How to build a happy, healthy workforce

In today’s fast-pace working world, competition for the best and the brightest employees is fierce, meaning businesses have to offer more than just an attractive salary. It’s more important than ever to safeguard and protect your employees’ wellbeing and provide them with the right benefits. Ria Ingleby, who heads up Vodafone’s wellbeing programme, provides her tips on how to give your people a boost.

The thinking around wellbeing has changed beyond recognition in the last five to 10 years. Even just a short time ago, HR managers considered a company health insurance plan as all that was needed to help keep employees happy and healthy.

A lot has changed. People’s wellbeing is starting to be looked at much more holistically, with many organisations taking into consideration the different elements that make people physically fit, upbeat and feeling secure. And in turn employees are more likely to be productive and motivated meaning they can deliver more for the company they work for.

When I was building up the Vodafone wellbeing strategy, drawing on evidence from Harvard, Gallup and Oxford University, I identified seven main aspects of wellbeing.

Physical health is obviously a major component, but it was just one spoke in the wheel, the others are emotional, personal growth, community, family, financial security and fun. Each spoke has wellbeing at its centre, the hub, which allows the wheel to turn.

The key development that brought together these elements is the blurring of the lines between work and home life. Logging on has never been easier and, as a result, constantly connected technology at our fingertips means people don’t switch off like they used to. .

Being happy therefore involves optimising all these areas; it is a holistic approach that means giving something back to the people in our organisation. The by-products of this approach will be lower absenteeism and increased productivity, but the best programmes don’t start with a focus on the bottom line like this.

Vodafone is a large business but organisations large and small can benefit from the same approach. There are a few key things to keep in mind when setting up a wellbeing programme:

1)     What is your motivation?

It’s important to be clear on your reasons for setting up a programme and reducing annual sick days may not be enough. The objectives should inspire your people and spread enthusiasm for your vision.

2)     Recruit ambassadors

Through effective communication of organisational goals, you should be able to recruit a number of ‘wellbeing ambassadors’ to help drive the message and pass on news of developments.

Through Vodafone’s programme I have managed to recruit nearly 100 such ambassadors, but the numbers will vary in organisations of different sizes. One thing’s for sure, without them acting as an extension of your voice it would be very hard to get the message across.

3)     Create an identity

The programme should have its own brand identity so when people talk about what’s happen they know what to call it and can visualise what’s going on. Having a brand will galvanise people and will help to rally them around your goals.

Crucially, a wellbeing programme should tackle all possible areas of ill-health, including the symptoms of stress, disenfranchisement, sadness and loneliness, to name a few debilitating factors not linked to physical fitness.

It’s more important now than ever. Humans have adopted technology in the blink of an eye, but as animals we haven’t changed at all since well before industrialisation. Suddenly we are bombarded with stimulus and calls to action; it’s no wonder some people find it tough.

But wellbeing is not just about mitigating the negatives; it’s about enhancing the positives too. People at Vodafone are delighted that we have free health assessments, GPs on site, a subsidised gym and a variety of different services for mental and physical fitness.

And we are by no means unique in this. Increasingly, people in the jobs market are looking for differentiators between potential employers and they want to see evidence that a potential employer looks after its staff.

So wellbeing is a tool that can boost recruitment, retention and motivation.

The other good news, particularly for growing businesses, is that investing in this area need not cost the earth and it doesn’t take an army of fitness coaches to make it happen. A few well thought out measures could help you stand out from the competition.

So if you are considering launching a wellbeing programme, remember the essential points: make sure your motives are genuine, be clear about your objectives and secure buy-in from ambassadors across your organisation.

Do that and you will reap the benefits of a happier, healthy workforce for years to come.