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Workplace wellness has really taken off over the last couple of years.

Price Waterhouse Coopers released a report calling for wellness to be made ‘business as usual’ and it’s a great call to action. As a medical practitioner with over three decades of experience, I applaud these and others efforts. Taking care that people are not only kept safe but remain healthy and fit for work makes plenty of economic sense. Healthier workers remain on the job for longer and reduce the costs of sick leave, stress leave and absenteeism.

But while multiple workplace wellness providers jostle for position in their pursuit of the Holy Grail, to demonstrate their value in boosting an organisation’s bottom line, there is a bigger question needing to be asked.

Is this enough to boost engagement and productivity?

My contention is no, it’s not, and I’m concerned too that many of the wellness initiatives remain piecemeal and ad hoc in their introduction and evaluation.

Being healthy at work incorporates physical, mental and cognitive fitness. At present most workplace wellness programs focus on the first two, but we need all three working synergistically to provide complete health and wellbeing, which does lead to greater engagement and productivity.

A report by BUPA from 2015 acknowledges this, indicating that workplace culture also has an important role to play.

That’s because while providing fresh fruit, discounted gym access and onsite health checks are nice to have, they fail to address three essential elements for greater engagement.

1. The ‘So What?’ Factor

One CEO shared with me how he had provided yoga classes for all his staff several times a week after work, but had been very disheartened by the low take-up rate for his initiative.

What he had failed to do was to ask if his employees were interested in yoga, whether the timing of the classes suited and what other activities they might prefer instead. If he had, he might have understood that the majority of his employees had young children. It simply wasn’t possible for them to attend the classes after work, and that yoga for the vast majority wasn’t something they really wanted to do.

Checking in first to ask what is relevant and needed always works better than making assumptions that can be so very wrong, as does talking about why health and wellbeing is important from an employer’s and employee’s perspective.

2. Autonomy

Sure, who wouldn’t want to be in an environment where you have access to good food, a gym, a nice office with decent furniture or good lighting? But if you’re constantly being monitored for what you do or don’t do this can lead to a sense that you’re not trusted to do your job well. This is highly demotivating and the quickest route to the nearest exit. As is if the culture of reward only goes to the ones who sacrifice the most, put in the longest hours or forgo their holidays.

Loving your job, knowing that you’re good at it and having the desire to succeed can be frustrated if your boss or manager fails to enable you to demonstrate your true capability, or disallows you from accessing new opportunities or further training.

Boosting engagement and productivity needs something more. In his book ‘Drive’ Dan Pink talks about the need for mastery, autonomy and purpose. These internal drivers have been identified as what really motivates us to work and helps us to see the results of our efforts too.

3. The People Factor

Creating a high-performance workplace needs people who get on well with each other. How we feel about the people we work with influences our level of commitment and trust. While it’s not realistic to get on famously well with everyone, having a mindset that is more accepting, tolerant and less judgmental fosters greater contribution and collaboration as a whole.

It only takes one toxic person in the office to infect the whole department, lowering morale and encouraging the development of a silo mentality. Bullying, uncertainty and mismatched expectations are extremely damaging to consistency, reliability and innovation.

When people choose to leave, the reason commonly given is not necessarily the pay or lack of child-care, but getting away from an ugly boss or manager.

Creating a brain friendly work culture looks at how to fit these three components together.

Create a fit and healthy brain optimised to work at its best.

Operate using those workplace practices as demonstrated by the brain science to be the most effective to help us get more done, to a high level in a shorter period of time.

Integrate by forming meaningful interpersonal connections with colleagues.

Workplace wellness programs are the starting point for creating a high performance workplace. It shows a business or organisation does care about the wellbeing of its staff.

Recruiting new staff members and replacing those who leave is hugely expensive. Retaining talent is imperative, so it makes sense to ensure every staff member is fit to work from a physical and mental perspective, and also given the emotional and social support to flourish.

To do the work we love, with people we like and for the benefit of others doesn’t have to be difficult, but it does take vision, time and tenacity, and has to start from the top. Nurturing a high-performance workplace culture that is people centric requires these three things:

Health + Energy + Happiness

Does your workplace have a health and wellbeing program in place?

Do you feel energised by your work because you have the freedom to do your job well with the appropriate support?

Does going to work make you feel good because of the other people you work with or for?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Dr Jenny Brockis

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and internationally board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, workplace health and wellbeing consultant, podcaster, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book 'Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life' (Wiley) is available online and at all good bookstores.

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