Well­ness works for all

Em­ploy­ers are in­creas­ingly find­ing that cater­ing to work­force well­be­ing pays div­i­dends, writes Ju­lia Stir­ling

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Careerone -

WHEN James Wil­son now takes his 20-month-old son, Archie, to child­care he feels a lot less stressed. They sim­ply catch a bus for a five-minute ride into Syd­ney’s CBD, where he works as Citi’s as­sis­tant vice-pres­i­dent of eq­ui­ties tech­nol­ogy. He leaves Archie at Citi’s re­cently opened child­care cen­tre and walks to his of­fice, two min­utes away.

Pre­vi­ously, Wil­son drove for half an hour to his mother-in-law’s house, where he dropped Archie off and then caught a train to work.

‘‘ There is no bat­tling traf­fic, it’s cer­tainly much more re­laxed, and we feel more like a fam­ily on those days,’’ says Wil­son. He and his wife, who also works in the CBD, meet at the cen­tre af­ter work to pick up Archie and walk him home in his pram.

Child care is dif­fi­cult for many work­ing par­ents, and many large or­gan­i­sa­tions are pro­vid­ing child­care cen­tres to meet staff ex­pec­ta­tions for work/life bal­ance. Find­ing a bal­ance af­fects em­ploy­ees’ sense of well­be­ing, and em­ployee health and well­ness has be­come a strong fo­cus for com­pa­nies com­pet­ing to at­tract and keep tal­ent in a tight labour mar­ket.

A ‘‘ well­ness pro­gram’’ is an um­brella term to de­scribe di­verse work­place strate­gies, ser­vices and pro­grams con­tribut­ing to em­ploy­ees’ men­tal and phys­i­cal health. Th­ese pro­grams have been shown to re­duce em­ployee stress, turnover, ab­sen­teeism, and to im­prove em­ployee morale and loy­alty.

Apart from pro­vid­ing child­care ser­vices, Citi’s well­ness approach in­cludes: An on-site gym with train­ers, Poli­cies aimed at im­prov­ing the com­fort and safety of the work­place dur­ing preg­nancy,

A con­fi­den­tial and in­de­pen­dent coun­selling ser­vice for any em­ployee ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a work or per­sonal is­sue, Sleep ap­noea screen­ing, Din­ing and leisure ben­e­fits, Flu vac­cine or aro­mather­apy al­ter­na­tive, So­cial club, Ac­cess to an in­tranet por­tal invit­ing them them to sub­mit a flexible work ar­range­ment, Fruit at work pro­gram, Breast­feed­ing/ex­press­ing fa­cil­i­ties, and A four-day on­site bi­en­nial health and well­be­ing event.

‘‘ I have def­i­nitely no­ticed over the past three years that there’s a grow­ing aware­ness of the im­por­tance and value in a con­sis­tent well­ness pro­gram,’’ says Michael Stone, Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor of Holis­tic Ser­vices Group (HSG).

‘‘ More and more CEOs and se­nior man­agers who highly value their staff are look­ing to em­brace an or­gan­i­sa­tional cul­ture of em­ployee hap­pi­ness and well­be­ing. For those man­agers who are yet to em­brace such ideals, a tight labour mar­ket is teach­ing them the hard way,’’ he says. Holis­tic Ser­vices Group pro­vides an ar­ray of ser­vices to coun­ter­act stress in the work­place and im­prove emo­tional and phys­i­cal health. Ex­perts agree, how­ever, that or­gan­i­sa­tions can have the best poli­cies but they are of lit­tle con­se­quence if they stay in the binder — not im­ple­mented by un­sym­pa­thetic man­agers.

‘‘ It can be dif­fi­cult to mea­sure how work­place well­ness af­fects the bot­tom line, but smart man­agers un­der­stand that there is value in ‘ in­tan­gi­ble as­sets’ such as a happy, sat­is­fied work­force. Sta­tis­tics show that or­gan­i­sa­tions who highly value the im­por­tance of their em­ploy­ees are re­warded through greater fi­nan­cial per­for­mance. Thus, man­agers who en­sure an op­ti­mal work­place en­vi­ron­ment see high pro­duc­tiv­ity growth,’’ says Stone.

Citi’s or­gan­i­sa­tion de­vel­op­ment man­ager, Sheree Wells says, ‘‘ if role model, se­nior peo­ple aren’t demon­strat­ing that it’s ac­tu­ally okay to take ad­van­tage of those poli­cies, and to work from home once a week, or leave the of­fice at two o’clock ev­ery af­ter­noon to pick up the kids — if no­body is ac­tu­ally ex­e­cut­ing against it — then it’s not okay. What will make a dif­fer­ence will be if the man­agers take ad­van­tage of the of­fer­ings.’’

Man­agers are crit­i­cal change agents within a busi­ness from a cul­tural change point of view, says Wells.

‘‘ I’ve made it okay for my team. I’ll say to them, ‘ it’s 11.15, there’s a class hap­pen­ing in the gym, it starts at 11.30, if any­one is look­ing for me — that’s where I’ll be’. I think that’s pro­mot­ing good be­hav­iour,’’ she says.

