By Jo Willey, journalist and former Daily Express Health Editor whose work also appears in the Daily Mail, The Mail on Sunday, and The Sun.

Every Monday at 8pm, Tal Maizel-Zilpa leaves her husband in charge of their three children and pulls on her running shoes. For the next hour–and for this one hour every week – she pounds the pavements where she lives in Holon, Israel, with a group of fellow women runners.

“A few years ago, I didn't do any exercise at all. I wasn’t overweight, I was just not fit. I constantly felt tired – after work, when I took care of my family or just when I tried to complete simple, everyday tasks,” says Tal, a procurement specialist at Roche, Israel.

And she is not alone. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), between a quarter and a third of adults globally are not active enough, which is having a long-term impact on their health.1

With chronic health conditions becoming more prevalent, employers are doing more than ever before to not only look after the physical health of their staff but also their mental health. Around three in 10 employees around the world report they have suffered from severe stress, depression or anxiety in the past two years. At least half of employers have either introduced initiatives to reduce stress or are planning to do so.

Workers who are in the poorest health report more than double the number of absences and more than 25 percent higher presenteeism – when someone is at work but not performing to their normal level – than other colleagues. They are also more than twice as likely to be disengaged from their jobs and almost three times as likely to experience high stress as those in very good health.2

Putting health at the heart of business

Although it follows that those in ill health, whether mental or physical, will be more disengaged and less productive, it is less clear why little has been done to tackle the issue. Also because ill health costs. A lot.

According to the 2009 European Risk Observatory Report, studies suggest that between 50 and 60 percent of all lost working days have some link with work-related stress. An EU-funded project carried out by Matrix in 2013 found the cost to Europe of work-related depression was estimated to be €616 billion annually.

Roche has long-realised the importance of investing in the wellbeing of its staff, including organisational interventions to reduce work-related stress. For Tal, 37, the impetus to overhaul her health came in August 2016 when the Live Well–Find your balance initiative at work introduced the global challenge of counting 10,000 steps a day for 100 days. She was shocked to discover she struggled to reach even 5,000 steps a day.

She is not alone in finding that the demands of raising a young family and doing a full-time job left little time for her own health needs. The average person spends more than 90,000 hours at work over their lifetime.3 The combination of long hours and pressure from deadlines can trigger stress, overwhelming both the mind and body for many. This pressure-cooker combination means that inactivity is a growing challenge across most developed countries. As a result, employee health and wellbeing has never before been so important.

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Yoga classes, like this one at Genentech, is one of the health-related benefits supported by Roche.

A workplace wellness trends report last year from the International Foundation of Employee Benefits Plans found that more than half of employers which offer and measure their wellness efforts saw a decrease in absenteeism.

And 63 percent have experienced financial sustainability and growth; 66 percent reported increased productivity; and 67 percent said employees were more satisfied. This shows clearly why workplace wellness and health has shot up the employee benefit agenda.

At Roche, Tal’s 10,000 steps global challenge was just one part of Roche’s long-term commitment to actively fostering a culture of health and wellbeing for its staff at work. In fact, mandatory workplace risk assessments are regularly carried out to identify any potential threats to staff physical and mental health which the company then addresses. “In order to bring innovation to patients, we need to look after ourselves, too.” says Roche Deputy Chief Occupational Health Officer Dr David Miedinger.

Keeping well benefits all

More than 140 Roche sites in 80 countries are supporting the global Live Well – Find your balance initiative with numerous activities throughout the year. The annual highlight is the global Wellbeing Week–seven days dedicated to educating and promoting awareness about healthy lifestyles, nutrition and emotional wellbeing.

On-site facilities at some Roche sites across the globe include free massages, gyms, an extensive health-screening programme and a medical clinic offering counselling on topics including smoking cessation, cholesterol, high blood pressure, allergies and even sleeping problems. Resilience training to better cope with stress can also be accessed by staff and there are even laughter yoga classes, too.

