Friday, April 8th, is National Workplace Wellbeing Day, a chance for employers and employees around Ireland to think about their office culture, and how they can make it more enjoyable for all involved. The aspirational phrase “work-life balance” has been around for a few decades now, and is starting to show its age, given that so many of us spend at least a third of our lives (and more than half of our daytime hours) working. In our information-saturated, high-pressure lives, we must maintain the primacy of the person as a whole—in their mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing—and it’s in the interest of each employer (and employee) to reflect upon what they can do toward that end.
For the last year, I’ve managed the Thinkwell wellness programme at Vodafone, and whenever anyone asks what I do, I say I help make workers’ days healthier and happier. I have organised everything from flu shots and health screenings to sleep seminars and Christmas party blow dries, and I have to say, it is a pretty sweet gig. When people come to see me, they enjoy a little break from their workday, where they get to focus on something that enriches their lives.
The truth is, though, not every company can afford a holistic wellness programme, but limited funds do not need to mean an insurmountable obstacle—creativity and resourcefulness can overcome it. Whether you’re a small, scrappy start-up, a family business, or a multinational with budget to spare, you have options that you can start implementing today.
1. Meet with your colleagues and get a sense of what their health and wellness goals are. Do you want to eat more healthfully? Consider contributing some of the petty cash to a weekly fruit bowl, or see if employees want to take turns bringing in some apples or bananas instead of biscuits or chocolates. Want to get active? Encourage standing or walking meetings, or even start a lunch hour run, stretch, or gym group. Are you looking to quit smoking? The HSE does a free smoking cessation course if you can guarantee a minimum number.
2. If one person is particularly excited about wellness, see if they want to act as the company’s wellbeing ambassador. The ideal person will already be in tune with trends and local goings-on, and all that they will have to do is post a flyer or send an email to remind colleagues when activities of interest are on.
3. Be positive and encouraging of employees looking after themselves, as self-care is ultimately the most sustainable path to lasting wellness. A happy, healthy workforce benefits everybody, so try to be flexible about employees’ needing time. These days, with work email on mobile phones and round-the-clock reachability, there is no such thing as a 9-to-5, and workplaces should be as accommodating as they expect their employees to be.
4. Wellness looks different to each person, so be open-minded in your approach. You may have triathletes who find their best headspace while clocking kilometres on the road, or you may have colleagues who simply want ten minutes to close their eyes and breathe. Still others may dread the idea of working out with their managers and would prefer a massage. Try out a number of initiatives, even if just one per quarter, reaching the widest sense of what wellbeing means.
5. Walking meetings, fruit bowls, and massages can only go so far—what will you do if your employees have real mental health issues that need addressing? Employees should be aware of the options available to them, and they should be empowered to avail of them, whether this means more widely promoting your EAP service, or reiterating lines of communication and processes, or even coordinating awareness days* at the office.
We need to acknowledge that an unhappy work life will not necessarily be offset by a happy home life (and vice versa)—and that mental health issues deserve the same degree of empathy and support in the workplace as any physical ailment. And remember that you cannot force anyone into wellness—employees must participate of their own volition, or “wellness” becomes another target they’ll feel pressured to meet, and may end up doing more harm than good.
*Aware offers a suite of workplace wellness programmes to respond to the increased need for mental health awareness and resilience development within the workplace.