The buzz around Corporate Health & Wellness Programmes has been growing steadily. At the January launch of the government’s ‘Healthy Ireland 2018’ campaign, Leo Varadkar flagged upcoming tax incentives for employers to install showering facilities and equipment into the workplace indicating the government’s strong support for workplace wellness.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), workplace health programmes are one of the most effective ways to prevent and control chronic disease and to support mental health, so it’s fair to say that workplace wellness / fitness is not a passing fad. Although relatively new to Ireland, corporate wellness programmes originated in the US in the 90s, growing steadily to the point where they are now more of a need to have than a nice to have. Some companies in Sweden including sportswear retailer ‘Bjorn Borg’ have gone as far as making on-the-job exercise compulsory with a weekly workout at a nearby gym.
I have taught corporate classes for over two years and put the question to some of my clients, asking how they saw the classes benefitting them. Roisín, who has been attending classes for over a year, mentioned several points including better back health, improved sleep, increased productivity and convenience.
As a busy Mum of three girls with chronic back pain who has a long commute, she finds it impossible to fit in exercise outside the workplace; “With lunchtime Pilates at work, I can fit exercise into my daily schedule. I have seen a noticeable improvement in my back while doing the Pilates classes, which has helped to considerably reduce the pain and as a result improve my quality of sleep. I also find on the days where I have that break to do Pilates at lunchtime, my afternoons are even more productive as I come back to my desk rejuvenated and ready to go.”
Mental wellness is now recognised as a major component in our overall health. One of the greatest challenges to our mental health is stress, all too often caused by what’s going on in the workplace. While physical exercise is a known mood enhancer, many companies are offering a more direct approach to mental health with meditation / mindfulness classes.
Treacy O'Connor, team lead for meditation, mindfulness and team building with Corporate Wellness Ireland, says "We are receiving an ever increasing amount of corporate enquiries. Every session has been full to date with up to 60 people at a time. Giving the workforce access to very simple techniques they can use at any time of the day is proving to be of great benefit. One employee shared with me, that before the sessions, she suffered a lot from anxiety. She has been able to greatly reduce her symptoms (actually they’re nearly gone) and she now feels much more confident in herself.”
As well as the physical and mental health benefits, corporate classes have been shown to foster camaraderie between work colleagues. Never mind discussing last night’s Game of Thrones episode around the water cooler – how about comparing aches after yesterday’s exercise class? As head of the TII sports and social committee, Mary Deevy reported “An unexpected bonus, as a recently merged organisation, is that the Pilates classes which are attended by a great mix of staff have facilitated staff to get to know each other better”.
Let’s face it, business is business and companies are not going to invest in an initiative long term unless there are benefits to be had for the organization. Healthy and more energised employees mean better productivity and less sick days. In addition, a good corporate wellness program can make a company more attractive to potential employees and can help to retain existing ones thanks to workplace satisfaction.
Whether fully, partially or not subsidised by the boss, more often than not wellness programmes work out cheaper for employees than the gym or regular fitness classes. Furthermore the convenience of working out at work is clear. Workplace wellness programmes don’t have to be complicated or expensive or limited to large businesses or urban centres. There’s a broad menu of activities to choose from and if you want to keep costs to zero, walking or running groups are an easy to organise option with a wide array of training apps to choose from.
The benefits are far-reaching, from individual employees to the companies they work for, with the end goal being that a healthier workforce impacts positively on families, communities and the nation as a whole, from an economic to a quality of life perspective.
© Grá For Fitness 2018