Is your employee wellbeing strategy as efficient as it could be?
At the turn of the 20th century, while at the University of Lausanne, an Italian economist named Vilfredo Pareto calculated that 80% of land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population.
Since then, this type of distribution – where a large proportion of outputs/results are attributable to a small proportion of inputs/efforts – has been observed and exploited in many areas of economics, business and management.
In meeting any strategic objective, successful individuals and organisations allocate their resources to the factors that make the most difference. To improve efficiency and maximise return on investment, every product, project and process gets the Pareto treatment.
Your strategy to improve employee wellbeing should be no different. The question is, are you applying this principle to improve the health and happiness of your people in the most efficient way?
Building the foundations of wellbeing for your employees
To maximise the efficiency of your employee wellbeing strategy, we recommend that you focus most of your wellbeing efforts on helping your employees to eat better, move better and sleep better. Not at the exclusion of other wellbeing initiatives, but as a foundation on which to build them.
- Poor diet, physical inactivity and insufficient sleep are the biggest threats to wellbeing and performance.
- Eating, moving and sleeping behaviours/outcomes are mutually connected, interdependent and synergistic.
- For most people, there is substantial room for improvement in all three areas.
Let’s look at each of these points in more detail.
The biggest threats to wellbeing and performance
As we presented in our previous report, there are four health systems that are jointly responsible for determining – in large part – how your employees feel and perform day in, day out:
- Metabolic health: How well your body processes, uses and stores calories.
- Musculoskeletal health: How well your bones, joints and soft tissues feel and move.
- Mental health: How well your mind feels and how well your brain performs.
- Immune health: How well your body fights infection and regulates inflammation.
Malfunctions in these systems – and they often malfunction together – are the biggest threats to the wellbeing of your employees and the performance of your organisation.
What causes these systems to malfunction? The main (modifiable) culprits are poor diet, physical inactivity and insufficient sleep.
Nutrition, movement and sleep are not just important to health and wellbeing, they are essential to life.
- The building blocks for every component and process in your body and brain, and the energy for fuelling them, come exclusively from your food.
- Varied and regular movement is the stimulus to build, maintain and improve every structure, system, process and pathway in your body and mind.
- Sleep is the state in which your physical body is recovered, repaired and rejuvenated, and your mental processes are regulated, rewired and reset.
There is now overwhelming scientific evidence that poor diet, physical inactivity and insufficient sleep are harmful to every aspect of physical and mental health. In terms of impact on wellbeing and performance, nothing else comes close.
Some of this, of course, is now well publicised, but here are some snippets of the evidence that you may not be as familiar with.
- Ubiquitous access to ultra-processed food – not the consumption of carbohydrates, fat or meat – is likely to be the primary cause of obesity and metabolic disease. By switching off appetite control, ultra-processed foods cause nonconscious overeating and weight gain, which leads to metabolic dysfunction and metabolic disease.
- Severe and prolonged deficiencies in essential nutrients – such as vitamins, minerals and amino acids – can cause serious and fatal diseases. But even mild insufficiencies (which often go undetected) can cause low energy and cognitive impairment, suppressed immunity, bone and muscle deterioration.
- Aerobic exercise and cardiorespiratory fitness are necessary for robust health, but not sufficient, especially when it comes to musculoskeletal health. Equal attention should be paid to muscular strength, connective tissue elasticity, joint mobility, balance, agility and coordination. In other words, quality of exercise is at least as important as quantity.
- Growing evidence suggests that physical inactivity is a cause of depression. In fact, even a moderate amount of exercise – particularly aerobic exercise – is a potent antidepressant, at least as effective as psychological treatment and antidepressant medication. And, when combined with medication, exercise may improve drug efficacy.
- Sleeping six hours or less a night causes profound deficits in cognitive performance – specifically in alertness, working memory, speed and accuracy. In fact, the effect is equivalent to two consecutive nights with no sleep at all (imagine trying to work after 48 hours without sleep). And the worst thing is, we don’t notice it happening.
- The link between sleep and the immune system is complex and multifaceted. It’s becoming clear, however, that insufficient sleep increases the risk of viral and bacterial infection, impairs the response to vaccination, and induces and maintains systemic inflammation (which contributes to the leading causes of disability and mortality).
Mutually connected, interdependent and synergistic
With such wide-ranging effects on body and mind, it’s little wonder that our eating, moving and sleeping behaviours/outcomes are bidirectionally related.
While addressing nutrition, movement or sleep individually can make a difference to wellbeing, it’s far more effective, efficient and, often, necessary to bring them together.
Here are a few examples to illustrate why.
- Sleep influences calorie intake. Insufficient sleep increases feelings of hunger and cravings for calorie-dense junk food, resulting in increased calorie intake (of 250 calories a day!) and increases in body weight. So improving your diet may require improving your sleep.
- Physical activity improves sleep. There is mounting evidence that increasing physical activity improves sleep duration and sleep quality. So exercising more may be they key to fixing your sleep. Interestingly, moderate-intensity exercise may be more beneficial than vigorous-intensity exercise.
- Diet and exercise work together. While diet is the most effective way to lose weight and improve metabolic health in the short term, weight regain after around six months is common. Adding exercise helps to sustain weight loss in the longer term. So tackling both together is the best way – or perhaps even the only way – to achieve long term improvements in metabolic health.
There is substantial room for improvement
Regardless of how important nutrition, movement and sleep are to health, wellbeing and performance, it only makes sense to prioritise them in your employee wellbeing strategy if there is substantial room for improvement.
Sadly, in the UK, there is.
- More than 70% of calorie intake in the UK comes from processed or ultra-processed foods. This has resulted in nearly two-thirds of the adult population now being overweight or obese, and widespread deficiencies in nutrient intakes – including vitamin A, vitamin D, folate, iron, magnesium, potassium and selenium.
- The current UK physical activity recommendations include: 150 minutes of aerobic activity per week, two sessions of strengthening activity per week, and less sedentary time. Only 31% of men and 23% of women meet both the aerobic and strength recommendations. And men and women spend around five hours of each day being sedentary, even at the weekend.
- The consensus sleep recommendation for adults is 7-9 hours per night. Nearly three-quarters of people in Britain get less than seven hours per night, with 61% getting between five and seven hours, and 12% getting less than five hours. And this is just sleep duration – sleep quality is also likely to be poor for many people.
What does all this mean for employee wellbeing?
If improving employee wellbeing is an important strategic objective in your organisation, then developing an efficient employee wellbeing strategy is crucial.
Allocating most of your wellbeing resources to helping your employees to eat better, move better and sleep better will enable them to improve their wellbeing with less time and effort, and enable you to improve your return on investment.
Why? Because nothing else comes close to nutrition, movement and sleep in terms of impact on wellbeing and performance; they’re interdependent and synergistic; and for most people there is a lot of room for improvement.
How BioMe can help
Our unique modular solution has been designed to help more of your employees to eat better, move better and sleep better more of the time.
But we also integrate our solution into everything else you’re doing in wellbeing. We don’t replicate or replace your other initiatives. We help you deliver a comprehensive and joined-up wellbeing strategy with Eat Move Sleep as the foundation.
Please get in touch to find out more