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Wellness

Through the lens: corporate wellness, designing a program that actually works

5 min read

What people want from their workplace is changing.

Even pre-lockdown, there’s been a disconnect between the ideal version of workplace wellness and reality. For years studies have been telling us that 24/7 connectivity and workplace stress is impacting our health and wellbeing; as well as our performance and our relationships at work. 

And while many companies have been catching-on, with millions spent on employee gyms, free lunches, and wellness webinars; have they been getting it right? What happens if people have been working from home due to a pandemic?

We’re spending most of our time indoors strapped to the kitchen table. We’re still adopting poor lunch and break habits. Alcohol consumption is on the rise (according to alcohol education charity Drinkaware, 26% of UK adults drank more during the first lockdown), and we’re moving less. To put it bluntly, our mental and physical health is being neglected.

With a shift in the way we work, the focus must now be on employee wellbeing in a remote world.

So, how can companies create wellbeing initiatives that help people adopt and maintain a healthy (and happy) lifestyle?

As part of HappyHQ’s ‘Through the Lens’ series (which asks specialists their perspective on navigating through new working norms), we caught up with Matt Boyles, Founder of Fitter Confident You. Matt is a health and wellbeing champion and advocate for gay, bi and trans men’s wellness. He runs a successful online fitness community that brings a fun, accessible, and kind approach to fitness.

We had a frank conversation on the role companies should play in employee wellbeing, the best and worst initiatives, and actionable tips companies can easily implement.

Here’s what we discussed:

Q: We love the Fitter Confident You concept, what gave you the idea to create it?

A: Oh thanks! Being part of any minority group can sometimes feel very lonely and disconnected. While an online community will never be able to give you a hug, they can absolutely help you find your tribe. Helping you realise, you’re not alone and that there are people out there who think like you, are going through what you’re going through and want to lift you up. Forming a Fitter Confident You community was one of the first things I did to help share my ethos of a sensible, sustainable, kind approach to fitness. There’s a totally free Facebook Group for guys in the LGBT community to join, and I’m so proud of how inclusive, supportive and encouraging it is.

Q: Have you always been into fitness personally?

A: I worked in marketing agencies in my 20’s and had no particular drive for fitness for most of that. Joining a gym and trying out a boot camp were the turning points when I understood that there was a personal fitness experience that could – surprise, surprise! – make you feel good, lift you up and help you connect with more people.

I also started meditating a few years ago and fairly quickly felt the benefits for not much effort. So, I wanted to build that into my online coaching.

Q: For those working remotely, research shows that lots of people are moving less, (taking fewer lunchbreaks etc) does this surprise you? 

A: Unfortunately, no, many of my clients are in the situation where they’re working harder than ever. My own partner who I live with, even though he’s working in the kitchen will still miss lunch (I do try to encourage him though!).

Q: What’s your first ever memorable experience of workplace wellbeing?

A: A pretty brutal ‘Fat Club’ (the term used by the organiser) in my first job. You didn’t have to join in, but if you did, once a week you were publicly weighed. The results were then plotted in a graph and distributed round the office! I was a wet-behind-the-ears 24 year old so knew nothing of office politics. But I can imagine it was pretty upsetting to some of my colleagues, whether they took part or not.

The place wasn’t all bad. There was a decent culture of support and engagement but no specific workplace wellbeing programme.

Q: What’s your definition of workplace ‘wellbeing’ today? 

A: In an ideal world, it would be a holistic, personalised (that’s key), approach thoroughly embraced from the top of the company down. If senior management don’t take it seriously then why should anyone in their teams?

It would also take into account flexibility around each employee’s unique situation, physical wellness support (i.e. fitness classes, meditation, yoga, nutritional talks/support), some level of medical access/counselling, but above all, it needs to be optional. No one should feel guilted into any of it.

Q: Why do you think so many companies ignore workplace wellbeing?

A: I don’t think most of them intend to, but especially this year, just staying afloat has been front of mind for so many companies. For SMEs in particular, workplace wellness often falls to HR to implement without the tools, knowledge or in some instances the budget they require. Getting employee wellbeing right is an important investment for any business. Failing to address workplace wellbeing can have detrimental long-term effects on employee engagement, enjoyment, productivity, and retention.

Q: What role do you think companies should play?

A: In an ideal world, companies would act as nurturing parents, keeping an eye on their children, helping them above and beyond the bare minimum to really help them thrive. An embedded understanding that a happy, healthy, respected and listened-to employee will always be the most productive employee, improving the company’s performance and reducing employee turnover.

Q: What are some of the best workplace wellness initiatives you’ve seen lately?

A: I asked my private Facebook group if the companies they worked for had anything in place. The answers ranged from the bare minimum “Ring this number if you’re not feeling great” (it was the Samaritans), to a fantastic suite of elements to support the employees across the board. Including extra days off, gym access, remote GP and mental health sessions and the main message during the pandemic being “friends and family first”.

Q: What easily actionable tips do you suggest that could be easily implemented?
  • Challenge people to get outside – 5-10 minutes of fresh air and natural light can make all the difference
  • No Zoom days – it can be done!
  • Removing any hint of the “stay at work as long as you can” culture
  • More flexibility for working hours – just because someone is at home near their laptop, doesn’t mean they have to start work then and there to be effective
  • Most of all, understanding that people aren’t working from home; they’re staying at home, because of a global pandemic and trying to work in a very trying situation
Q: Any final words of wisdom for companies looking to design a program?

A: There’s a fantastic organisation called Mental Health First Aid that trains people to look out for the signs of anxiety, stress and depression in their colleagues and friends. They offer very accessible training courses so companies can pretty easily have a qualified Mental Health First Aider amongst them; great for helping spot employees who might be in the early stages of a mental health concern and getting help.

As companies navigate their way through the future of work and a remote working world – wellbeing programmes should be put in place that are tailored to your company and its needs. By listening to your team to understand everyone’s views and ideas collectively, you will be better equipped to put a plan in place.

HappyHQ helps companies easily recognise, implement, and sustain important culture changes. This includes making sure you have a positive and collaborated remote working experience so everyone can thrive.

Get in touch if you want to find out more.

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