Can a happy and healthy workforce outperform the competition? One North-East company is convinced they can – and has a new method of proving it.

THE idea of employee wellbeing isn’t new. The first textbook about occupational medicine was written by Italian physician Bernardino Ramazzini more than 300 years ago.

In Britain, Charles Turner Thackrah’s book about industrial diseases published in 1832 saw occupational medicine established as a discipline concerned with the maintenance of health in the workplace.

A year later the Factory Act was passed as part of a concerted bid to improve working conditions.

But it was the confectioner George Cadbury who took the wellbeing of his workers to new heights.

When his company outgrew its factory in the centre of Birmingham, he asked his brother Richard: “Why should an industrial area be squalid and depressing?”

The brothers’ answer – Bournville – was a remarkable response. Built on a 14 acre greenfield site, the factory boasted facilities that were unheard of in Victorian times including a cricket and football field, tennis courts, a bowling green, a garden and playground plus a kitchen for the preparation of hot meals. Later, a swimming pool was added, and staff were encouraged to learn how to swim. The company also ran staff outings and summer camps.

Although they were philanthropists at heart, the Cadbury brothers also knew that a happy workforce is a productive workforce.

Wellbeing expert, Johnny Harrison, says: “That’s a philosophy that every company, no matter how big or how small, should take to heart. Thankfully, employee wellbeing is now being taken seriously and the conversation around workplace wellbeing has expanded dramatically in the past decade.”

Johnny is one of the driving forces behind Corporate Personal Fitness, a Darlington-based company which works with companies looking to improve workplace welfare.

Of course, the decline in factory work means people no longer have to grapple with the same gruelling physical conditions that our ancestors found so challenging. But the shift from industrial and manufacturing to services and digital has created new problems.

Although office jobs and home working pose fewer direct threats to workers’ physical health, a sedentary lifestyle has been linked to a range of chronic health conditions.

Studies have shown that an office job which involves sitting for most of the day combined with a lack of physical exercise can lead to obesity, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and even some types of cancer. In addition, stress-related illnesses are becoming more and more prevalent.

Recent research shows that workplace culture is the biggest stumbling block employees face in their efforts to feel healthier and happier.

And companies which don’t take a proactive approach will pay the price. According to the Britain’s Healthiest Workplace survey, sickness-related absences and presenteeism are costing the UK economy £77.5bn a year.

In the North-East, Corporate Personal Fitness has been a pioneer in workplace wellbeing. Its therapists, personal trainers and healthcare professionals visit workplaces and help staff improve their physical and mental wellbeing through bespoke plans.

Three years ago, the company opened the UK’s first personal training studio based in an office block at Darlington’s Business Central aimed at busy executives who need a fitness plan that can fit in around their lifestyles.

They developed the UK’s first corporate Micro-Spa and were the first, and to date the only, company in the UK offering a fully online NVQ qualification in mental health first-aid.

Now CPF has launched its most ambitious programme yet, a three-month strategic wellbeing programme aimed at boosting productivity by improving the physical and mental fitness of the workforce.

Businessiq:

Johnny says the results can be startling: “A survey examined 200 employees at three different companies and evaluated their productivity levels on days they exercised and days they didn’t.

“The statistics were amazing. On workout days, alertness levels were 21 per cent higher. They meant staff needed to take fewer unscheduled breaks and, as a result, 22 per cent more of them finished their work on time. Nearly half of them said exercise made them feel more motivated when they were at work.”

The CPF corporate wellbeing programme takes delegates out of their workplace for a day of intensive work with specialists, usually at a leading hotel. The first was held at Rockcliffe Hall, the five-star luxury golf and spa hotel in Hurworth, near Darlington, in September.

CPF ran seminars on effective therapies, exercise, wellbeing, leadership, productivity and mental health first-aid.

A second day took place in October and a follow-up in November when delegates used their newfound knowledge to create their bespoke corporate wellbeing strategy and tactical plan.

The value of increased productivity generated by the programme and the importance of staff wellbeing has been recognised by the Tees Valley Combined Authority.

Eligible businesses can access funding grants of up to 40 per cent through the Tees Valley Business Compass Leadership and Management Programme.

The first company to sign up for the programme was Recruitrite, a specialist recruitment agency based in Darlington. Melissa Coutts, managing director, says: “I’m a firm believer in the mantra that a happy workforce is a better workforce.

“When I heard about the CPF wellbeing programme I signed up straight away. I think the idea of spending a day away from the office in a relaxing environment interacting with key personnel is inspired."

Johnny concludes: “Health and wellbeing are the bedrock of a successful business.

"They have a clear impact on productivity. If you’re serious about giving your business the edge, it’s time to stop thinking about wellbeing and go out and do it.”