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Tackling Challenges Of Health And Wellbeing At Work

31 Mar 2020

Two males and female sit on a stage at a panel about health and wellbeing at work

The biggest workplace wellbeing challenges and how to tackle them

Sedentary work environments, financial stress, management attitudes, consistency across locations - there are a number of workplace wellbeing challenges which can be tough for HR managers and business owners to tackle.

Last month, nib Health Insurance was the major sponsor of the Corporate Health and Wellbeing Summit, an annual event dedicated to improving productivity and business performance through a healthy and happy workforce.

We wanted to demonstrate how data can be used to inform better wellbeing strategies, so we asked attendees to share a snapshot of their own organisation’s wellbeing.

Drawing from these insights, we hosted a panel session to help tackle some of the biggest and most common challenges they’re up against when it comes to workplace wellbeing.

We’ve summarised some of the advice shared by our experts, Paul Jarvie (Head of Health, Safety and Employment Relations at the EMA) and Heath Mills (CEO at NZ Cricket Players Association) - so you can consider these for your organisation’s own wellbeing strategies.

Challenge #1: Combating a sedentary work environment

Although 60% of respondents said their organisation had physical wellbeing initiatives in place, 42% reported a sedentary work environment as being an issue.

Paul predicts a future of work that is increasingly sedentary and likely to pose more workplace wellbeing challenges.

And in light of recent COVID-19 lockdown measures, usual physical activities such as going to the gym or walking to work have been disrupted. Employees are now needing to adapt to new routines, which creates additional challenges.

Organisations need to think positively about how to get staff off their seats and be more active. This could require a change in company culture – such as ensuring staff take regular breaks and are encouraged to move rather than stay at their desk.

For example, at nib, we’ve just launched the nibSTEP program - an eight-week wellness challenge available to all organisations with nib Group health insurance, encouraging employees to use their wearable device or smartphone to track steps and keep connected with friendly competition and prize incentives.

Paul also highlights that extra focus needs to be placed on employees who don’t naturally enjoy physical activity - they are the ones who will need the most support and encouragement.

Simply ask what employees want, as opposed to giving them what the organisation thinks they want. Initiatives also need to be fun, and not embarrassing – or you’ll build more barriers.

Challenge #2: Reducing absenteeism as a result of stress

Organisations need to recognise the strong connection between wellbeing and performance. If they want the best out of their employees, that means doing their part to reduce stress from employee’s lives - but Heath says it’s one thing to recognise it and another to actually do it.

An incredible 95% of respondents rated general stress levels in a typical month as moderate to high, and 64% said work-related stress had caused absenteeism within the last year.

Heath agrees that the first step is to have a conversation – and then proactively bring in experts who can help remove barriers to physical, mental and financial wellbeing.

This could be as simple as bringing in a personal trainer or nutritionist to host a workshop with your employees on a monthly basis, or partner with a mental health specialist to offer free counselling sessions.

And since it’s not always easy to put your hand up and ask for help, he encourages organisations to find a way to create a safe, confidential environment where employees are able to come forward and seek support, whatever it may be for.

Challenge #3: Reducing stress related to financial wellbeing

According to the Commission for Financial Capability (CFFC), 46% of employees in New Zealand worry about their finances, and 83% say money problems interfere with productivity. This was further solidified among our respondents, with 57% stating employees’ personal or financial stress had caused absenteeism within the last year.

With COVID-19 creating an even more uncertain environment for both employers and employees, an organisation can lose hours of work productivity due to financial stress - so it makes perfect business sense to have a holistic view of wellness which includes financial wellbeing.

Paul recommends exploring services, such as financial management workshops, to reduce the amount of time employees spend worrying about their financial situation.

There are many benefits for these initiatives, including improved company performance, increased employee morale, and reduced stress and employee turnover.

Challenge #4: Implementing team-based initiatives

Nearly 85% of respondents reported they have no regular team-based stress management practices in place.

By enabling staff to sit down and have a conversation with one other - educating, articulating and motivating – around the benefits of prioritising health and wellbeing, Heath says employees will begin to understand and engage with the initiatives on offer.

And as it’s not enough to just do one or two things – all of the different aspects of wellbeing must be considered to reap the benefits from a programme - Paul cautions organisations to evaluate whether they have the resources (including finances, time and effort) to deliver on requirements, before starting any new initiative.

This is incredibly important says Paul, because if an organisation can’t follow through and the initiative ends up failing due to lack of commitment and support, it could mean the organisation loses valuable time (potentially years) and progress towards employee wellbeing.

Challenge #5: Lack of senior support

With around 97% of Kiwi businesses employing less than 20 people, Paul believes it’s about economies of scale. The Kiwi “she’ll be ‘right” attitude and narrative needs to change and this should start with management leading by example.

Paul says he sees the best performance come from employees whose wellbeing is cared for - so if employers want what’s good for their business, they should invest accordingly.

Heath supports this view, saying it’s about recognising that holistic wellbeing adds to productivity and performance. His team has noticed first-hand that those with the most balanced lives are the most successful and productive.

Challenge #6: Managing different locations

And finally, one of the most frequently submitted challenges by HR managers was effectively managing and applying wellbeing-related initiatives across a wider geographical spread.

As working from home becomes more widespread and more frequent, it’s increasingly important to ensure all employees are able to access and utilise the initiatives you have in place, regardless of their location or work environment.

One way to tackle this is via wellbeing technology, such as nib’s wellness portal, myhealthHQ - a plug and play online platform which helps employers connect with their employees, wherever they are.

myhealthHQ is fully equipped with healthy living and nutrition guides, an NHS provided encyclopaedia of medical conditions and a health risk assessment.

This portal (accessible to organisations with nib health insurance, as part of their group health insurance) helps employers identify areas of focus relating to the health and wellbeing of their workforce, teams and individuals - and offers practical solutions to tackle these needs.

By communicating with your employees, reaching out to the experts for external support, and utilising wellbeing tools and technologies – your organisation can tackle some of the biggest wellbeing challenges and build a healthier, happier and more engaged workforce for the future.

Healthy employees mean healthy business. If you’re interested in seeing how nib group health insurance cover could help support the wellbeing of your organisation, give us a call on 0800 287 642 or email [email protected].

Download a free copy of nib Go! - our workplace wellness magazine at