From fruit-baskets to corporate yoga classes, meditation rooms to mindful emails and meetings, the offer for wellbeing initiatives is growing exponentially. As HR professionals are bombarded by sales e-mails and calls with an overwhelming number of apps, fitness and health trackers, coaching and mindfulness training, concierge services and ergonomics, it is increasingly difficult to make the right choices, and use the scarce resources in the best possible way to maximise the benefit for employees.

As there are still a couple of months before the Zukunft Personal 3 days event in Köln, there are a lot of things you can do to be prepared, to make sure you make the most out of the presentations and the exhibition, by understanding your organisation’s needs first, so when you arrive in Köln, you will know what to look for.

Why is wellbeing important?

Or rather, why would wellbeing be more important now, than before? In fact, there is an acceleration and the crossing over of a number of trends, which requires individuals and organisations to pay more attention to the physical and mental health, and in particular prioritise investment and selecting the right services and tools on offer.

With increased digitalisation of work, not only does work spill-over into our private and family time, and thus reducing the time we have to relax and recharge our batteries, but the work we perform is also increasingly complex and demanding, with very frequent changes in tasks, lots of interruptions, which require new or different knowledge and skills from us.

The recent financial crisis and its aftershock also means that employees have greater job insecurities, and this has increased the levels of presenteeism at the workplace, meaning that employees also show up when they are unwell or sick. Due to overwhelm and a number of other factors, some organisations and sectors are facing particularly high rates of sickness absence, due to physical injuries or conditions (backache being one of the most prevalent) or mental health issues, like depression and burnout.

Conversely, as the economy is picking up, employees will have a greater choice of potential job-offers to choose from, and select employers based on criteria beyond the salary package, therefore, if they are not happy with their workplace, management, opportunities to learn and advance, they will change jobs.

All of these constitute considerable costs to organisations, also put pressure on national health and social security systems.

Organisations can prevent sickness and maintain health by investing in wellbeing initiatives Click To Tweet

The picture is very complex, and the key question is: where to invest? Some believe that wellbeing initiatives are only for the large international corporations. But research suggests, that smaller and medium sized employers can do as much, if not more. It is not the cost or the money invested that counts – but the decision to go above and beyond of what is required by law. It is not a question of money, but rather a question about values, organisational culture and aligning wellbeing of employees with the goals of the organisation.

Getting wellbeing right for everyone – from compliance to driving business objectives

The number of studies on the effectiveness of wellness or wellbeing initiatives at work are still very limited, and the results are a mixed bag. What has emerged however from one study in particular[1], is that a number of workplace wellbeing initiatives have positive impact on the health-outcome of the individuals, but relatively limited positive effect on the organisation as a whole. Organisations seem to have become increasingly good in offering coaching sessions, e-mail guidance, personal mindfulness sessions, information and health education to their employees, which can improve the wellbeing and health of individual employees, due to improved awareness and more deliberate behaviour towards prevention. It shows up in better sleep quality, improved levels of exercise, better coping mechanisms in times of stress, however, what is missing, is a spill-over to improved organisational wellbeing.

The desired outcome of wellbeing initiatives is of course improved productivity on the organisational level, which can be traced back to enhanced individual performance, employee engagement and also reduced overall costs by becoming a better quality place to work.

Consider the following, before you start investing in a new wellbeing offering

Beyond purchasing one or more services from external vendors, the idea is to help you formulate the wellbeing culture you envisage for your organisation, which is aligned to the values and purpose of the entire business.

What follows will be a couple of questions to guide you towards identifying how best to launch or up-grade the wellbeing offering. There is abundant evidence linking the most desired business objectives in terms of staff, like creative problem solving, enhanced customer experience, improved decisions and accountability, to simple, almost banal activities and working conditions, so consider these basics first:

  • What is the state of your current work environment? Is there enough natural light? Research has shown that employees who have more access to natural light are experiencing better sleep, are less likely to be off sick, have enhanced productivity and creativity. Especially in winter it is important to maximise our exposure to natural daylight.


  • Is there enough fresh air, either through windows or fresh-air ventilation? Bad indoor air quality can lead to tiredness, headaches and fatigue. If it’s possible, ensure employees have access to open spaces (like a terrace or balcony), and actively encourage walks. Not only are regular walks good for getting much needed fresh air, but according to a Harvard study, walking also leads to more creativity and innovation, as our minds wander during walks, which we need to switch off from external stimulus to be creative.
  • What about the noise level? Some organisations that have moved to open plan office layout all of a sudden realise, they have a shortage of meeting rooms. It’s not due however to the increased number of client meetings, but rather to the fact that employees occupy them to make phone-calls or have internal conversations with colleagues. Are the designated quiet areas in the office and dedicated areas for collaboration? What about acoustics? Can people have phone conversations in the office, or do they use meeting rooms or other spaces? There are plenty of options by introducing noise-absorbing furniture, wall-fixtures or discussing teleworking, and use the office for collaboration between colleagues.

