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Workplace wellness – what works?

No-one wants a sick and feeble workforce, how can you encourage employees to look after themselves without driving them to drink?

  • Workplace wellbeing can encourage productivity and reduce long-term sick leave
  • Studies suggest that compulsion tends not to work
  • 'Nudging' people into action is more likely to get results

'Workplace wellness' is becoming an increasingly important consideration for all employers. Part of this is stick – the last thing you want is an employee on long term sick-leave because you’ve forced them to work in a dank, airless broom cupboard – but there is also some carrot: employees tend to function better when they are treated properly, given access to light, space and a kettle. But what works and what doesn’t?

A recent CBRE report says 80% of employees say workplace wellness programmes will be crucial to attracting and retaining them over the next 10 years. Certainly, the next generation expect a few more creature comforts. There is also the issue of productivity. Over 10m work days are lost each year to stress, depression or anxiety. There are tangible advantages to ensuring your work environment isn’t toxic.

But what makes a difference? Table football? Probably, a little. Forcing people round the park at lunchtime for a jog? Probably not. The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s report, “From Evidence to Practice: Workplace Wellness that Works’ says anything perceived as ‘nagging’ tends to change behaviour: employees know that smoking, not exercising, or being overweight are bad for their health, they don’t need you to remind them. Even paying people to change habits doesn’t do much. Equally, short-term campaigns aren’t likely to do much either. However, it found that there were things that made a difference. Clear commitment from the leadership team, for example. Also, creating a ‘culture of wellness’ including ‘offering flexible work schedules, giving workers latitude in decision-making, setting reasonable health goals, providing social support, enforcing health-promoting policies and establishing a healthy physical environment’ all contributed to improvements in employee wellbeing. It suggests that team-based reward systems are more effective, creating a sense of camaraderie and social cohesion. There is also evidence that ‘nudging’ works to create workplace wellbeing as well. A US study found that prompting people to simply write down the specific date and time that they would engage in a health activity – such as getting a flu vaccination – improved engagement by up to 5%. So next time you are about to force your 20-a-day finance clerk down the gym, consider whether there could be a better way. Workplace wellbeing looks different for everyone. s.

“It suggests that team-based reward systems are more effective, creating a sense of camaraderie and social cohes”

The Investment Association has been sufficiently concerned to put in monthly statistics for each fund in the sector, showing how many times each fund failed to deliver returns greater than zero (after charges) for rolling 12 month periods. 31 funds fail to hit the target at least half of the time.

This looks bad for the sector as a whole, but then there are plenty of funds doing relatively well, delivering as expected. Invesco Perpetual and Aviva – both teams are ex-GARS - have delivered on target. Among long-short funds, credit should go to the team on the BlackRock UK Absolute Alpha and the Jupiter Absolute Return fund under James Clunie.

Managers in the absolute return sector have lots of tools to target their ideas, but that’s only as good as the quality of ideas. It gives maximum exposure to active fund management. There are funds who do it really well, delivering a high alpha score, low maximum drawdown and low volatility, but investors need to tread carefully.

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