Employees are also helped and encouraged to look after their financial and legal health. With money and legal worries quickly able to spiral out of control and have a terrible impact on a person’s health, offering support is a powerful way to help protect general wellbeing.

One major hindrance for many people of working age is if they are a carer – either for children, a partner or elderly relative. From breastfeeding rooms and an income-based financial support package to places exclusively reserved for the children of Roche staff at daycare centres, helping staff look after their family is a major focus.

It’s more than what you can see at first sight – not only a gym on-site or a canteen where you can get affordable, healthy food – it’s also having health and wellbeing embedded in our company culture.
David Miedinger, Roche Deputy Chief Occupational Health Officer

There are also various flexible work and unpaid leave options for people needing to care for an elderly relative. But the focus on employee wellbeing reaches far wider than their physical and mental health, with a completely holistic approach. Staff at Roche in Korea have even built an urban garden on the roof of their office building, creating a place to relax as well as grow food.

“So it’s not just offering the usual perks, they should work in alignment with other initiatives such as offering safe workplaces, inspiring architecture in which staircases and passageways are safe and well-illuminated and where employees are likely to use them instead of the elevator,” David explains.

A holistic approach to wellbeing

“By offering a safe and healthy workplace, it is an excellent chance for Roche to show good corporate citizenship as there is a very high likelihood that employees will bring this knowledge and behaviour into their families and communities,” David says.

Giuseppe Beatrice, the Global Project Manager of the Live Well initiative, explains: “We want to be a company that supports the health and wellbeing of our employees. It’s not just about their physical and mental wellbeing but a holistic approach encompassing a complete culture of health and wellbeing across the company.”

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Tal Maizel-Zilpa, a procurement specialist at Roche, Israel, runs regularly to keep up her work-life balance.

As for Tal, since taking part in the Live Well initiative, she has completed a 5km night race at Mitzpe-Ramon, a desert in the south of Israel. She now plans to maintain her exercise levels and improve her race times.

She says: “Workplace wellness initiatives are highly important. I am an office-based worker and I spend most of my day sitting in front of the computer – I didn't really get the chance to move.”

“The key for me was having this introduced at work. Without it, I probably wouldn’t have made the changes to my health that I needed to. I now feel even more energised and less exhausted. I enjoy sports and chasing my children no longer requires special effort. I have always dreamed of being this active.”

“My advice for people who want to make a change in their lives is to avoid quick and overly ambitious makeovers. Start by setting small and achievable goals. The small successes are the ones that build our confidence and prepare us for achieving bigger goals.”

Supporting health and wellbeing around the world

Roche has offices in more than 100 countries. Each site has its own health and well-being offerings for local employees. Get a taste of the kinds of programmes on offer:

  • Ergonomics, workplace assessments
  • Gym and sports club offering over 20 different sports groups
  • On-site medical clinic offering counselling on nutrition, smoke stop, addiction, cholesterol and other metabolic topics, high blood pressure, allergies, sleeping disorders etc.
  • Health programme for line managers
  • Massage on site
  • Psychological, social, financial and legal counselling
  • Courses on resilience
  • Travel medicine, advice for business and private travel
  • Free flu vaccination
  • Lectures on health topics
  • Onsite canteen/cafeterias/lounges
  • Bicycles employees can borrow
  • Shuttle busses
  • Flexible working times where possible
  • Possibility to work remotely/from home where possible
  • Childcare and elder care
  • Every year an entire week is dedicated to employee health and wellbeing globally with more than 140 sites participating.
  1. World Health Organization, Global Health Observatory Data Repository: www.apps.who.int/gho/data/view.main.2482?lang=en
  2. Willis Towers Watson, 2017 Global Benefits Attitudes Survey: www.willistowerswatson.com/en/insights/2017/11/2017-global-benefits-attitudes-survey
  3. Pryce-Jones, Jessica. Happiness at Work: Maximizing your Psychological Capital for Success. Wiley-Blackwell, 2010.

Tags: People, Sustainability