Nudge, Guide & Encourage Healthy Practices in the Workplace

Gareth Cartman

Gareth Cartman

This blog post was written in response to the June 2013 Coffee Shop HR World Café topic: “How can we maintain healthier lifestyles at work?”

Here are two extremes. Ted eats junk food all day, never exercises, and goes to bed at 3am after playing computer games all night. He turns up at 9:30 every morning looking bleary-eyed, and needs several coffees just to get started.

Ed, however, gets a proper night’s sleep, is in at 8:00 every morning after a session in the gym, and eats healthily.

Which of your two employees is the more productive? Well, there is a chance that Ed spends his day on Facebook, and there is a chance that Ted is a genius who only needs a few hours’ sleep and a gallon of coffee… but if you had a hundred Teds, the chances are that you’re not getting the best work out of them. Chances are that you’re getting better work out of your one hundred Eds – so why leave it to chance?

After all, it’s simple maths – you invest x amount in a health initiative, and you get y amount in return. Y will be a multiple of x.

The value of a nudge

Most large organisations have an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) in place, but many see it as a tick in the box. A phone number, or a web portal. Promote it, if you’ve got it. Insist on running promotions that hit peoples’ inboxes, get in their faces next to the coffee machine, or through your intranet. Communicate and nudge people towards the solutions you’re providing.

But it doesn’t have to be an EAP. There are simple things that smaller businesses can try. For instance, get rid of the chocolate machine and buy in a fruit box at the start of every week. Offer reduced-price gym subscriptions. Offer breakfast (so long as it’s a healthy option), and insist that people use their breaks. A corporate culture of working through lunch breaks does not result in greater productivity or ‘more work done’ – it results in the same amount of work being stretched over a longer period.

The value of a guiding hand

Sometimes, a nudge is not enough. There may be instances when an employee’s work is being hindered by simple problems that you have caused. Yes, you. Your computer screens, your workstations, your chairs – you could be causing headaches, causing backache, musculoskeletal problems…

A guiding hand would seek to pre-empt any potential issues by providing proactive and reactive services to employees – as simple as, say, giving access to a physiotherapist as and when needed, or ensuring that workstation assessments are carried out, at least on an annual basis. Simple solutions that can be paid for on-the-go, and nip a problem in the bud.

The value of encouragement

I’ve always hated the word gamification, but the principle behind it is solid. The idea is that by creating a little healthy competition, you can change behaviour. I’ve heard of digital agencies giving out wristbands which measure the number of steps you take – as well as the quality of your sleep.

The data is uploaded to employees’ smartphones, and shared in a league table. Who moved the most in the last week? Who slept the best? It’s a harmless little competition that encourages healthy activity. Some of these devices even let you scan barcodes of food you’ve eaten, to measure calorie intake. I think that’s a great idea, and it may be one of the more forward-thinking initiatives businesses have to take in order to get that little bit more productivity out of their people.

If we’re going to prove ourselves as HR professionals, and deliver measurable change to the business, we have to nudge, guide, and encourage our people to make healthy choices not just in the workplace, but at home. Healthy people are (generally speaking) productive people, and we have the data to correlate our initiatives with business results.

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