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Workplace well-being audits offer firms pathway to better health

Businesses big and small can benefit from investing in the health of employees

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 well-being 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. "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 its 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 well-being 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.”

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Variables

There is no single clinical indicator of health, according to Dr Ui May Tan, health and well-being 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 multifaceted 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 well-being of Ireland. The reports publish current and credible results on various topics such as smoking, diet and nutrition and well-being, 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 says.

"A well-being audit is a snapshot of how things are at that particular moment," explains Belinda Murphy of B'Inspire, which provides wellness services to Vhi clients. "And well-being 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 well-being 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.”

Workplace survey

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.”

Murphy then compiles a report based on the data and will then sit down with the client “to find out where they want to be in terms of workplace well-being”. 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 well-being audit. If you’re looking for fast returns, it’s not going to work.”

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 well-being profile of their employees across a number of dimensions including lifestyle behaviours, various clinical indicators, mental well-being, and work-related stress,” Russell says.

Vhi can also assist through its occupational health and employee assistance programmes which it currently delivers to more than 600 companies and more than 260,000 employees across a range of industry sectors in Ireland. The Vhi corporate solutions multidisciplinary team brings together organisational psychologists, occupational health nurse advisers, 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 among employees.

There are also some simple day-to-day steps 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 desks can improve concentration and alleviate fatigue.”

Lifestyle behaviours

Audit reports are valuable as they can assist employers in identifying underlying health issues which might be leading to reduced productivity. Lifestyle behaviours can also be influenced.

“The display of unhealthy foods in vending machines could be limited,” Russell says. “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. 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 well-being.”

Vhi Rebalance is a unique corporate wellness programme that helps to engage your business in a culture of well-being. It is designed to nurture both body and mind for better performance and happier employees.

If you'd like to find out more about Vhi Rebalance visit irishtimes.com/vhirebalance or call 056-777-5800