The Workplace - January 2019

The Workplace - Guy HaywardHere’s a thought-provoking question: ‘Have company wellness programmes failed?’ Are they something forced on people rather than for them? Do they really elevate company culture, inspire commitment and influence business performance? Do the programmes make a difference? Do we ever achieve the magical balance between work and our lives outside of our job?

I raise the question because twice in the past month I have heard from two CEOs of medium-sized companies that have told me this is how they feel… I figured that others might feel the same. I hope not but I guess it is a possibility.

Interestingly, the term work-life balance does seem rather unattractive and old fashioned. It conjures up images of just doing work ‘at work’ and enjoying total switch-off when you leave the office. We don’t leave work behind when we arrive home and our lives continue when we’re working.

As employers we should create an environment where our people can enjoy both and choose how to balance the two.

That’s why I find the approach from shared workspace organisation WeWork a controversial one. Their 6,000+ employees will no longer be served meat at work events or be reimbursed for meals that include poultry, pork or red meat. The move reaffirms its company values, which include sustainability and community, however it does raise the question of how much influence we should have over our people’s life choices.

Encouraging healthier choices has become integral in the modern workplace and you’d be hard-pushed to find a London office that doesn’t have regular fruit drops, but is an outright ban on unhealthy choices overstepping the mark? Lee Biggins, founder of CV-Library, puts it succinctly when he says, “you don’t want to make employees feel uncomfortable by enforcing unnecessary rules”.

Rules such as at sportswear firm Bjorn Borg, where they enforce mandatory weekly workouts and state that “if you don’t want to exercise or be part of the company culture, you have to go”. I love my fitness but I’m not sure I agree with this approach.

I love seeing companies be wonderfully creative in the way they aid (not force) their people to take care of themselves by giving choice and exposure to ‘things’ that maybe normally they wouldn’t explore. Wellbeing Weeks are a great way of introducing a whole raft of benefits: breast and prostate cancer awareness talks, reflexology, meditation classes, learning to draw and guitar lessons are some of the most creative I have seen. Nothing forced, just an offering of new wellbeing experiences.

Nestlé’s approach has a fun quirkiness: they allow their people to bring dogs into the office, encouraging walks at lunch without enforcing mandatory exercise or sending everyone to the gym. For the same reason, I don’t think I would join the 1,300 businesses Fitbit work with every year to set up ‘wearable devices’ schemes… it seems too much like enforcement. We all know how we like to balance the office and our life outside – we should be allowed that choice. 

Guy Hayward – redefining the modern workplace CEO, Goodman Masson

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