10 tips for a successful wellbeing program
“Today’s best employers are no longer debating whether to invest in employee wellbeing – they are simply navigating how best to do so”
There no shortage of corporate wellness programs and approaches for companies who want to help their employees to be the healthiest, happiest and most productive versions of themselves.
With the gap between the youngest and oldest employees getting wider, there needs a solution that works for all stages of life. It’s harder today, too, because research is showing that many workers are more cynical about ‘workplace wellbeing’ than a decade ago. You will want to find a solution that people trust and is built to their needs, not the employer’s needs. Weighing up your options and considering all the factors requires time. Things like budget, internal resource, timing, accessibility, privacy and health focus areas (such as physical fitness, diet, sleep or mindset). In reality, more immediate priorities such as recruitment, performance management and dispute-handling may undermine your capacity to give an employee health strategy the time it deserves.
For anyone investing time and budget into employee wellbeing, the key message to senior executives and leaders is that they will expect to see improvements in workforce productivity, retention and engagement, plus organisational image (1).
Here are our 10 tips for a successful wellbeing program:
- Demonstrate leadership
The responsibility for people’s health doesn’t start and end with your Human Resources team. Many reports on workplace health in recent years have flagged the need for leaders to enable and embrace workplace wellbeing themselves. The National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety in the US (2) and key public figures in Australia (including former Victorian Premier and mental health advocate, Jeff Kennett) (3) have called for CEOs and senior leaders of organisations to strongly support and embrace any wellbeing program they roll out. As well as sending a strong message about wellbeing culture, such leadership can generate a better ROI. It has been reported that increasing participation rates can double or triple the ROI (4), and strong leadership can play a vital role in this.
- Clear, sincere communication
A major outcome of a recent global survey on the future of wellness at work was that the companies ranked highest for genuinely caring about their employees’ health were also more likely to have a wellbeing plan in place – but this was offset by a general tide of cynicism from employees. One of the biggest challenges for any corporate wellbeing initiative is getting employees to sign-up and truly identify what’s in it for them. A key
to success is communicating to employees from the outset that a wellbeing program is a win/win situation with benefits for both the individual and the organisation – not another KPI they will be measured against.
- Focus on the important stuff
It is very difficult to pick the most burning health issue affecting your people’s engagement or productivity from just looking around the room. The best wellbeing provider should be able to report aggregated findings from employees’ on-boarding health assessments to help you develop your approach. In the absence of any specific data for your organisation, it may be helpful to understand the top concerns of employers across the world (5).
In order of importance, they are:
• improving morale/engagement
• reducing absenteeism
• improving workplace safety
• improving productivity/presenteeism
- Integrated approach
Choose a program that takes an integrated and holistic approach. Active people tend to sleep better. Eating better helps you feel more energised and more sleep helps you to manage stress. Although this seems like common sense, many workplace health programs focus on a single lifestyle factor at a time. Having an integrated program that addresses most or all of these issues is the most effective strategy.
Top 4 health issues:
• physical activity/exercise
• nutrition/healthy eating
• workplace safety.
Having themed challenges as part of your strategy is also valuable. A shared focus on one health area with friends and colleagues gives a sense of increased connectedness and motivation. Allowing people a degree of flexibility to tailor their program to focus on their personal health concerns will also increase engagement.
- Digital approach
Choose a digital approach to reduce your cost and simplify delivery. While many workplace health programs have usually included an element of face-to-face delivery (talks, coaching sessions, health checks) and printed material (health risk assessments), research proves that a lower-touch digital approach is also effective (6), especially when it is interactive and includes an element of competition and gamification.
- Strong educational foundation
Ensure your program has a strong educational foundation that drives behaviour change.
With so many different fads and myths around health, you need to make sure you are investing in a program that is based on proven behavioural change strategies and that your workers are receiving research-based health insights. Programs built on the science of enhancing the intrinsic motivation of individuals improve success rates (7).
- Tools to measure progress
Great wellbeing programs will give participants a baseline to work from and measure their progress against as they go along. This can take many forms, such as an overall assessment score, comparisons against government or World Health Organization guidelines, or even the number of steps taken for specific challenges.
- Be strategic with financial incentives
Without the right communication, getting employees to engage with a wellbeing program is challenging. To boost initial participation or win back engagement when it drops, it can be tempting to offer rewards. Opinion is divided on when and how to use them effectively. Speak to your wellbeing provider about their thoughts on incentives and what measures they can offer to help you identify worthy winners and ensure fair weighting of reward if you do wish to offer them. Awarding people for a number of daily steps taken, for example, becomes a meaningless numbers game that rewards the people who are already active. Rewarding those showing the greatest (or a certain level of) improvement, however, levels the playing field for everyone.
