Barriers and solutions to investing in employee health and wellbeing

By Jenny Muir,
female employee cycling to work

We all know that the most valuable asset of any organisation is the employees, and that happy and healthy employees are productive employees. But also, and perhaps most importantly, unhealthy, stressed and unproductive workers can cost you a lot of money.

Inactive lifestyles, sedentary work and stressful working environments are making UK workers some of the most miserable in the developed countries. Research shows we take an average of 6.6 sick days a year, and that costs our employers £29bn in each year. So why aren’t we all investing in our employees?

There are a few common barriers that stop organisations effectively investing time and money in their employees’ health and wellbeing.

Barrier 1: Lack of knowledge

Promoting active and healthy lifestyles isn’t easy. It’s not just about handing out leaflets with some hot tips.

We humans are creatures of habit, we like routine and having the right facilities or a Cycle to Work scheme isn’t enough.

It is important to to empower people to make better choices, help them change their behaviour and break their habits.

Solution: Let the experts do their job

Empower your own employees by introducing a workplace champion scheme.

You may already have proactive people in your organisation so utilise those skills and character traits!

Active Travel Champion organisations are committed to increasing levels of walking and cycling at their organisation. Sustrans work with sites of 200 or more employees, where Champions are permitted to use 1-2 hours of staff time per month on ATC related planning and activities.

Barrier 2: It’s nobody’s responsibility

Provision and promotion of health and wellbeing is rarely included in anyone’s job description, causing lack of ownership and dooming any campaign or project to fail.

A typical example, taken from our real life experience: “Organisation A” with just over 200 employees has a very small and busy HR team.

When staff expressed a desire to have the Cycle to Work scheme it took the HR team over two years to put it in place, and then the uptake wasn’t great, even though there was plenty of cycle parking and shower facilities on the site.

Those who wanted the scheme in the first place got their bikes, while others weren’t even aware of the scheme.

What was the problem? Lack of ownership meant it was just another task the HR team had to squeeze into their busy schedule, and no one in the team had the responsibility for it, so they didn’t prioritise its success.

Solution: Make it part of someone’s job

Give the responsibility to someone in your organisation. Make sure the person is happy to take the new task on, allocate them enough time and resources.

Our Active Travel Champion’s programme provides people with the right set of skills, knowledge and experience to promote walking and cycling within their organisation.

We will work with your organisation to identify your needs and offer engagement that works for you and your employees.

Barrier 3: Funding scarcity

We understand that for many organisations, it is still important to be very careful about what they spend their money on. Often there are very little disposable funds available.

Solution: Work with other organisations

Our Active Travel Champions programme is fully funded through Transport Scotland and is free for all organisations employing more than 200 staff in Edinburgh or Glasgow.

Additionally, participating would be able to access a small grant fund which can help to provide facilities, resources, events and training all aimed at encouraging staff to walk and cycle for their journeys to and from work.

How Sustrans can help

At Sustrans we have the know-how, the tried and tested behaviour change methodology that really makes a difference, as well as the enthusiasm and experience.

We work with a range of organisations and frequently share in success stories.

To develop a healthier, more productive workforce through our Active Travel Champions programme apply now.

Applications close on 12 September 2017.