The secret to a successful wellbeing programme

HRD talks to the chief people and strategy officer at Southern Cross about their holistic approach to health

The secret to a successful wellbeing programme

The World Health Organisation defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”.

The definition has inspired many people and employers around the world to rethink their approach to health and wellbeing.

One such organisation is the Southern Cross Health Society, who originally launched a basic staff-health programme focused on initiatives such as smoking cessation and weight loss. Since then, the Switch2well programme has evolved into something far more comprehensive.

Southern Cross chief people and strategy officer, Vicki Caisley, told HRD that the company realised the time had come to implement something that was far more holistic.

This involved expanding beyond the basics and developing a “well-rounded tool to promote overall health and wellness to employees”.

These days, the company offers a range of options for employees to get involved in healthier lifestyle choices, from mental wellbeing and financial literacy seminars to sustainability and community-support activities - all during work hours.

For employers, health and wellbeing is an important area to focus on. A study by Stats NZ found that 14.7% of the population rated their health as fair or poor, while 55.3% rated their general health as either very good or excellent.

Additionally, nearly one in four New Zealand adults (aged 18 and over) experienced ‘poor’ mental wellbeing on the World Health Organization’s WHO-5 scale. 

Read more: Burnout: Employees say HR ‘not doing enough to help’

At Southern Cross, staff can earn Switch2well points by commuting sustainably to work, showing a commitment to exercise with a wellbeing membership or participation in a sports team, and attending various wellness seminars. The points equate to rewards, such as a “wellness day” and other benefits.

The results speak for themselves as well, with more than 90% of staff actively participate in Switch2well and 82% of employees saying participating has had a positive impact on their health and wellbeing.

So, what’s the secret to implementing a successful health and wellbeing programme?

Firstly, Caisley said they must be holistic and cover components such as budgetary and financial advice, enabling people to complete community service and the more traditional health and fitness aspects as well.

“My advice would be to be broad, because every human is different and their needs are different in terms of being at their best,” she said.

“It has to give people lots of opportunity to create their own customised wellbeing programme for what they need at certain points in their life. We don’t assume that everybody needs the same thing.”

In late 2019, Southern Cross partnered with Edison NZ to give employees the opportunity to take a DNA test to measure wellness indicators.

The results helped create a personalised report detailing what exercise, nutrition, sleep and other such activities will be specifically beneficial to the individual.

Read more: Why HR should encourage employees to sleep more

Caisley said the other important thing to do is make sure you communicate with your people and understand their needs.

“Talk to your people about what they need. For us, that is what drives the content of our overall programme,” she said.

“Every year we run focus groups and we talk to our people about how the programme has been going – what is working for them and what they want to see more of or less of. Those sorts of things. We use that information to keep on expanding and changing the program to suit the needs of where our people are at each year.”

In fact, Southern Cross’s initiative was so successful it was a finalist at the 2020 Diversity Awards.

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