Why Corporate Wellness Is A Must—And How To Incorporate It At Your Workplace

By Christina Ko

The link between mental, emotional and physical health is oft touted, but in practice often ignored. ATP Personal Training's Alex Hunter is embarking on a crusade to make the connection clear—that everything from showing up sick to using the wrong lightbulbs can have an effect on employee effectiveness

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It's fairly basic knowledge that a happy employee is a good employee—but while the theory has never been in doubt, for most corporates that means taking the team out for drinks on a Friday night or sponsoring cake when it's a colleague's birthday. Rare is the case that fitness comes into play, and even rarer is it that other factors that affect employee wellness are taken into consideration. 

Alex Hunter launched ATP Personal Training last year in Hong Kong as an evolved version of a fitness studio, and has been specifically looking to partner with corporates to improve their wellness goals. Yes, that means group fitness programmes that he believes can help improve morale and productivity, but it also means consultations to see what suits each particular office—everything from the colour of the paint on the walls to the noise level on a daily basis can affect an employee's well-being. Here, he shares a few surprising statistics about how much poor mental and physical health is costing companies in lost productivity, as well as some of the solutions.

It's not a new theory that mental and physical health are linked. What's new that we need to know?
A recent survey of 394 employees at 11 professional services firms in Hong Kong conducted by the City Mental Health Alliance showed 35 percent of employees experienced symptoms of poor mental health in the workplace. From that figure 21 percent admitted that their own work productivity suffered as they were not performing at optimal levels.

Another recent study showed about half of teachers and secondary school pupils in Hong Kong are showing signs of depression. You can extrapolate this figure to a much larger working force—loss of production due to absenteeism is reported by Forbes to cost US companies as much as US$227 billion each year.

The average employee is not satisfied with their work environment or position. Increasing hours, lack of divide between work and personal life and increasing responsibilities compound this. These elements can lead to an unstable mental state which can destabilise the immune system.

You combine this with the generally poor exercise and dietary habits of many individuals in the city, this leads to further issues with overall health that can impact mental and physical well-being. All these factors add up can lead to loss of productivity, decrease in workplace morale, [overuse] of sick days, [higher] cost of medical coverage and loss of customer service due to employee shortage.

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Above  Alex Hunter

Most startups don't have the budget to introduce corporate fitness programmes, and many are too short-handed to allow employees to take time off for fitness. How can companies realistically incorporate wellness into their staff's everyday lives?
Firstly, employers need to realise the immense benefits of incorporating fitness and wellness into the workplace or the daily lives of their staff, not just in terms of physical and mental well-being but the immense cohesion between staff members these programmes can bring. The main issue here isn’t so much budget but mindset. Fitness and wellness programmes can be incorporated into daily work life—it doesn’t have to be a solid hour in one block. Just 10 minutes of gentle exercise or movement interspersed throughout the day is enough to elicit positive mental and physical benefits.

Budgets may be limited in some cases, but exercise is free. You don’t need to pay to go for a walk, jog or run outside. You don’t need to pay to stretch or do some gentle mobility work. What you should be paying for in a corporate wellness programme is knowledge and education. Combining this with simple team activities to embed this culture and create a greater bond amongst employees will have massive benefits.

Companies can easily incorporate daily activities into their staff’s everyday life through morning stretching and mobility routines, which is very common practice in many schools and workplaces in China. Or by allowing individuals to leave their desk to work. The unnecessary need for staff to be sat at their desk just to be present in the office is a mindset that needs to change. If you have the ability to do this work in an alternate location that provides you the time to go out for a walk or get some natural sun exposure, this can have many positive benefits. And many physical and mental exercise can be done right at the desk or in the workplace.

Presenteeism—the need to be at a workplace even if physical or mental conditions do not suit—is an unfortunate concept rife in Hong Kong that needs to change; showing up to work sick, just to be there even if you are not productive at all

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Above  Corporate group training increases team morale

How does workplace wellness affect absenteeism?
Workplace wellness is proven to decrease absenteeism and increase performance, cohesion and productivity. A positive workplace wellness programme makes you want to come to work.

Presenteeism”—the need to be at a workplace even if physical or mental conditions do not suit—is an unfortunate concept rife in Hong Kong that needs to change; showing up to work sick, just to be there even if you are not productive at all. Many Hong Kong workplaces are out of date with this practice, and taking sick days, or being out of the office for extended periods of time, is frowned upon. This concept has terrible ramifications on mental and physical wellbeing.

What exactly is a corporate wellness programme?
It’s tailored to the individual and the company. There is no one size fits all Intricacies need to observed upon consultation, from lighting in the offices to how close desks are to one another, which affects social interactions and can have effects on mental wellbeing as well as productivity.

ATP has set up numerous corporate programmes that have created strong team bonds, as well as improving the overall health of participants. Corporate group training is an amazing way to bring the entire team together in a safe, challenging and motivating environment. Taking individuals out of the office and putting them through the same exercise routines creates an environment you cannot recreate in the office.

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Above  Alex Hunter

How do companies ensure a wellness programme has more than superficial benefits?
It’s very easy to tell your staff members to be part of a wellness programme, but it’s the intrinsic motivation of the staff members themselves wanting to join the programme that will have the positive benefits. Unfortunately many companies use financial incentives to get staff members to “buy in” and this may be great to see numbers grow, but this is an external motivator that does not lead to long term behavioural changes.  This is where education comes into play, one of our core values at ATP. We have an ethos to create long-term, sustainable change. A “transformation” is more than just skin deep.

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