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The importance of healthy, happy staff

Rhian Morgan

Health and wellbeing will take centre stage in 2015 as two-thirds of employers plan to increase investment, writes Rhian Morgan

If you had stumbled upon the waterside hub of tech company Postcode Anywhere on Halloween, you could have been forgiven for thinking you had walked into an episode of The Walking Dead. For many of their employees looked rather green and, how shall we say, undead, for their staff Zombie Apocalypse Day.
Yet on a typical day, employees look far more healthy, with corporate gym membership, free breakfast, and unlimited fruit all on offer.

Guy Mucklow, the CEO of the firm, is a big believer in creating an environment that will encourage staff to perform at their best. “We don’t force people to exercise but we do provide lots of incentives to do so.”

Guy believes healthy, happy workers are proven to be far more engaged and productive. “It’s all too easy to stay slumped in your chair during the lunch break but those who do exercise come back to their desks feeling rejuvenated and ready to crack on with their work,” he explains. 
New research shows Guy is not alone in this belief. Employers are increasingly embracing health and wellbeing in order to improve business performance and will increase investment in this area in the year ahead. 

While Apple and Facebook caused a stir recently when they announced they would be paying for egg freezing as part of their employee benefits, UK companies are not going quite that far. Edenred’s new report, Health & Wellbeing at Work – The Need for Cultural Change, asked 300 HR practitioners about how their organisations were approaching health and wellbeing. 

The research found that organisations are placing a greater emphasis on the issue, with 84% of respondents saying their organisation took wellbeing seriously and two thirds (65%) planning to increase their investment in this area in 2015. 

Reduce absenteeism

Employers say the priority for this investment is to mitigate impact of stress and poor work-life balance on employee performance and wellbeing.
For instance, with Postcode Anywhere, Guy believes that by encouraging a wellness culture he can help reduce absenteeism. According to CIPD research, sickness absence averaged 7.6 days per employee last year. At Postcode Anywhere, a mere 1.5 days per employee were lost to sickness – a fifth of the national average. 

In addition to this, the two founders have set up an EMI scheme whereby every employee will be entitled to share of the company. The share will be worth anywhere between 5-10% of the total equity when the business is sold.

Guy said: “If we can achieve the heights that I’m looking for, their reward will be a sum of money that will pay off all or most of their mortgages.”
The two founders have also promised to take all the staff abroad on holiday if they meet their growth targets this year.

Guy said: “We are firm believers in the power of the team, and invest a lot of time and resources ensuring that all employees understand the direction of the business and the role that they will play in achieving the vision. It’s important for us that each and every employee knows how they are contributing to the mission of the company, and that they feel engaged and motivated in their role. He added: “Businesses of the future will integrate themselves far more closely into their local communities.”

In fact, in researching this article, I was inundated with information from companies who are eager to stress how they prioritise staff wellbeing. And health is a priority. For instance, property and infrastructure company Lend Lease offered a skin-cancer screening programme for employees this year. Prior to offering the screening, the company had a significant proportion of the workforce go for a health check which included a lifestyle assessment. The results of the lifestyle assessment were that 52% of employees weren’t protecting themselves properly in the sun. And given that many employees work outside on construction sites, combined with the fact that skin-cancer rates are increasing rapidly, the company wanted to take positive action.

For Lend Lease, it’s a great way to show they care about their employees and let them access a perk that can improve their wellbeing and potentially save a life. While at IglooBooks, CEO John Styring has made a massive commitment to his Get Active health and wellbeing initiative.

Get staff active 

IglooBooks’ culture goes far beyond balancing home and work life to emphasise the importance of physical health and well being in its workforce. This includes regular games of rounders, sports days, 100km walks and team exercise outings. 

IglooBooks recently challenged its staff to walk a total of 20 million steps over four weeks. The challenge addresses one of the key aims of this plan by focusing on improving the physical and emotional wellbeing of employees, recognised as being a key component in the success of the business.
Mr Styring said: “We recently carried out our first-ever employee survey which found that almost all of our staff members are very proud to work for IglooBooks, which is fantastic. 

“We want to build on that level of employee satisfaction and engagement while developing a greater appreciation of the beautiful environment that surrounds us here at our countryside offices in Northamptonshire.” “This challenge supports the ethos of IglooBooks, which is to promote a healthy work-life balance.”

