Health and wellbeing: Weird and wonderful wellbeing perks can boost engagement

If you read nothing else, read this . . .

  • Employers are increasingly interested in offering creative and quirky health and wellbeing benefits to support their staff.
  • Supporting the health and wellbeing of employees can improve motivation and engagement levels, in turn, leading to improved productivity.
  • Creative benefits not only support employees’ physical health, but also their mental and social wellbeing.
  • Employers need to ensure that health and wellbeing strategies are aligned to the needs of their employees.

A dog creche and a bicycle-powered smoothie blender are among the wackier ways to boost wellbeing, says Tynan Barton

Job cuts, pay freezes and office closures have all taken their toll on employees’ health and wellbeing, not to mention engagement and motivation levels.

With cash still in short supply for many organisations, some compensation and benefits professionals are realising the value of creative and quirky ways to boost the wellbeing of staff who may feel burnt out and despondent after the recession.

Providing a dog creche might not seem an obvious lever to increase staff productivity, but it certainly rates among the more creative alternatives to the usual health and wellbeing benefits. And the idea might not be as far-fetched as it appears. After all, employees’ wellbeing is likely to increase if they know their furry friend is not stuck at home alone, and lunch-time dog walks are good exercise.

Dr Peter Mills, director at Glasslyn Health Solutions, says employers could also offer pet insurance as a benefit. “It is not going to affect an employee’s health, but it might affect their wellbeing,” he explains. “People get very attached to their pets. Having pets can have an impact on psychological health, so having the peace of mind of pet insurance may be a more attractive proposition than having medical insurance for some people.”

Other ways to boost wellbeing can include allowing staff to raise money for charity and get involved in community work, such as in local schools. Laura Heathcock, consultant at business psychology firm Robertson Cooper, says: “Things like charity days and working in school initiatives build on helping people find that sense of purpose and goal-setting which are really important to wellbeing.”

Robertson Cooper operates a ‘happiness day’ scheme for its own employees, in which they are given an extra day’s leave and a small budget to spend as they choose, for example taking a friend out to lunch, or a day out to Alton Towers. The only proviso is that they report back to the team on how they spent their happiness day.

In this health-conscious age, cookery courses, designed to help staff create healthier meals, might also be an effective perk. As part of a healthy-eating promotion, employees could be encouraged to generate and share weekly recipes.

Meanwhile, Phil Olding, managing director of New Leaf Health, recommends the Blendavenda – a portable cycle-powered smoothie bar. The employee pedals a bike, which powers a blender that produces a smoothie drink.

Laughter sessions

When it comes to providing stress relief, employers may want to consider laughter sessions – where employees lie on the floor and laugh together – and singing workshops.

Of course, in most benefit programmes, a one-size-fits-all approach will not work. While some employees may cherish their pets over healthy eating, others may be keener to get more exercise or do some charity work. Before choosing any particular benefit, an employer should consider what they want to achieve. Olding adds: “People who are looking at wellbeing need to understand what good practice is, and the first question should be: why am I doing it?”

Looking after employees’ health and wellbeing can be a way of ensuring they stay committed to their employer. Eugene Farrell, business manager at Axa Icas, says: “Employers are looking to wellbeing as a way of looking after employees, not in a cynical way, but in an altruistic way: ‘we think we have got good people, so we need them to be fit, healthy, and engaged’.”

So while wellbeing interventions tend to be based on the employer’s beliefs, it is good practice to find out what staff think they need to be healthier.

Read more from the health and wellbeing supplement