Also, effective incentives don’t need to be limited to financial rewards. Try other incentives such as giving people a slightly longer lunch break to t in a workout or a walk; discounts on healthy lunch options; healthy options at morning teas and on staff birthdays; or a ‘no emails after a certain time’ policy. Better still, ask your staff what the roadblocks to them participating are and try to nd small ways to make it easier for them.
- Adapt your workplace
The traditional office-based workplace environment has been shown to have a negative impact on health and, therefore, productivity through the amount of time spent sitting. Where budget allows, you could consider sit-to-stand/stand-up workstations. Cost-free tactics include making more meetings stand- up meetings, encouraging staff to take walk-and-talk meetings, and incorporating a few short stints of movement into the day.
- Evaluate success
When evaluating success, remember these two questions…
1. Did my people benefit? The aim here is not to ascertain their personal health outcomes (those should be reported by your provider) but rather to determine how they felt about the opportunity to participate and their engagement and sentiment towards you as their employer.
2. Did it provide a return on investment? To evaluate the effectiveness of workplace health programs every effort should be made to calculate all costs, including staff costs, as well as
all benefits. Finding a program that minimises indirect costs should be a key selection factor.
For more information on Employee Health and Wellbeing, read our white paper here.
(1) Global Healthy Workplace, “Working Well: A Global Survey of Workforce Wellbeing Strategies”, 2016, https://www.globalhealthyworkplace.
(2) Health. NIfOSa. “Essential elements of effective workplace programs and policies for improving worker health and wellbeing”. October, 2008.
(3) The Australian, “Wellbeing survey tied to CEO pay bonuses”, 2016, https://www.dropbox.com/s/paehu5hwgb2pf15/Screenshot 2016-12-01
(4) Chapman LS. “Meta-evaluation of worksite health promotion economic return studies: 2012 update”. Am J Health Promot. 2012
(5) “Global health risks: mortality and burden of disease attributable to selected major risks”, WHO Library, 2009.
(6) Bucks Consultants. “WORKING WELL – A Global Survey of Health Promotion, Workplace Wellness, and Productivity Strategies (Executive Sum-
mary)”, 2011, https://www.huschblackwell.com/newsandinsights/emerging-engagement-strategies-for-employee-wellness-02-10-2011
(7) Hendriksen IJ, Snoijer M, de Kok BP, van Vilsteren J, Hofstetter H. “Effectiveness of a Multilevel Workplace Health Promotion program on
Vitality, Health, and Work-Related Outcomes”
Ditch the Al-Desko Dining – Why a lunch break should be a clean break
For many Aussie office workers, a lunch break means downing a take-out sandwich or stir-fry at your desk, while you spend 20 minutes checking out the sports or news websites. Then it’s back to work, and that’s only if you haven’t been interrupted by an email alert or a fellow colleague needing something from you NOW.
While this may seem like an efficient way of fuelling your body and your brain when you have deadlines to meet, it may not be the case. Here are a few reasons to get outside in the fresh air and have a clean break from work at lunchtime.
Your productivity and positive mood will increase
A research study by Hays showed that a large proportion of people believe their employer will think they’re more committed if they eat at their desk. The same study revealed that even a short break of just 15 minutes away from work can increase productivity levels. Having a quick break from work and getting in some physical activity will recharge the brain and get those happy hormones firing. A lunchtime walk can improve enthusiasm, relaxation and mood for the rest of the day, a study showed.
You’ll be less stressed
At Ritualize, we have a Green Time ritual and for good reason. Spending time outside in nature has long been associated with lower stress levels. If you work near a park it’s probably the best place to spend your lunch-break, especially if you are having a stressful day. Having a pot plant on your desk has also been shown to improve employee wellbeing.
You’ll eat more mindfully
Another ritual we encourage is mindful eating. Picture this. You’re at your computer in the middle of an important email, only to break for a few seconds to pick up your salad sandwich, take a big bite before your focus returns to the email. Before you know it, you’ve eaten the whole sandwich without even realising it. When you are focussed on what’s on your screen, it’s taking your awareness away from what you are eating which can slow down your digestion and your satiety. Emerging research is also suggesting that eating mindfully, or slower and more thoughtfully, could affect your food choices.
Your social life may increase
Eating lunch at your desk means eating lunch solo. There’s a lot of evidence out now to link social connectedness to happiness. Going out with fellow work colleagues and socialising could increase your mood and help get you through the afternoon with less stress.
How to Manage Weekend Binging…
You’re good all week, eating healthy food, having alcohol-free days and exercising. Then (thank God) Friday comes along. Time to hit the pub with friends, indulge in pizza for dinner or have a few wines while watching a movie. Saturday morning arrives and you may go to the gym followed by a huge brunch at your favourite cafe and maybe a slice of cheesecake. By Monday morning you’re feeling sluggish, tired guilty and like you’ve gone backwards.