And while tech companies have been under fire in the news recently, there are many who wish to stress that they break the mould and are committed to the caring ethos and the happiness of each employee.

Octopus Group is a technology content marketing agency that wants its employees to find a balance between work and life. It believes the days of rigid 9-5 are gone, so it wants to be flexible and ensure all employees are engaged and motivated.   

Each member of staff has their own tailored package. The bespoke benefits package includes flexible working, travel loans – the scheme lets the employee turn on or off as many of the benefits as they want. The company is also big on fun, with Friday drinks and once-a-month beers down the local. They also have their own festival – Roctostock – in the summer.

Director Pete Hendrick said: “Our employees' wellbeing is of paramount importance. We are a professional services business, and therefore our people are our business, and happy, motivated staff create happy, satisfied clients. “By helping our people achieve a healthy work-life balance, and making life both inside and outside the office more rewarding, we aim to make our people happier, healthier and more engaged.”

In fact, firms are now recognising that in order to attract and retain the best talent, a competitive salary alone is not enough. For instance Andy Atalla, founder of digital marketing agency atom42, whose clients include match.com, Drinkaware and The Huffington Post, believes that in order to attract great people, the company must be a great place to work. His list of perks has even included a course in pole-dancing!

"From the start, I wanted the agency to be the type of place I would want to work. After all, I have to work here, too! But there are a number of other incentives for giving back to staff in the form of company perks. "As well as retaining our long-serving, trusted employees, we also want to attract the best talent available to our company.”

Creative benefits

Benefits include a choice of subsidised health-care plans, discounted gym membership, free fruit, yoga and kickboxing lessons, an office bar and ping-pong table, barbecues, free monthly massages, an office LoveFilm account, and early closing on Fridays.

For the past three years, staff have also been given £250 each Christmas to enrol on non-work-related courses of their choice. So far, these have included piano lessons, roman blind making, a caffeine course, pregnancy yoga, pottery, driving lessons - and the pole dancing.

Andy says: "I believe that one of the main reasons for our success is the company culture we’ve been able to create. Inhabiting a fun and safe, yet driven working environment, where we’re all constantly encouraged to develop, has meant the business has flourished from day one. “We’ve therefore made reward – rather than just salary – a central part of the company’s attraction and retention strategy. As the agency’s grown, a large chunk of our profits have been channelled back into developing a creative and rewarding working environment.

"Providing perks like these has led to a friendly and convivial atmosphere at atom42. People tend to like, respect and care for each other. We have a lot of very close friendships in the organisation, and people who go to each other’s weddings and run marathons together. We also have an unusually low turnover rate for this industry.”

This ‘fun’ element is key to closing the division between work and play, so that people actually look forward to work and feel a sense of loyalty.

Dominic Ceraldi, HR Manager at the UK’s largest independent plumbing company Pimlico Plumbers, commented: “We used to get a lot of sick days taken on Fridays from staff who’d rather skip work to enjoy a long weekend. 

“Since making a conscious effort to improve staff wellbeing, we’ve seen a company-wide reduction in absences, and a generally happier, more relaxed atmosphere. 

“And when our tradespeople go out on jobs they are cheerful and hardworking, which helps us stay ahead of the competition.”   Perks they have introduced include staff football matches, weekly massages, a canteen which has ‘free days’ if the company has a good week of sales, flexible working, as well as upgraded vans when they deliver consistently.

However, not all companies are so progressive. The Edenred research found organisations still have work to do in building support outside of the HR team for wellbeing initiatives. 

In around four in 10 organisations, progress on health and wellbeing is blocked by indifference from the senior management and for 55% of respondents, culture remained the biggest challenge to overcome. 

HR teams themselves also need to work harder to position health and wellbeing as a business and people issue, with only a third (37%) saying it was core to their people strategy. 

Marketing director at Edenred UK Andy Philpott said: “In order to make a real impact on the health of their staff and wellbeing of their organisations, HR teams need to get better at selling the power of their vision to the board/senior management team, as well as to line managers and individuals in the business. 
“We also need to get creative with the things we do to support wellbeing. Many organisations make significant investment in benefits which can improve employee health but fail to promote them effectively. This represents a communications challenge which HR teams need to understand and lead.”


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