Using public health campaigns to support employee wellbeing

Companies that promote initiatives such as Stoptober are likely to benefit from higher staff productivity and engagement

Although many employers already offer a range of wellbeing benefits – such as cycle-to-work schemes, subsidised gym membership, weekly yoga, park fitness classes, outdoor meetings, healthier snack options in vending machines, mental health workshops and helplines – they may also wish to consider participating in wider external campaigns, to take advantage of the publicity generated to encourage employee engagement, and make use of the, often free, support provided by specialist organisations.

One annual health campaign sweeping the nation again this October is 'Stoptober', a 28-day stop smoking campaign by Public Health England. A 2014 study by the British Heart Foundation found that smoking costs British businesses £8.4bn a year in lost productivity, with smokers each taking on average an extra 0.7 extra sick days. According to Public Health England, in 2014 more than 250 organisations supported the initiative – including some well-known brand names – and the campaign has to date contributed to more than a million stop smoking attempts.

Employers could use the tools provided on the Stoptober website to promote the campaign in the workplace as part of their own wellbeing initiatives, raising awareness of the stop smoking support available from Stoptober, which includes an app to track progress, emails and social media to receive daily messages of encouragement, and sessions to assist smokers who wish to talk to someone face to face.

Businesses may wish to create an internal support system where employees can share their progress with others, and consider what additional support they could provide, such as by replacing smoking breaks with coffee breaks to enable employees to support each other, being flexible with staff who wish to take time off to attend smoking cessation appointments, and relaxing the use of disciplinary processes if employees show signs of irritability as a result of attempts to stop smoking.  

Employers could also consider their own variations of the same campaign, such as ‘going dry’ for a month, where they provide similar support to those who wish to reduce their alcohol consumption – perhaps as part of some fundraising for a good cause.

Tips for employers to support employee wellbeing:

  • Develop a programme of initiatives and benefits to promote employee wellbeing. These could be low-cost, such as encouraging staff to have their lunch away from their desks or to take part in a lunchtime fitness session in the office.
  • Promote awareness of internal initiatives and benefits such as gym membership or private medical insurance.
  • Consider the benefits of promoting external initiatives such as Stoptober, Dry January and Movember in the office using posters, announcements and tools provided by campaign organisers.
  • Encourage managers to be supportive (rather than asking employees to shave during Movember because it doesn't ‘convey the right impression’) without singling people out or putting pressure on anyone who does not wish to participate.
  • Consider how you could provide additional support to those taking part in external initiatives, such as by creating support systems that encourage staff to share their progress and to motivate each other, and by making them aware of the help available such as employee assistance programmes, helplines or counselling services.

Employers that invest in appropriate workplace health initiatives to support the health and wellbeing of their employees could see a significant return on investment with happy, engaged and productive staff.

Kevin Lau is a senior solicitor and Hannah Waterworth is a paralegal, both in the employment law team at Blake Morgan