09/09/2016 - 15:23

Staff health a strategic move

09/09/2016 - 15:23

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Western Australia workplaces are taking a big-picture view of employee wellbeing, implementing programs to target mental, social, financial and physical health.

Staff health a strategic move
HBF's Llewellyn Rogers says there is an underlining business strategy when it comes to employee health. Photo: Attila Csaszar

Western Australia workplaces are taking a big-picture view of employee wellbeing, implementing programs to target mental, social, financial and physical health.

Rather than a one-size-fits-all model, businesses are prioritising how programs can be tailored for each office culture.

In recent years, addressing the need to change sedentary behaviours associated with sit-down office jobs has been the major focus of workplace wellness.

However, due to more awareness, education and acceptance, businesses have started chipping away at the stigma associated with mental health, moving from a ‘toughen up’ attitude to more of a ‘how can we help’ mentality; as a result, initiatives have been developed to target a range of factors that can contribute to employee health.

Healthier Workplace WA, a free best-practice workplace health support service, has helped more than 2,500 workplaces since its inception in 2013.

Program manager Natalie Quinn said there was a growing interest and support from WA workplaces, as well as acceptance of the idea that healthy workers were good for business.

“The benefits of investing in workplace health include a decrease in injury rates and claims, a decrease in absenteeism and sick leave, and increases in productivity retention of workers,” she said.

In 2014, Ms Quinn said, the organisation introduced a ‘recognised healthy workplace’ program that acknowledged the achievements of WA businesses and organisations demonstrating a commitment to creating healthier workplaces.

“Recognition brings direct benefits to employees and can also enhance business reputation,” she said.

“It makes businesses an employer of choice and can grow workplace culture by demonstrating a commitment to health and wellbeing.”

Tailored approach

Chevron currently holds gold status with the Healthier Workplace WA recognition program, and wellness program coordinator Candy Lethridge said that, after a comprehensive analysis of the health profile of Chevron’s WA workforce, she was able to benchmark wellness activities against industry peers and best practice literature in order to determine what would be best for employee wellbeing.

“Engagement is critical to the success of our wellness program,” Ms Lethridge said.

“We have invested energy in this space from program governance via a wellness committee creating an identity for wellbeing.

“We’ve built a wellness subscriber base, which has now grown to over 700 personnel, producing a monthly newsletter and a monthly wellness award that recognises healthy lifestyle behaviours, just as we do safe behaviours.”

She said the organisation launched a revised mental wellbeing strategy last year, which included introducing a psychologist resource on its Barrow Island base as well as Beyondblue videos onto TV screens at both its Barrow and Wheatstone platforms.

In addition, Chevron has upped the ante on workforce education and awareness with the inclusion of mental wellbeing packs delivered across the organisation, a refresh of internal intranet resources, and training for personnel in a mental health first aid capacity.

“Ultimately our program aims to protect and promote the health, safety and wellbeing of our workplace through the delivery of tailored and targeted programs addressing the health risk, needs and priorities of our workforce,” Ms Lethridge said.

International recruitment agency Page Group (Michael Page) human resources manager Japan, Australia and New Zealand, Rani Nandan, also believes in a tailored approach and said that, in addition to having a roll-out of national initiatives, it was also important to give each office freedom to tweak activities at a local level.

“I think it’s about variety and understanding what each of the groups and offices are likely to take part in,” Ms Nandan said.

“If you’re not getting that local buy in it won’t be nearly as effective if the HR manager in Sydney just says ‘this is what we’re doing’; it’s good to have local team leaders promoting it as well.”

The organisation introduced a meditation session to raise awareness of mindfulness benefits to its management group at its recent leadership conference.

“Our senior leaders were trained to quiet their minds and centre themselves at the start of each day using a mixture of breathing and self-reflection techniques,” Ms Nandan said.

“This ensures they start their day off right and helps train them to make business decisions with quiet calm and deliberation.”

Due to positive feedback from the workshop, leaders returned to the Perth office wanting to run their own meditation sessions.

