Dr Holly Blake: Increasing engagement with nutrition programmes

Dr Holly Blake

The number of organisations offering employee wellbeing programmes is on the increase. Healthy eating and weight management initiatives can contribute to prevention and management of obesity, as well as encourage healthy lifestyle choices among workforces.

Nationally, obesity rates have risen 15% since 1993, according to NHS Digital statistics published in April 2018. The same data shows that 26% of adults in England were classified as obese in 2016. This impacts on the National Health Service (NHS), since there were 617,000 admissions in NHS hospitals where obesity was identified as a factor. The statistics further reveal that a startling 74% of adults are not eating five portions of fruits and vegetables a day.

Employers can help to make a difference to public health, while benefiting from a healthier workforce.

Getting people engaged in workplace health programmes can be challenging. Top level support is critical, according to Influencing Organisational Change in the NHS: Lessons Learned From Workplace Wellness Initiatives in Practice, by Blake and Lloyd, published in 2008. Employees need to see that organisation leaders are on board and championing the cause; a workplace culture and climate that supports wellbeing is essential, and with that comes resource investment, as found in Lee, Blake and Lloyd’s 2010 report, The Price is Right: Making Workplace Wellness Financially Sustainable.

With busy schedules, it can be hard to take time out, but employees need to feel sanctioned to get involved during working hours and encouraged to take healthy breaks. This will mean offering activities that are accessible and can be integrated within the working day. Ask staff what they want and design programmes based on their suggestions and needs.

Getting people involved in designing programmes will give them a sense of ownership. Employee wellbeing champions can be put in place to improve channels of communication and help promote activities to their peers, as found by Blake and Chambers in Supporting Nurse Health Champions: Developing a ‘New Generation’ of Health Improvement Facilitators, published in April 2011.

Evaluating the impact here is important to demonstrate engagement, or highlight areas for improvement in services offered. Measuring outcomes objectively can provide valuable evidence indicating employee health and wellbeing, and positive returns on investment for the organisation’s bottom-line.

Think creatively. Technology can be used to promote health and engage staff in healthy behaviours or raise awareness about being healthy at work. These points were noted in Active8! Technology-Based Intervention to Promote Physical Activity in Hospital Employees, by Blake, Suggs, Coman, Aguirre, Batt, published in November 2015, and in Workplace Wellness Using Online Learning Tools in a Healthcare Setting, by Gartshore and Blake, published in September 2016.

Finally, learn from exemplars. Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust is an exemplar for employee health and wellbeing. The organisation has delivered a nationally-recognised staff wellbeing programme since 2005, and works in collaboration with the University of Nottingham to generate published evidence of employee perceptions of services they offer and the organisational benefits.

Dr Holly Blake is associate professor of behavioural science at the University of Nottingham