Once the domain of dot com companies and hipster media agencies, corporate wellbeing is quickly moving to the top of every employer’s agenda.
UK workplaces are rolling out wellbeing strategies at an unprecedented rate, according to research from the Rewards & Employee Benefits Association, which found 45% of employers have a clearly-defined wellbeing strategy in place, ranging from flexi-time at Fortune 500 companies to stress management at SMEs.
But although the business case for workplace wellbeing has never been stronger, many firms are having difficulty identifying exactly what their employees need to stay healthy, happy and productive.
“Businesses know they need to invest in staff wellbeing, for a number of reasons, but putting that into practice can be incredibly daunting and a big waste of money if it’s not effective,” says corporate wellness consultant Rebecca Fairbrother.
As the founder of Well Aware, Rebecca helps businesses do just that: develop innovative corporate wellness programmes that actively engage employees and deliver a demonstrable return on investment.
Rebecca founded Well Aware in 2014 after long days in a high-powered recruitment role left her struggling to find time to look after herself beyond a quick run into the office.
The business started out as a one-stop health and fitness concierge for business travellers – need a nutritionist in New York? Rebecca would hook you up. A personal trainer in Peru? She could probably organise that too. But when wellness activities began infiltrating the workplace, Rebecca saw an opportunity to scale Well Aware up, well up.
“We were seeing our clients basically transforming their lives simply by finding a balance between their work and wellbeing, so I started thinking that if you could do that for one person, why not do it for a big group.”
Nowadays, Well Aware designs corporate wellbeing programmes for SMEs, right through to large firms with staff in the thousands. The programmes can include anything from one-off workshops on the importance of spinal and postural health to lunchtime yoga and fitness classes, which Rebecca facilitates through a network of nutritionists, chiropractors, personal trainers, psychologists and mindfulness experts.
“There’s no ‘one size fits all approach’ to corporate wellbeing – there’s no point running a lunchtime yoga class if nobody is turning up – so each programme is completely bespoke,” Rebecca explains.
Each programme is designed based on the results of a staff survey to ensure employees’ needs are being met and firms are getting a result on their investment. “We also have to be realistic about City life – we can go on about making your lunch at home but most people don’t have time to do that so instead we look at the lunch options around the office and educate staff on the best choices on eating for energy.”
Sessions also take a pragmatic approach to issues like sleep: “Rather than say ‘you must get eight hours per night’, we look at ways to cope with deadlines and stress on very little sleep when those situations arise.”
Despite the variety in each programme, current ‘buzz topics’ centre around mental health and mindfulness, as well as spinal and postural health, trends Rebecca says are unsurprising when you consider that most workplace absenteeism is caused by either stress or ergonomics.
Cutting down on staff sick days and attracting talent might be the two most obvious benefits of a wellness programme to a business’ bottom line, but Rebecca says that in order to see those results, firms need to take top line approach.
“It’s not going to happen overnight, or from one yoga class,” she says. “Companies need to make wellbeing programmes a strategic part of the business.”