The Perth office also has a weekly run club and has embraced the arrival of an international Stepathlon, a 100-day competition based on a team’s total number of steps taken.  

“With our operations and the recruitment industry naturally being so competitive initiatives like that work quite well,” Ms Nandan said.

“People work very long hours and we get feedback around that in terms of job satisfaction, so this was a great way to think outside the box as to what people can still do while at work to feel refreshed and motivated during the day.

“It was also a great opportunity to choose a national partner for giving back.”

The organisation also decided to pair with the Smith Family, to increase the feelgood health factor, with funds raised from the event to go toward the charity's Learning for Life program that helps disadvantaged young Australians succeed at school.

“A healthy employee is a happy employee, and a happy employee is a productive employee,” Ms Nandan said.

Mindful

Michael Sandford runs Meditation for Wellbeing, a meditation business in Perth and over the years has worked with various industry sectors holding private meditation classes for employees.

He said although business clients have remained steady, he noticed a recent increase in acceptance, awareness and understanding of mindfulness meditation as a tool to alleviate stress, anxiety and depression.

“If you’re going through the normal stresses of life mindfulness and meditation are wonderful modalities to implement in your everyday life,” he said.

“We use meditation to train our focus to be mindful, because our minds aren’t really focused we need some sort of practice to help us and that’s where meditation comes in.”

Mr Sandford said the increase in understanding was in part due to research and public figures, such as Fremantle Dockers football player Nat Fyfe openly speaking about his meditation practices.

In America Google has a full time mindfulness teacher, according to Mr Sandford, and he said the US had really embraced mindfulness due to the immediate results.

“They can see it enhances productivity because staff are more focused and less likely to be distracted by extraneous incidences - if the phone goes off or an email comes in they maintain their focus," he said. 

“They’ve done studies where they’ve found that the return for businesses on money spent for mindfulness programs or on wellbeing programs is $3 return per $1 investment."

“They’re not just doing it to be good employers but also because it helps their bottom line.”

Business strategy 

A range of WA workplaces across different industries told Business News investing in employee health positively impacted on the bottom line.

“We recognise that workplace health programs are no longer a ‘nice to have’ or a ‘tick box’ task, but rather a strategic necessity that benefits both the employees and the employer,” Royal Automobile Club of WA general manager HR Jennie Milne said.

The RAC has invested in initiatives such as end-of-trip facilities, a healthy canteen and vending machine options, as well as electric loan bikes in order to cater for the health needs of its 1,300 staff.

The City of Swan also reported it focused on various employee wellbeing activities and had a dedicated wellness budget that it reviewed yearly.

In addition to a range of fitness, skin cancer screenings, healthy eating, financial counselling and educational health workshops, City of Swan provided flexible work arrangements.

City of Swan claimed the more holistically healthy a person was the more productive they were and therefore maximised the output of its investment. 

HBF manager people performance Llewellyn Rogers said it was important to support employees in all aspects of their health and its internal corporate wellness program, HBF Balance, addressed employee’s community, physical, career, financial, emotional and social support programs.

Mr Rogers said ultimately there was a business ingredient when it came to delivering workplace wellness programs and that it was the result of both a cultural and brand standpoint.

“If you went into one of our branches and didn’t feel that HBF people were committed to what our branding offers then it’s a contradiction, we considered how we could ensure that our people were walking the talk, living and breathing health,” he said.  

“We wanted our people to be seen as passionate brand advocates , committed to helping our members lead healthier and happier lives, and doing that they themselves as employees feel supported to be healthy.”

VenuesWest chief executive David Etherton said employees should be considered a number one business asset, and the performance in higher productivity and lower lost time injuries was testament to the importance of implementing such policies.

“They bring our bricks and mortar to life for our customers,” he said.

“Sometimes the public perception may be that the money spent on the delivery of such programs would be better spent elsewhere.

“But you don’t necessarily have to spend a lot on wellness initiatives; it’s just about being smart about it.”

 

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