Wells goes to the gym pri­mar­ily for fit­ness, strength and to man­age stress. She orig­i­nally went to the gym at the end of a day, but found be­fore or dur­ing work gave her bet­ter re­sults. It not only el­e­vated her mood, but prompted more per­spec­tive, re­laxed and creative out­looks.

‘‘ The work­place and how work is or­gan­ised is recog­nised as a very im­por­tant de­ter­mi­nant of peo­ple’s health — not just men­tal health, al­though I think that is par­tic­u­larly in­flu­en­tial for men­tal health, but also for phys­i­cal health,’’ says Lyn­dall Strazdins, Re­search Fel­low, at the Na­tional Cen­tre for Epi­demi­ol­ogy and Pop­u­la­tion Health at Aus­tralian Na­tional Univer­sity, Can­berra.

Strazdins agrees well­ness pro­grams are very im­por­tant, but says there are many other things work­places can do to give their em­ploy­ees bet­ter health out­comes. ‘‘ Job in­se­cu­rity is emerg­ing as a strong pre­dic­tor of poor men­tal health, so em­ploy­ment prac­tices that min­imise in­se­cu­rity are likely to ben­e­fit the men­tal health of their em­ploy­ees,’’ she says.

A re­cent re­port, Work­place Stress in Vic­to­ria, put out by VicHealth says many na­tional and in­ter­na­tional stud­ies have linked psy­cho­log­i­cal ill health to a range of psy­choso­cial work­ing con­di­tions, in­clud­ing man­age­ment style, work over­load and pres­sure, lack of job con­trol and un­clear work roles.

The re­port says: ‘‘ In the UK, stress-re­lated disor­ders have been es­ti­mated to ac­count for up to 60 per cent of ab­sen­teeism. In con­trast, ab­sence rates are of­ten lower in or­gan­i­sa­tions where peo­ple feel they have higher con­trol over their work.’’

Says Strazdins, ‘‘ I think there has been a shift now to a ‘ just-in-time’ approach to em­ploy­ees where peo­ple are given very short-term con­tracts with­out a kind of core fund­ing base for their salaries. They may have their con­tracts re­newed, they may not — there is a lot of un­cer­tainty for the con­tin­u­a­tion of that job.’’

That gives or­gan­i­sa­tions less fi­nan­cial com­mit­ment to their em­ployee, but Strazdins says it also means em­ploy­ees are un­able to pre­dict their job fu­ture, and con­se­quently their fi­nan­cial fu­ture. ‘‘ That not only has men­tal health con­se­quences for the em­ploy­ees — that’s linked to in­creased anx­i­ety and at times de­pres­sion — it is go­ing to af­fect their pro­duc­tiv­ity. So there is ac­tu­ally a kind of unan­tic­i­pated side ef­fect for the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s out­comes. They may think they are sav­ing money in terms of not car­ry­ing core fund­ing for that per­son, but there may ac­tu­ally be a down side to that,’’ she says.

An­other key stress in the work­place is how peo­ple com­mu­ni­cate, says Michael Stone.

‘‘ Com­mu­ni­ca­tion has been re­duced to emails, even if our col­league is sit­ting right next to us. As so­cial be­ings, peo­ple need to con­nect with oth­ers, and the na­ture of our mod­ern work­places some­times dis­cour­ages per­sonal com­mu­ni­ca­tion, plac­ing greater stress on staff.

‘‘ An­other cause of stress is a per­son be­ing in a place they don’t want to be, and do­ing some­thing they don’t want to be do­ing — imag­ine sit­ting next to this per­son,’’ says Stone. But are well­ness pro­grams ex­pen­sive? ‘‘ Con­sider staff ab­sen­teeism, poor pro­duc­tiv­ity, per­for­mance sabotage, em­ployee turnover, tal­ent short­age, com­pen­sa­tion claims — its in­ex­pen­sive,’’ says Vic­tor Sul­tas, HSG’s well­be­ing ser­vices di­rec­tor.

‘‘ Gen­er­ally, or­gan­i­sa­tional turnover costs per per­son are be­tween 90 and 2000 per cent of a per­son’s an­nual salary. So if you con­sider the ben­e­fits, es­pe­cially in our tight job mar­ket, well­ness pro­grams more than pay for them­selves,’’ says Stone.

Strazdins stresses the need to make health and well­be­ing in the work­place a top pri­or­ity for or­gan­i­sa­tions. ‘‘ This is ur­gent with an age­ing work­force. If we have work prac­tices that don’t sup­port health, then we are ef­fec­tively tak­ing peo­ple out of the work­force that could be work­ing. That is the op­po­site of what this coun­try has to do to keep go­ing in the cur­rent eco­nomic and de­mo­graphic changes. If we can make work as health sup­port­ive as pos­si­ble, then we can keep peo­ple in the work­place. It will mo­ti­vate them to work longer, and we will max­imise our par­tic­i­pa­tion,’’ she says.

Pic­ture: Alan Pryke

Cut­ting edge: Citi’s Sheree Wells in the of­fice gym

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