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11 Oct 2022

Ways to support employees to make healthier choices

While ultimately, it is down to the individual to embrace a healthier lifestyle, employers can help employees to make positive behavioural changes by providing appropriate support

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A growing recognition of the importance of preventative healthcare is seeing UK plc raise the bar in employee wellbeing.

Almost two-thirds (62 per cent) of employers have already introduced lifestyle risk management programmes, according to Willis Towers Watson’s 2022 Wellbeing Diagnostic Survey.

But with non-communicable diseases – such as cardiovascular illness, cancer, respiratory disease and Type 2 diabetes – set to significantly affect current and future generations of workers, they can ill-afford to take their foot off the pedal.

A range of strategies can be deployed to promote preventative health, but key to success is the commitment of employees to making positive behavioural changes.

Here, we outline some of the key steps companies can take to support staff on this journey.

1. Create a supportive culture

Corporate efforts to elevate wellbeing are acknowledged positively by employees.

More than half of those surveyed as part of Willis Towers Watson’s 2022 Global Benefits Attitudes Survey (GBAS) said it was an important part of their organisations’ culture and felt their managers had a genuine interest in their health.

Where companies fail to demonstrate that the health and wellbeing of their workforce is a priority, however, and where initiatives fail to adequately meet their needs, employees will be less inclined to actively lead healthier lives. They will also be more reticent to let their employer get involved in their wellbeing.

Companies should regularly review their health and wellbeing strategies, incorporating employee feedback, to ensure they are relevant and engaging for their employee demographic, while ensuring they have management buy-in. Such assessments will help inform future areas of focus.

Fostering an effective culture, underpinned by a strategy that taps into the health and wellbeing issues that really matter to employees, is a cornerstone of building and maintaining engagement.

Indeed, according to the GBAS, 55% of employees where a strong culture of wellbeing is in place said they’d taken significant action to improve their personal health.

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2. Appoint wellbeing champions

A positive wellbeing culture can also be supported by appointing wellbeing champions to help bridge the gap between employer and employee. By demonstrating a commitment to their own wellbeing, they lead by example and set the benchmark for self-care among a workforce.

What’s more, the champions can play a key role in identifying areas of health concern, spearheading campaigns,  for example for healthier onsite food options, and organising regular events, such as walking groups or lifestyle education workshops. This can take the pressure of time-strapped managers.

3. Harness the power of technology

Technology can have an important role to play in influencing behavioural change among employees by offering easy access to critical health-related knowledge, which can help inform and shape lifestyle choices.

Online health and wellbeing education tools, for example, have become increasingly popular, offering employees access to guidance and coaching at their convenience.

Wearables can support preventative health by reinforcing the need to lead a healthier life with an eye to the future. They can even be used to tap into employees’ competitive nature, encouraging participation through gamification.

Furthermore, health-related data from such technology can reveal the health of a company’s workforce, enabling HR teams to make smarter benefits provision decisions.

4. Cultivate alternative appetites

By highlighting the health gains of losing excess weight, employees can be incentivised to improve their fitness.

A supportive and inclusive strategy is likely to have greater success than a didactic approach. This can be achieved through on-site exercise studios, sponsored fitness challenges or even something as simple as encouraging staff to use the stairs more often.

For the less energetic, ensuring the staff restaurant – and snack dispensers – prioritises healthy options is a way of incorporating sensible choices into their working day.

By providing more information about substitutes for favourite foods, employees can be encouraged to take greater ownership of their health.

5. Don’t subordinate sleep

More than 43% of the global workforce suffer from sleep deprivation, Willis Towers Watson’s 2022 Insurance Marketplace Realities Report revealed.

These people can be more vulnerable to stress, more inclined to make poor decisions, emotionally overreact, lack energy and have reduced attention spans. Prolonged sleep issues can also lead to coronary heart disease, diabetes, obesity, heart attacks, immunodeficiency, anxiety and depression.

Working with sleep health specialists on workforce sleep assessments can help to identify trends that can be addressed. Further insight can be gained by using digital wellness apps to help employees better manage, and improve, sleep habits.

However, caution should be exercised, as tech and digital saturation can cause mental overstimulation, exacerbating rather than reducing the problem. Aim to create a culture where employees are encouraged to ‘pull the plug’ during breaks, in the evenings and when on leave.

Furthermore, mindfulness classes, yoga sessions and/or mindfulness programmes can equip employees with strategies to overcome stressors that inhibit sleep.

6. A sober approach

Hangovers are often regarded as the price of a good time, but some employees may be unaware of the wider-reaching health risks of excessive alcohol consumption, such as liver and heart disease.

Providing advice and guidance can help them to develop a sensible approach towards their alcohol intake. This may be communicated via leaflets, posters or dedicated workshops. Local health promotion units can offer valuable resources.

While it’s important to highlight the negative impact alcohol can have on health, emphasising the positive effects of sensible drinking may be more effective for some employees.

Similarly, raising awareness through engaging learning activities, rather than dour directives, may result in more receptive staff.

Encouraging employees to reflect on their personal habits by keeping a diary, for example, may yield surprising patterns and support lifestyle changes.

With the workplace playing a significant part in some individuals’ social lives, there is a risk that an organisation’s culture could inadvertently encourage excessive drinking. Lunchtime or after-work drinks with colleagues can become routine. Managers can help prevent this by leading by example.

7. Be alert to innovations

Strategies to effect lifestyle changes require a sustained focus to maintain employee engagement and motivation if they are to achieve long-term success. Managers should be alert to innovations that can assist employees in their lifestyle changes.

Celebrating positive results can help further incentivise, but sensitivity is important. While some employees welcome public acknowledgement, others may prefer discretion.

Ultimately, it is down to the individual if they want to embrace a healthier lifestyle, but by ensuring appropriate support is in place, management can increase the likelihood.

In partnership with WTW

WTW is a leading global advisory, broking and solutions company.

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