Have the chairs and tables been adjusted to everyone? It is surprising to see the number of people who are uncomfortable sitting at their desks, simply because the arm-rest or the table height haven’t been adjusted to suit them, they simply started using them the way it was configured for the previous person working there. A lot of neck-pain, shoulder tension and resulting headaches can be prevented.

Wellbeing culture must be aligned to the values and purpose of your entire business Click To Tweet

These are some of the fundamentals, and it is always a good idea to ask employees how they are experiencing the office environment. These types of surveys are usually only carried out before and after a move or refurbishment, but are neglected in-between. You may be surprised to find out what the experience of the employees may be with the existing space, as very few people feel empowered enough to voice their discomfort, or as a matter of fact, very few recognize the impact it can have.

A University of Sydney study found that speech privacy was the greatest concern of office workers across all office layout types. (Image: University Of Sydney)

A University of Sydney study found that speech privacy was the greatest concern of office workers across all office layout types. (Image: University Of Sydney)

And lastly, here are 3 main issues to be considered, before you invest in further wellbeing initiatives:

  1. What is your organisation’s attitude to health, wellbeing and productivity?
    Are these types of initiatives endorsed by senior management, and how likely it is they will also participate? At the telecom company ‘du’ in the UAE, the Chairman of the company is part of the running team and regularly participates in sports activities along the colleagues. At Schneider Electric, the senior management has also actively embraced the Wellbeing initiative and are now running mindful meetings, where they check-in on each other, and also leave 15 minutes between each meeting for people to be able to re-align and recharge between meetings.Unless the leadership of the organisation also supports and actively participates in these initiatives, employees will be cynical of them, and the take-up may be relatively low.Senior management must actively support #wellbeingInitiatives by taking part in such activities Click To Tweet
  2. How well do you know your coworkers?

    It is very important to design the Wellbeing or Wellness programmes to be inclusive to suit a diverse workforce, with very different needs and abilities. What percentage of employees would take-up yoga or pilates? How many would want to participate in mindfulness sessions or benefit from coaching? Can employees pick and mix their own wellbeing menu, and how will you track it? It is very important to carry out a survey beforehand, and also take regular pulse-surveys to understand what works, what doesn’t, and where are the bottlenecks. Many organisations that have launched mental-health initiatives report that in particular among the more senior male staff members participation was very low, due to unconscious bias and stigmatisation. They then found creative ways to include them, from personal testimonies to making it more fun, more competitive, like through team-competitions with wearables.
  3. What are the constraints and opportunities of the current office environment? How is work organised?
    If you are one of those companies that have a 40% remote workforce, with employees teleworking regularly, flexible initiatives may work best, where employees can schedule them according to their own agendas, and if you stick to group activities, the initiative may have additional benefits, such as bringing the employees together. For example at the WeWork coworking places they use the different spaces in a flexible, adaptive way. The main lobby may be used for a yoga-class in the morning, for a seminar during the day, and an after-work party in the evening. There may be many ways to use space in a modular way, this may however require also adaptive and easy to carry furniture.
  4. Who will be your wellbeing champions?
    There is nothing worse with being the only, or the first one at the company mindfulness or meditation practice or at the depression-prevention seminar. There are many things you can do to get employee buy-in, in particular by building on the strengths and resources of your current employees, and again, you may be surprised. Is one of the colleagues passionate about a cause? How about asking him or her to rally the employees behind the cause and organise a fun fundraising event. There are so many resources online, and nothing makes us more happy or feel good, than giving back or helping! Do you have a masterchef within your team? Why not organise a collective cooking session? Or a keen sportsman or even mindfulness practitioner? They will all love to share their passion, and it will feel authentic, and you will be able to create momentum by building on the engagement and meaning there already is.If you are not yet sure how to start, Zukunft Personal will have tons of exhibitors and great presentations on the topic to help you choose the best one for your organisation. The key here, is to just start!

[1] Buseman-Williams (2014)


About the author

Agnes Uhereczky is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of the WorkLife HUB, a research and consultancy company dedicated to work-life integration, exploring the intersection of work and life from the point of view of policy, legislation, organisational culture and leadership. She is producing the WorkLife podcast and is a regular speaker and Blogger on the topic.


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