Over the years, our understanding of employee wellness has evolved dramatically. Starting with the implementation of the eight-hour work day in the nineteenth century, through to the employee fitness crazes of the 70s and 80s, and the awareness programmes of the 90s, it’s a field that has seldom stood still. Today, we’ve reached a point where the best companies recognise that employee wellness covers total wellbeing and touches every aspect of our working lives.
Realising this and rolling out programmes that focus on “total” employee wellness are, of course, two very different things. Fortunately, technology is going a long way to helping the situation.
The physical side
When it comes to encouraging physical fitness among employees, technology has been a real game changer. Where once companies could once only encourage their employees to be active by providing gym contracts or on-site facilities, these days things are a lot more sophisticated.
Some companies give employees fitness trackers. They can then share the data from these trackers with each other, or use it to tailor their fitness programme with a dedicated trainer.
Many of these trackers also allow people to monitor sleep, something which we increasingly know to be crucial when it comes to producing high quality work.
By sharing that data with trusted colleagues, employees can provide support for each other as well as tips for getting better sleep.
As we’ve written previously though, it’s imperative that any company using technology for these purposes respect its employees’ privacy.
Data in design
All the fitness technology in the world won’t, however, solve the problem of a poorly designed work environment.
Conventional open plan spaces can be especially detrimental in this regard.
As we pointed out in January, they might be an effective use of space, especially for the cost-conscious business, but they don’t always have a positive impact on people.
Embedded sensors can, for instance, provide data around office spaces which are the nosiest, or have the best lighting, as well as other information around how the space is being used.
Using that data, companies can redesign their offices for optimal wellness and productivity.
As US furniture giant Haworth points out in an original white paper, “new technologies can make work better by helping people be their best and soon we’ll see employees drawn to the office in their search for increased wellbeing, engagement, and effectiveness.”
The idea is that, rather than employees having to adjust to office life, the workspace responds to how they work best.
Mental wellbeing has always been one of the most difficult aspects of employee health and wellness to monitor. In part, that’s because most workers still feel a stigma around telling their bosses that they’re facing mental health issues. But it’s also worth remembering that mental health is an incredibly complex field with fewer set parameters than physical wellbeing.
Certainly, we know that physical activity and office design can have a major impact on mental wellbeing, but they’re far from the only factors.
In a bid to get a clearer idea of what kind of mental space their employees are in, employers have turned to technology.
The UK’s Network Rail, for instance, teamed up with business psychologists Robertson Cooper, a spin-off from the University of Manchester, which has developed an “i-resilience” report and a “Wellbeing Snapshot”.
According to the Financial Times, staff conduct their own confidential online assessments, which helps managers spot signs of stress.
They can then implement intervention programmes to help bring stress levels down.
All of the factors we’ve mentioned are, however, external to one of the biggest causes of workplace stress and anxiety: the workplace itself.
As much as technology has allowed a culture of after-hours work to develop, it also means that employees don’t necessarily have to come into the office, allowing them to avoid traffic and spend more time with their families.
With the right tools, companies can also better manage their employees workloads and ensure that the deadlines set by managers are realistic.
Ultimately though, it’s important to remember that technology can never be a total wellness solution, it can only enable it.