Most people want to let loose and unwind on the weekend, especially if they’ve been doing so well during the week. It’s a reward and a way to start relaxing. Let’s face, it’s about having fun in the moment. But the guilt, anger and regret that come at the end of the weekend isn’t helpful. So, what can we do to still enjoy the weekends without feeling like we’ve taken 5 steps back?
Most of us are unconsciously dictated by what day it is and this could be the answer to the weekend bingeing. If you are striving for perfection on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday then you are relying a lot on willpower. Willpower is like fuel in a car, it can run out the more you drive the car. Then you relax a bit on Thursday (afterall, Friday is looming) then let loose Friday, Saturday, Sunday because you have no willpower left so it’s all systems go!
What if you didn’t strive to be perfect during the week? This is the thinking behind our 80/20 days. You don’t have to be perfect. Eat real, healthy food 80% of the time, but if you do fancy a glass of wine with dinner or a bowl of ice-cream after dinner, then count that as your 20%. The only rule is you don’t go beyond that 20% and have the wine and the ice-cream. Trade one thing off for another. Choose your daily treat wisely, have the best quality you can afford and really enjoy it.
If you take being ‘perfect’ out of the equation, it relieves the pressure and the need for willpower. Our approach allows you to set your own food rules based on the 80/20 approach, so food choices aren’t difficult and best of all, there aren’t any ‘cheat days’ because you are giving yourself permission to indulge in that 20% if you want it.
This approach also allows you to be in charge of your own choices, providing they are within the 80/20 range.
If your weekend indulges are working for you, of course keep going. You know yourself what works for you. But if you find you’re feeling conflicted and don’t enjoy the feeling at the end of the weekend, you can experiment with the 80/20 approach during the week and see how that affects your weekend.
Exercise, Nutrition & Sleep
Hugh Van Cuylenburg from The Resilience Project talks about 3 daily research-backed activities that have been shown to help prevent mental health issues in children and adults, and improve symptoms where there are existing problems. These 3 activities are:
The research is showing if you practise these 3 things everyday for 21 days it will improve your happiness.
Sounds simple! Although these tools are the focus of his talks, he did say they will not work without exercise, good nutrition and sleep – so in this blog we’ll explore why that is.
Moving your body a lot (whether it’s sport or walking the dog) will release feel-good chemicals (hormones) in your body called endorphins. You want endorphins because they make you feel happy and relaxed. Exercise also releases other chemicals important for mood and motivation, called serotonin and dopamine – and if that’s not enough, it releases growth factors which help your brain to grow and adapt (a process known as neuroplasticity). Conversely, sitting for hours on end, on computer games, or computer or watching TV makes most people feel tired and grumpy and is disruptive to our brain chemistry.
Having a few treats every now can make us feel happy, but when we have too many it can affect our mood. There is a connection between what you eat and how you feel. Research is showing that if you eat lots of fruit, vegetables and whole-grains it can boost your mood. Eating loads of sugar and processed food (ie ‘junk food’) may cause your mood to decline. Although it’s complex, this could be related to the link between our gut and the brain (called the gut-brain axis) – for example, over 90 percent of the mood enhancing neurotransmitter serotonin is produced in our gut and not our brain. If our gut isn’t happy, it sends messages up to the brain and in turn affects our mood.
Sleep is as important as nutrition and exercise. Nothing good comes from not getting enough sleep. Sleep affects mood, learning and behaviour. It also helps us get better if we’re sick. When we’re sick, sleep produces infection-fighting proteins called cytokines, which also make us feel sleepy. That’s why when we’re not feeling well, we also feel tired. It’s our body telling us to rest. Sleep is also the time when our brains flush out toxins and repair and strengthen our brain cells. It’s like sleep is the time our brains take out the rubbish.
So, in summary – practising gratitude, mindfulness and empathy along with eating well, moving a lot and getting a good night’s sleep are the keys to a healthy, happy life.
Why fasting doesn’t (always) mean going hungry
It’s not just what we eat, but when we eat it.
The fact that fasting has been around in religion and different cultures for centuries should indicate that it isn’t as hard at it first sounds. Science is now catching up on the powerful health benefits it can offer. It’s not something you need to do daily either, even just once a week is showing to have numerous health benefits.
This is known as time-restricted feeding or intermittent fasting.
This requires eating overnight in a 12-hour window.
For example: if you’re someone who wants to eat breakfast at 8am, you would have to eat your last meal/snack of the day before 8pm.
