A healthier path to employee engagement

James Kent-BCGThe Boston Consulting Group (BCG) has always been a company which prides itself on the way it engages with employees and on the working environment it creates for them. For the sixth consecutive year, BCG has been ranked in the top five of Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For”.

But recent client work on how physical environments impact on health prompted us to re-examine our own London office. And we were dismayed at what we found: we knew that our staff worked long hours; but we had failed to take into account that the work was mostly sedentary, that we treated them to free chocolate and canned drinks, and when working late we provided takeaway food and taxis home.

We resolved to make the office a healthier environment – but at first found it easier said than done! But we are now “doing”, and here’s how:

Starter for 10. “Healthier” was too ambitious and ambiguous an objective, so we broke it down. We picked ten topics, roughly one a month spread over a year, to make it manageable. That allowed us to draw on small groups within the office who had the drive to pursue a particular topic.

Nudge. Our approach was to make healthier choices easier rather than to restrict choice – essentially, to nudge. This approach worked well with the staff, but more importantly, it forced us to think more rigorously about how choices are made, to identify the obstructions, and to implement the appropriate adjustments. For the hydration topic, for instance, we installed new water fountains, brought in pint-sized water glasses, changed the meeting room set-up so that water was placed on the table not on the side, added squash to the beverage supply in the kitchens, and hung hydration charts on the walls in the toilets.

“For each topic we set a target of 10% participation – to signal that the aim was not to get everyone involved in everything – and 10% improvement”

Metrics. For each topic we set a target of 10% participation – to signal that the aim was not to get everyone involved in everything – and 10% improvement. Even simple measuring – for example a small water-fountain meter showed a 30% increase in consumption, or footfall meter on to show increase in stair use — has helped to energise the team.

Physical and mental health. We started with the physical – hydration, nutrition – before crossing into topics like sleep and mindfulness. That made it easier to get the campaign underway, but increasingly we see even greater value in promoting mental wellbeing. In fact, we are now looking to train our managers specifically in identifying and managing stress – in themselves as well as their teams.

Expertise. We brought in experts to speak on particular topics – nutrition, sleep – to add credibility, create a buzz and suggest changes.

Flexibility. One of the groups recently proposed art as a mindfulness topic, and the office now hosts a rotating display of artworks from up-and-coming artists. It creates discussion, brightens the building and provides some fun. And contributes in its small way to supporting the arts.

“Promoting healthier choices is evidently a powerful way to engage staff”

The initiative is far from over, but if the feedback is anything to go by, it has already proved its worth. Promoting healthier choices is evidently a powerful way to engage staff, start discussions on previously unrecognised issues, and tap into the enthusiasm and benevolence of the workforce. Promoting healthier choices shows caring – and that truly counts.

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