Making health and wellbeing work in the workplace
Striving to provide services that meet our clients’ needs might be standard practice, but for me, once I have done that, I want to find out what else we can do for them to make their workplace environment even better. The great thing about my job as a workplace consultant is that I can do something positive for my clients’ companies and their employees simultaneously – a privilege that has become rare for business consultants in times of constant optimization and outsourcing. With this in mind I see it as vital to develop new services regarding health and wellbeing, which are big topics right now.
There are various reasons for the current interest in these areas: the increasing number of people losing work days to mental illness, demographic change, and the lack of exercise for people with desk jobs, to name a few. The discussion is all over the place – every week there are new articles and surveys published. Independent of location, there is one thing that people strongly agree on: the issue of wellbeing must be addressed in order to stay competitive and survive the war for talent.
Considering the possible effects of this, one could easily imagine workplace environments starting to look like wellness clinics – oases of relaxation and calmness. But the truth is, aside from all the talking, not much has happened so far in general. There are a few ideas that have been implemented, but we saw many of them fail in reaching their goal to change employees’ behavior in the long run (for example: free gym contracts, which tend, especially when flexible working is not an option, to be taken up mainly by people who were already using the gym anyway). Where is the big game changer everybody is waiting for?
In recent projects, my team and I have been asked several times by employees’ and workers’ councils about the possibilities to increase health and wellbeing in modern workplace environments. From these discussions, the idea arose of working more closely with the client’s health management department – adding someone responsible for health issues to the project team at an early stage in the project. This practice has already become standard with experts from the IT and HR departments. This action would provide a great chance to implement health and wellbeing measures early on in the change process.
As we know from experience, change in the workplace has a huge impact on the users – whenever we change the environment we also change the way people work. To guide them through the process, we conduct various change management activities with the employees, change agents and leadership, potentially including interviews, focus groups, surveys, workshops and trainings. We focus on the company’s culture and we work with people on the way they think, feel and behave in regard to change – to make the concept work long-term. A change management process this wide-reaching could be something most health/wellbeing implementations are missing. And that is where we see the potential.
To share these ideas with clients and friends we conducted a Think & Drink event in our Munich office in August. Getting the discussion started was guest speaker Wolfgang Pauck, CEO of Healthcare One, who talked about the implementation of their Health Lounge: a combination of measures for social interaction, relaxation and exercise as part of a workplace environment. I really like the idea of the lounge, and whilst I don’t think it will, on its own, solve all the issues at hand, I can easily imagine it as part of future office concepts. It makes health and wellbeing more accessible to people who are not very “sporty” (which is probably the majority of us!) and also represents a very visible, hands-on step by an organisation to prioritise health and wellbeing. Our guests at the event were fascinated with the idea, and how it would be implemented, even more so with the lounge itself – some even tested out the “plate one” unit then and there!
Mr. Pauck’s experience of the implementation of the Health Lounge echoed themes we know well – that the most important factors for a long-lasting change of the employee’s behaviour are to generate enthusiasm at the beginning and to personally involve people in the process over time.
What is your opinion? Do we need workplaces to work harder to foster health and wellbeing? And what can we do to make things last?
Matthias Kollmer (Matthias.email@example.com) is a consultant with AECOM’s Strategy Plus practice in Munich.