Health experts are revealing research on the benefits, including weight loss, diabetes prevention and even better quality of sleep. Findings published in the journal Cell Metabolism, showed that time-restricted feeding* can help:
- aid weight-loss
- manage healthy glucose levels/lowering diabetes risk
- lower blood pressure
- slow down the ageing process
Other benefits may include:
- lower levels of inflammation
- enhanced detoxification
- better control over appetite hormones
- improved heart health
- better immunity
- lower risk of cancer
- better muscle recovery from workouts
How does it work? Our body’s metabolic processes are guided by our circadian rhythms, which are the rhythms that repeat themselves on a daily basis. For example, sleep is a circadian – we go to sleep and we wake up. Science is revealing a link between disruption to our circadian rhythms and disease. The best time to stop eating is as the sun goes down then just drink water and nothing else for the 10-12 hours overnight.
The findings, primarily on mice, found the break allows the body’s process of cellular repair to work more effectively. It also allows the repair of damaged DNA and the breakdown of toxins.
Time-restricted feeding for weight management
Several US studies (1 and 2) summarized by the NHS in the UK here have shown time-restrictive feeding to reduce weight-gain in mice. In one of the studies, two groups of mice were each given access to the same amount of daily calories (unhealthy, fatty, sugary foods) but were given varying windows of time in which to eat them. Those who limited their intake to the shortest window gained the least weight. Those who ate the high calorie diet across a 24 hour period gained almost three times more weight than those who restricted their eating to a 9 hour window.
Similar studies conducted on humans, such a study by The Obesity Society has concluded similar results.
Is Time-Restricted Feeding the same as Intermittent Fasting?
No. Time-restricted feeding is about limiting your eating within a 12 hour window as often as possible to rest the liver and support the body’s natural circadian rhythm with the benefits listed above. Intermittent fasting is about having a very low calorie intake on two days a week and eating normally on the other five days (otherwise known as the 5:2 approach) with a predominant focus on weight loss.
While the intermittent fasting approach is successful for many people, the Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA) say it’s “no magic bullet’ and that intermittent fasting can be hard to maintain long term.
What we love about time-restricted feeding for many people is that it’s easier than reducing calories during the day. You get the health benefits of fasting without feeling deprived.
Five tips for getting a better night’s sleep
Sleep plays a vital role in good health and well-being throughout your life. Getting enough quality sleep at the right times can help protect your mental health, physical health, quality of life, and safety. It can also mean the difference between a good day and a bad day.
Here are 5 tips for getting a better night’s sleep:
Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day
For children, have a set bedtime and a bedtime routine. Try to keep the same sleep schedule on weeknights and weekends. Limit the difference to no more than about an hour. Staying up late and sleeping in late on weekends can disrupt your body clock’s sleep-wake rhythm. (1)
Avoid heavy and/or large meals within a couple hours of bedtime
While having a light snack is okay, meals, alcohol and caffeine (including caffeinated drinks, coffee, tea, and chocolate) should be avoided before bed. Caffeine is stimulants, and both substances can interfere with sleep. The effects of caffeine can last as long as 8 hours. So, a cup of coffee in the late afternoon can make it hard for you to fall asleep at night. (2)
Spend time outside every day (when possible) and be physically active
The National Sleep Foundation conducted a study with 2,600 men and women, ages 18-85, and found that 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity a week, which is the national guideline, provided a 65 percent improvement in sleep quality. People also said they felt less sleepy during the day, compared to those with less physical activity. However, although daily exercise is key for a good night’s sleep, working-out late in the day may also cause problems falling asleep for some people. (3)
Keep your bedroom quiet, cool, and dark (a dim night light is fine if needed)
There is a small part of the brain called the ‘circadian clock’, which monitors the amount of light you see, so in the evening, when the light starts to wane, your body clock notices and prompts a flood of a brain chemical called melatonin, which gives the body the signal to fall asleep. So it’s important to put your house lights on dim once it gets dark and a dim light in your bedroom as you’re going to bed. (4)
Use the hour before bed for quiet time
Take a hot bath or use relaxation techniques such as meditation, and avoid bright artificial light, such as from a TV or computer screen. When our bodies are exposed to artificial light from LEDs and screens, we are confusing it and your body’s circadian clock is disrupted. The body doesn’t know when it’s time to get ready for sleep and stays alert, so make sure to turn off or stop using all your devices at least one hour before you go to bed. If this isn’t possible, use ‘Nightshift’ if you have an iPhone and MacBook. This is a setting which makes the colours on your screen warm. Most smartphones have the night option – look for it under settings, and you can set a time for it to automatically switch on and off so you don’t have to always remember. Read more about the effects of blue light in our previous blog post.
Check out our other blogs on Sleep: