This is a reposting of my recent Guardian article on improving health beyond the workplace.
The way we travel, eat, work and generally live today is having a profound effect on our health and that of those around us. Diabetes and other chronic diseases, including obesity, are on the rise. According to the WHO, there are 36 million preventable deaths every year from these health problems – leaving a devastating social impact and a major financial burden.
Businesses suffer as well through absenteeism and retention problems, affecting their overall success. The good news is they are in a strong position to help, but to be truly effective, this can’t just start and stop in the workplace.
Recognising this, Bupa developed a Wellness through the Workplace challenge with the International Diabetes Federation to identify new approaches to improve health through the workplace and wider communities.
This was hosted as a challenge on OpenIDEO, IDEO’s open innovation platform where a community of 45,000 people from over 170 different countries solve complex challenges in order to make the world a better place.
Over the course of the challenge, the OpenIDEO community learned lots from each other by sharing personal insights about their own health and existing solutions from across the globe. Using this approach, they were able to create new ideas to address the challenge and, using the OpenIDEO platform, work collaboratively with each other to improve them. The winning ideas are available for any person or business to adopt to help improve the health of their workplace and communities.
Start small, start local
If you try to solve everyone’s problems at once, you’re bound to fail. Instead, focus on the needs of a discrete local community, small business or individual first. Keep it simple, look at what worked and what didn’t and scale from there.
Don’t just work with the Lycra Brigade
The people who are most likely to adopt your health scheme are not the ones that need it the most. Focus on how you can make your scheme attractive to those who consider fitness a bad word.
For your idea to spread, it can’t be too prescriptive or too well branded. One winning idea, GrandWiki, aims to involve older people in sharing their knowledge on health and wellbeing.
Start with ulterior motives
Labeling a scheme as health or fitness will turn off a lot of people. Find out what motivates them. For instance, competition and vanity are powerful drivers for personal change. One winning idea leveraged this by creating a shared goal to climb the equivalent of Mount Everest.
Leverage existing behavior
People are more likely to adhere to a program if it’s easy to fit into their daily routines. One winning idea, On Your Way Home, is a micro-volunteering scheme structured around the work day.
Consider the whole person
Recent trends in the wellness space suggest thinking about our physical, mental, and spiritual needs as a whole will create greater balance and help sustain change.
Give people options
Famously, gym membership peaks in January, and participation declines throughout the year. Commitment is hard. Another winning idea, Bupa Cloud Cover, recognises that not every get fit scheme works for everyone. It aims to understand a community’s profile and suggest options that fit.
Target decision makers
Ideas that go viral are great but are hard to guarantee. It’s important to have a balance of locally-led initiatives and more centralised programmes that can influence the wider community. One winning idea, Lively London, looks at adapting a city’s transport system as a health game everyone can play.
Plan for change
Don’t plan everything but do plan to learn and pivot your idea. Review your goals, get feedback from your target community and continuously improve your initiative.
If businesses can think beyond their four walls, bringing ideas like these together, they can leverage their scale to improve the wellness of not just their employees, but the health of wider society as well.