Working towards wellbeing

Green Prescription co-ordinator Katri Vaiknemets leads a walk during its summer walks series....
Green Prescription co-ordinator Katri Vaiknemets leads a walk during its summer walks series. Photo: Green Prescription
A suit and briefcase or a hard hat and high vis used to be the main kit for the average workday. These days you are as likely to need yoga pants and running shoes. Brent Melville looks at the rise of wellbeing in the workplace.

Wellbeing is becoming part of business as usual.

The idea there is a direct correlation between health and mental wellbeing and productivity is not a novel concept.

Japanese and Asian businesses in particular have understood that for well over a century, in the understanding that a pleasant work environment, regular exercise and corporate perks serve to engender loyalty, enhance productivity and reduce time off work.

The west has gradually taken the idea of wellbeing on board, which in the Japanese context is known as ikigai, a term that has no literal translation but roughly means "happiness in living".

According to Dan Buettner, author of The Blue Zones, Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who've Lived the Longest, ikigai is the reason you get up in the morning.

The United States-born author and speaker believes it is also a firmer contributor to longevity.

The Japanese have some of the longest-living people in the world, 87 years for women and 82 for men, according to its Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare.

According to Mr Buettner, the concept of ikigai is an important element of that, along with diet.

He does not believe it is exclusive to the Japanese, but evident across what he refers to as "blue zones" such as Sardinia and Nicoya Peninsula.

New Zealand's own ikigai is reflected in our "wellbeing budget" which is something of a shift away from traditional fiscal metrics to more social and environmental measures.

Green Prescription Otago area manager Chanel Pienaar believes that mindset is having an impact not only into healthcare but in the workplace also.

"There's definitely a lot more interest and buy into workplace health programmes, businesses want to make sure their people are more active, healthier - with the spinoff being that it creates a more productive environment."

Tim Leberecht, a self described "humanist" from Silicon Valley, equates people to the "heart of the business".

"We need to start looking inside the organisation, we need to ensure the people are working to their optimum. When we do look inside a business today we often find an unhealthy heart where the business and individual values and beliefs are misaligned and therefore not working to achieve the best outcome for either the business or the individual."

Programmes like Southern Cross' BeingWell are also helping drive workplace acceptance, serving to reduce risk and costs of healthcare.

The Southern Cross programme recommends that every organisation should invest in or have close acces to a defribrillator, run regular first aid courses, promote regular heart checks with staff and promote activity by subsidising gym memberships.

Ms Pienaar said their research had shown that many bigger organisations are already doing a good job in that space.

"Where there is some work to do is with smaller organisations which are often focused more on getting the job done with the resources they have to hand."

For them, wellness was just a "nice to have" rather than a priority.

She said these kind of programmes were not necessarily cost prohibitive or time consuming.

"Health management organisations such as Green Prescription are able to set up an appropriate programme for both individuals and organisations.

"There's no off-the-shelf solution. We take a holistic approach to lifestyle, normally freely available on prescription by health professionals to promote physical activity across all age groups and it doesn't necessarily mean spending hours in the gym or making drastic changes to diet."

She said the organisation took a lot of time up front to gain a full understanding of what people needed.

"A lot of time in the health sector we think we know what people want or need when, in fact, they want the exact opposite."

Sport Otago business development and events manager Michael Smith said corporate challenges had become popular with a number of local businesses.

"This may include involvement in Surf to Stadium or the marathon, but they are seeing real results - it may not be measured by weight loss but through other less tangible benefits," he said.

One local company that had embraced wellness in the workplace was network company Aurora Energy.

The company, which employs 120 staff through Dunedin and Central Otago offices, implemented its wellbeing programme last year.

Aurora general manager customer and engagement Sian Sutton said the compulsory programme was an important part of facilitating team building and social interaction.

For Aurora it is not all about exercise.

Its inhouse wellbeing group has established "lunch and learns" covering topics like mindfulness, nutrition, sleep and exercise, budgeting and planning for retirement.

"We provide wellbeing tips and tricks and tools to self-assess and check your wellbeing and encourage physical exercise by holding a regular twice-weekly walking group, supporting staff participation in key sporting events like Surf to Stadium and rustic run events."

Ms Sutton said the company was also looking at ways to provide more volunteering opportunities to its teams, and feedback to date had been "excellent."


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