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Today’s leading employers know that a healthy employee is a happy and productive employee – with growing numbers of South African organisations rolling out corporate wellness programmes that encourage workplace wellbeing. This forms part of a global trend – The Global Wellness Institute estimates that organisations worldwide spend $48 billion a year on corporate wellness programmes.

Corporate wellness interventions take a wide range of forms, from exercise programmes to assistance for employees who want to stop smoking through to financial planning and coaching. The goal, says Andrew Wood, Managing Director at The Unlimited, is to help employees cultivate lifestyles and habits that enable them to get the most from life.

At one level, this makes enormous financial sense for employers, he adds. Employees who exercise, eat healthily, make time for their families and get enough sleep, tend to be more productive and happy at work. They take less sick days – Occupational Care South Africa (OCSA) estimates that absenteeism costs businesses up to R16 billion a year.

It also means that there are fewer people on the office who are not at their best, having dragged themselves into work feeling ill or tired, What’s more, people who are more physically healthy tend to show better levels of mental performance in terms of memory and concertation, says Wood.

“People who have embraced a healthy lifestyle also often show higher levels of motivation and resilience,” Wood says. “Another benefit of employee wellness programmes is that they lead to higher levels of employee engagement and retention—because people feel valued, empowered and cared for in the workplace.”

These business outcomes aside, the focus on corporate wellness is also about a growing recognition that companies can combine purpose and profit in their mission to benefit shareholders, employees and customers alike. “It’s no longer enough to pay lip service to the idea that people are the business’s most valuable asset,” Wood says. “Organisations that want to attract and retain the best talent must truly put people first.”

The Unlimited is one example of a local company that takes corporate wellness seriously. It has staff gyms at its key locations, with fitness classes, personal training and fun runs on offer. All employees are asked to take on a physical annual challenge like an ultra-walk or a marathon to stretch themselves.

Employees get a one and a half hour break over lunch to exercise, train for their personal goal, and eat a healthy meal. This ensures that there is no afternoon slump at The Unlimited – each person returns to their desk fresh and energised for the rest of the workday.

“Wellness is deeply embedded into our culture and we know that if our teams are healthy and stretching themselves through wellness challenges they will perform even better in the workplace,” Wood says. “We have seen how this helps people grow in emotional resilience, take ownership and gain the ability to not quit when things get tough.”

“It’s a win for the individual and the business. The person gets healthy and enjoys an opportunity for personal development, while the business builds a committed, happy and motivated team that is ready for whatever the world might throw at them when they step into the office.”