health Organisation is another source, giving a more global perspective. Sectoral benchmarks might be available through industry organisations. Also, Vhi has been in the business for 60 years and has an excellent understanding of the Irish workforce across a number of dimensions.

“Through evaluation and analysis of the results and based on our detailed insights gained across the care continuum, organisations can then implement bespoke and tailored health and wellness solutions to address the health and wellness issues identified by the audit”, Russell notes.

“A wellbeing audit is a snapshot of how things are at that particular moment”, explains Belinda Murphy of B’Inspire, who provides wellness services to Vhi clients. “And wellbeing is not just about sports and social programmes, it has to permeate every function. I look at the hard data and the soft data and measure both the tangibles and intangibles.

The hard data includes a lot of information that most companies, large and small, have on file in any case. Absenteeism, productivity rates, performance management data, and employee turnover are usually readily available.

“When people talk about wellbeing they think it is quite intangible, but the data is there”, says Murphy. “Take employee retention, for example. High rates of staff turnover can be due to the wellness of the company. You can measure the intangibles as well. Morale, for instance. Sometimes you can just feel a vibe walking into a workplace. You can tell that it’s unhealthy. That can translate ultimately into stress problems. Stress is now one of the leading causes of workplace absences. Somebody asked me recently if stress is the new back pain. When organisations are not addressing stress that is a sign that they are not healthy.”

Vhi health economist, Leah Russell: “Healthier employees take less time off work and are more productive when at work.” Photograph: Getty Images
Vhi health economist, Leah Russell: “Healthier employees take less time off work and are more productive when at work.” Photograph: Getty Images

These intangibles are also measured through workplace surveys. “I start at the top and speak to people at all levels and across all functions”, she says. “I do a random selection of the whole organisation. I use a questionnaire but frequently go off it if I need to elaborate on any particular issues. Also, if a topic comes up time and again I can add to the questionnaire.”

She produces a report based on this data. “I sit down with the person who commissioned the audit and find out where they want to be in terms of workplace wellbeing and then identify the gap between that and where they are at the moment.”

It is then a question of agreeing a way forward to bridge that gap. The attitude of the organisation towards that task is vitally important, according to Murphy. “It has to be seen as an investment and not a cost. If you see it as a long-term investment, then you’re on the right track to getting something positive out of a wellbeing audit. If you’re looking for fast returns, it’s not going to work. It has to be seen as a continuous improvement like kaizen.”

The audit reports are valuable in themselves as they can often assist employers to identify underlying health issues which might be leading to reduced productivity. “Employers also gain an understanding of the health and wellbeing profile of their employees across a number of dimensions including lifestyle behaviours, various clinical indicators, mental wellbeing, and work-related stress”, Russell adds.

Encouraging employees to take five-minute breaks from their desk improves concentration and alleviates fatigue

Also, the audit will provide valuable information on how existing wellness facilities are being used and help guide employers in taking steps to improve their overall effectiveness in improving employee health.

Vhi can also assist through its Occupational Health and Employee Assistance Programmes which it currently delivers to over 600 companies and over 260,000 employees across a range of industry sectors in Ireland. The Vhi Corporate Solutions multi-disciplinary team brings together organisational psychologists, occupational health nurse advisors, specialist occupational health physicians, and business professionals.

Communication and tone from the top is important as it can help establish positive attitudes to health and motivation to change amongst employees.

There are also some simple day-to-day steps which employers can take to improve the wellness of their workplaces, according to Russell. “Employers can encourage the use of the stairs instead of the lift”, she says. “They can consider contributing to the cost of fitness classes during employee breaks or they could set up running clubs or sports groups for break times or after work activities. Encouraging employees to take five-minute breaks from their desk improves concentration and alleviates fatigue.”

Audit reports are valuable as they can assist employers to identify underlying health issues which might be leading to reduced productivity. Photograph: Getty Images
Audit reports are valuable as they can assist employers to identify underlying health issues which might be leading to reduced productivity. Photograph: Getty Images

Lifestyle behaviours can also be influenced. “The display of unhealthy foods in vending machines could be limited”, Russell advises. “Employers can also work with their in-house canteens to develop healthy meal choices. Confectionary products could be placed behind the till in the canteen, not in front of it. In addition, subsidised fruit baskets should be provided where possible.”

“No matter what size your business is, you can benefit from investing in the health of your employees”, she concludes. “Healthier employees take less time off work and are more productive when at work. It is also very good for employees. It lets them know that their employer is keeping an eye out for their health and wellbeing.”

A note from Vhi about Rebalance

We know that when employees nurture both body and mind it can lead to happier employees and better business results. That’s why our health and wellbeing programme is focused on engaging  employees in a culture of wellbeing both in work and at home.

Our approach at Vhi is holistic and proactive, with programmes specifically designed to meet each employee’s needs. We offer services which are accessible by all, sustainable in everyday life and enjoyable too.

Wellbeing with Vhi, is all about two pillars; body and mind. In fact, the old adage of healthy body, healthy mind is more relevant today than ever as the two largest categories of work-related illness are musculoskeletal disorders and stress, anxiety and depression.

Our programmes are accessible to all (not just the superfit), which in turn leads to greater engagement and sustainability. Choose from our range of programmes, including trending topics such as diet and nutrition, fitness and emotional wellbeing.

If you’d like to find out more about Vhi Rebalance call 056 7775800 or visit our website to arrange for one of the Vhi team to get in contact with you.