HEALTHY WORKSTYLES : Walk All Around The World

Since BNZ kicked off its total wellness programme two years ago, its staff have together walked around New Zealand 138 times – the equivalent distance at least – as part of “walk around the world” programme. Some are also lot trimmer and job satisfaction is at an all-time high.
The programme’s success, recognised at the 2008 New Zealand Workplace Health and Safety Awards as “Best significant health and safety initiative by large organisation”, helps demonstrate what can be achieved if business truly subscribes to the view that “your people are your greatest asset”.
Numerous studies show that healthy employees are happier, more productive and less likely to fall sick or be absent from work. At company level, staff morale is higher when employers take an interest in the health and wellbeing of their staff, enhancing organisational culture and boosting staff retention.
Subsidised health insurance policies and workplace health and wellness programmes often pop up in surveys as the perks most valued by employees, which potentially explains why the workplace health sector continues to grow strongly, despite the economic downturn.
The benefits of wellness programmes can be measured in dollars and cents, directly through outcomes such as enhanced productivity and reduced absentee days, or indirectly with reduced recruitment costs.
BNZ is good example. With over 5000 employees located across 180 branches all over New Zealand, implementing health and wellness programme could seem little daunting. But this was no deterrent to the bank as it set out to reposition its health and safety outlook from compliance to one of managing its health risks by embracing concept of ‘total wellness’.
The driving philosophy behind this stems from the belief that staff in good health are able to perform at their best. To achieve this, BNZ required wellness programme that would provide it with meaningful information about the current health status of its people.
By understanding the potential health issues the bank faced, BNZ could attempt to reduce these risks through targeted health and wellness interventions. The bank also anticipated benefits to the business, through reduced expenditure on work-related injury costs, reduction in sick leave and staff turnover, and increased productivity.
The results speak for themselves. Staff are healthier, health and safety data has improved, sick leave has decreased and job satisfaction is at an all-time high.
The three-stage wellness programme consisted of free on-site employee health check, completion of an online health questionnaire and series of nationwide workshops targeting those areas identified as common health risk areas.
Since the programme began in August 2007 more than 3000 employees have had free health check and received an in-depth report about their personal health and wellbeing.
The areas checked were smoking habits, alcohol consumption, weight, body mass index (BMI), activity levels, cholesterol, blood pressure, eating habits, work-related stress and health age summary. Through statistical analysis of the results, the bank is able to pinpoint common health risks down to branch level, examine factors that may be contributing to these results, and implement programmes to address them.
For example, while BNZ nationally was below average in terms of smoking-related health issues, it pinpointed where it was above average, in females under 25. Furthermore, as result of the health check, several staff discovered health problems caused by smoking. The smoking cessation workshops (both individual and group) further highlighted the danger their habit posed to their health, motivating them to quit once and for all.
As part of healthy eating programme, BNZ subsidised weight management programmes for employees – something the majority of the Hamilton Banking Centre decided to take up. Sixteen staff joined Weight Watchers for three-month programme and collectively lost 96 kilograms. When they saw this result they decided to sign on for the next three months of the programme. At the end of six months they had lost combined 155 kilograms. Another staff member in the Wellington contact centre lost 28 kilograms when she realised the health risks she was facing as result of her current lifestyle.
BNZ organised over 130 workshops across the country in order to help its people understand health risks and to put them in the driver’s seat when it comes to their own health.
In an effort to reduce workplace stress the bank has implemented flexible working hours and programmes to raise activity levels among staff. global corporate challenge to “walk around the world” with sister companies in Australia and the UK, encourages staff to use pedometers to record the number of steps taken. So far, the 488 employees participating have taken enough steps to walk around New Zealand 138 times.
The hub of the BNZ’s health and wellness programme is dedicated ‘My Wellbeing’ website. This site received 4000 hits in the first week it went live. The programme is constantly being refined and enhanced, and next year the bank will use online workshops to help staff monitor and maintain their own well­being programmes.
BNZ plans to repeat the free health checks for employees at the end of 2010 so they can see the progress made in each of the areas and measure the true effectiveness of the programme.
While BNZ’s is comprehensive programme, there are lot of simple inexpensive initiatives businesses can put in place to help make their company healthier place to work. Workstation assessments, regular blood pressure monitoring, eye and glucose tests, organising someone to come in and talk about nutrition, coordinating team walking or running groups and offering flexible working hours are just some initiatives businesses can adopt.
If you are smaller business then it’s worth focusing on what is going to be valued most by your employees and using that as starting point: If your workforce is sedentary you may want to consider activities to incentivise healthy eating and exercise; if you have lot of working parents you may want to consider flexible working hours.
As businesses such as BNZ can vouch, workplace wellness initiatives should not be viewed as cost, but as an investment in the wellbeing of staff, and ultimately your business. Whether the scheme is for 5000 employees or five, the potential for enhanced recruitment, retention and productivity is too great to ignore.

Peter Tynan is chief executive Health Insurance, Southern Cross Medical Care Society.

Health programmes

What’s included
•Workstation assessments
•Walking and running groups
•Health and nutrition tips
•Smoking cessation programmes
•Nutrition and weight management programmes
•Health and lifestyle education/seminars
•Flu vaccinations
•Health assessments, including blood pressure, glucose, cholesterol and body mass index (BMI) checks
•Stress management support and information
•Vision and hearing tests
•Free fruit (instead of biscuits)
•Subsidised gym memberships
•Flexible working hours
•Social sport teams
•Meditation classes, massages
•Subsidised health insurance
How to ensure they work
•Set clear objectives. What do you want to achieve? (ie, reduced absenteeism, greater productivity, improved staff retention).
•Increase ROI by basing interventions on the health needs identified via an initial health assessment.
•Employee engagement is crucial to enhance buy-in and participation. Use influential and respected employees from throughout the organisation to help champion the programme.
•You need to be in this for the long haul. Health interventions need to be delivered over time to create lasting benefits.
•Try to develop programme that doesn’t involve huge amount of additional administration.

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