A healthy approach

Top wellness advice for all in the workplace.

In an age where corporations are being held accountable for the health and wellness of their staff, new businesses can often feel overwhelmed at the sheer enormity of what is expected of them. It goes without saying that the traditional 9–5 is stressful. Very few people switch off and leave work at the office. Office hours are growing longer and longer and countries like France and Sweden are taking drastic measures to increase employee wellbeing – decreasing office hours and banning emails after certain hours. The fact is, overwork and lack of autonomy cause unnecessary stress, can lead to burnout, and cause a drop in productivity, resulting in economic costs and burdens on organisations.

Big corporations can moderate against stressors through engaging in staff wellness programs, but these are often costly for smaller organisations. Start-ups, in particular, often lack the funds and knowledge to engage in expensive consulting and wellness programs, meaning their staff are at greater risk of stress at work, simply through lack of knowledge. It’s for this reason that companies such as InnerOrigin, a wellness pop-up, and DeskPerfect, an app from Wellbeing Apps, help smaller organisations manage their wellbeing at a fraction of the cost. DeskPerfect allows employees to gain specialist knowledge such as health and safety and ergonomic expertise – all from the comfort of their laptop, and without expensive consultancy costs.

The wellness bandwagon

It appears that every man and his dog is jumping on the wellness bandwagon. And rightly so. We are now in a time where individuals are taking stock of their personal wellbeing, noting that they’re accountable for their own health. Many of the bigger corporations are also embracing holistic wellbeing, running corporate wellness programs for their employees and encouraging them to eat healthy and  exercise more. Many of the social influencers are on a mission to promote self-care because, as a nation, we’re somehow still falling short.

But is there more? It’s certainly important that we encourage wellbeing at work. Providing fitness, Pilates and a gym can be a promising measure to reduce physical health afflictions, while encouraging sleep hygiene and mental health is also a necessity. However, wellbeing should not be limited to 9–5. It’s important that employees are encouraged to embrace healthy living outside the walls of the office.

Knowledge is power

Many organisations – and especially small businesses – fail in their endeavours to promote staff wellbeing simply through lack of relevant expertise. This is especially so if the owner is wearing many hats and has little time for research. Few new business owners have the time or money to invest in corporate wellbeing strategies, but it’s precisely those that are doing it all that are at risk of burnout. Knowledge is certainly power when it comes to people management and taking time to look after your own wellbeing, and being a positive ambassador for health ensures you are a great role model for your staff too.

“Being active not only promotes good health, but it also increases productivity at work.”

Business owners can do this by taking breaks, eating properly and engaging in self-care. Sleeping properly, eating right, and having a source of nutritious goodies for staff can go a long way. These certainly don’t break the bank either. What’s more, by providing nutritious snacks and thus promoting a healthier lifestyle, a company’s employees are more likely to maintain good health. This means businesses are directly contributing to the reduction of sickness-related absence, helping both their businesses and the economy along the way.

Health and fitness

There has been a big move towards the protection of mental wellbeing at work. Companies are aware that staff have very little work–life balance and need to take adequate measures to promote mental wellness at work. Acknowledging the signs and symptoms of stress at work, such as withdrawal, cynicism, lack of engagement, and sleep issues, and then tackling them head on is key to promoting a safer workplace devoid of mental health stigma. It’s the corporate culture that we need to look after, though. We need to understand that an office is made up of many different personalities, with many different needs. A one-size-fits-all model to promoting wellbeing rarely works. Instead, creating a culture of openness where employees can discuss their needs, gain greater autonomy over their working spaces and have more flexibility is key to promoting wellness at work.

It’s not just mental wellness that needs promoting, however. Physical health and fitness are also important. Encouraging staff to take regular breaks, go for short walks and do physical exercise each day is also important. Being active not only promotes good health, but it also increases productivity at work. Exercises such as Pilates can also help improve posture, lower blood pressure, and help manage stress at work. Some exercises can be done at your desk, too, and for those who are short on time and need the flexibility, online programs, such as classes run by Barre Body, allow you to access fitness classes anywhere and at any time.

Barre Body’s founder, Emma Seibold, says that, “Our lives are so busy and often the boundaries between work and home can become blurred. We’re connected 24/7 which makes it hard to switch off. That’s why having access to online classes can make such a difference to staff. Often, it’s not possible to carve out the hour-plus that it takes to travel to a studio and do a full class. But the benefits of even a 10- or 15-minute workout, from wherever you are, whenever it suits you, are enormous.’’

Stretching is simple and can be done anywhere. You don’t even need to leave your desk to feel the benefits. It’s also especially important for working or expectant mums, says Shanlyn Giam, owner of Shan’s Private Pilates, a Sydney-based Pilates studio.

Afternoon treats

Traditionally, offices have provided cakes and treats for birthdays or celebratory occasions. For some organisations, this is a daily occasion that results in feelings of sluggishness and fatigue. The odd cake or treat at work is not an issue, but having regular sugary snacks does little to promote wellness at work.

Business owners can moderate against this by providing fruit platters and healthy alternatives. The 3 pm Box, founded by Melbourne-based entrepreneurs, Dot and Jel, is also a great idea because it provides a hamper of tasty treats that promote wellbeing. The hamper of goodies can be given to colleagues for special occasions, too. Swapping cake for nutritious options is the start of a healthier culture change that your organisation may need.

Try before you buy

Often, small-business owners don’t want to invest in wellness strategies because they fear they may spend money on products or services they don’t like. Nowadays, apps and services allow trial periods or a try-before-you-buy so that people and organisations can test out their service free of charge. That’s certainly the case for InnerOrigin, whose pop-up and flagship stores allow individuals to try products before ordering.

Corporate wellness programs will often offer bespoke services that don’t cost corporate prices. If you’re a small business and you want to try a wellness strategy, reaching out to gain a quote may be the most practical solution.

Remember, though, small incremental changes to staff wellbeing often come with lasting results. As business owners, you can be the change your organisation needs to see. Start small. Reap well.

Sarah Tottle, business psychologist and coach and founder, Sarah Tottle Consulting

This story first appeared in issue 24 of the Inside Small Business quarterly magazine.

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