Health is not valued until sickness comes…

Claire Vane
June 23, 2023

There are numerous articles in the press, including an interesting one we saw recently in McKinsey's Health Institute Publications. It always amazes me how low on the priority list many people put health when they are subjected to a values exercise in coaching or other management training, and yet COVID has shown us how dire serious illness can be.

Like everything, it is unlikely that we will change our habits unless we receive a shock, but it would be much easier to change habits without that shock and, if organisations take on this proposition, they will raise the importance of health high up on their priority list.

Those of us who are in HR know that remuneration drives behaviour, so if we are going to change people’s attitudes to health and make it a higher priority, we need to do something with our reward systems that encourage people to change habits. It is important also to remember that people only change a habit if they are prepared to give something up to make that change and this could be something as perverse as seeking attention.

Looking after employee health is important not just for corporate success but happy, healthy employees are more productive and more creative and the duty of care and going the extra mile might help in recruiting the best people in what we call currently the “war for talent”.

So, what can we do? Organisations will only become healthier if they regard both mental and physical health as a top priority and reward the behaviour that leads to greater health. Employers in turn can foster employees taking up a new skill or hobby and rewarding those who have an absence-free record.

There are more creative ways, however, through introducing skills sessions paid for by an employer to allow employees to switch off from work during their breaks and lunchtimes. This can range from things like Yoga and piano playing, which both in turn have an effect on health, but also work-related topics if those are considered more appropriate. Something like personal financial management can lead to greater peace of mind and the skills to do that can be a huge bonus. There is no doubt that happy employees have a better immune system and are better motivated and help other employees to form collaborate teams. In turn this produces an environment where individuals feel able to speak up and give authentic feedback.

It is interesting that if people do not know each other well, they fill the absence of information with negativity and therefore opportunities for employees to get to know each other, where in the course of day-to-day work they would not, does help collaboration. In choosing what activities could be introduced in the workplace will also depend on the generations that are employed. Generation Z, who have grown up in a very different environment, are very different from the Millennials who often feel, for example, that they will never own their own property. All generations have the possibility of learning from others rather than seeing the traits of other generations negatively through a lack of knowledge.

Health should be one of our top priorities both individually and for the organisation and organisations can contribute far more than may seem apparent for increased health, which in turn impacts the bottom line. Some clients may well say to us that they cannot afford to do this, but we would suggest that they cannot afford not to, particularly as other competitive organisations could well make offers to their employees by using creative methodology to increase mental and physical health and wellbeing.

With hybrid contracts, many individuals have more time to invest in their health, and responsible employers have the opportunity to foster that desire. We’ve recouped a great deal of time through having hybrid contracts and not spending time commuting. The question is, what can we do with it to foster greater mental and physical health and wellbeing, rather than lose all of the upside of the pandemic?

If you would like to discuss mechanisms for increasing mental and physical health in the workplace, please get in touch.

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