How Businesses Can Create a Cost-effective Culture of Wellbeing With Dr. Rangan Chatterjee

Dr Rangan Chatterjee, YuLife's Chief Wellbeing Officer, discusses the importance of prioritising employee wellbeing, as well as ways to implement a cost-effective wellbeing strategy.

Yugi the Giraffe - 19 October 2020

YuLife’s Head of Wellbeing, Kate Whitelock, joined our Chief Wellbeing Officer Dr. Rangan Chatterjee for a virtual discussion on ways to create a health-focused wellbeing culture in the workplace. Dr. Chatterjee has two bestselling books (The 4 Pillar Plan and Feel Better in 5), his Feel Better, Live More podcast is the most listened-to health podcast in Europe, and the TED talk on “How to Make Disease Disappear” has been viewed almost 3 million times.

They covered the topics of gamification, behavioural science in improving employee wellness and changing priorities in the new workplace. Here are some of the main takeaways from the event.

What is Lifestyle Medicine?

The event started by covering the importance of lifestyle medicine, the concept that allows us to take control of our own health through a healthy lifestyle; “I have been working as a doctor now for almost 20 years, and about 80% of what I see is in some way related to our collective modern lifestyles.” Dr. Chatterjee said.

“This isn’t placing blame on the individual, but the way we are collectively living our lives is having an impact on the way we're thinking” He continued. “This includes diabetes and obesity, but it's much more than that: depression, anxiety, mental health problems, guts problems, insomnia and stress.

“The things that make up the bulk of what doctors now see are related to lifestyles. I don't think that enough businesses really understand that simple changes make a massive difference to not just how we feel individually, but work performance and absence rates. If business leaders can support the health of their employees, they're going to get happier, more productive and creative employees.”

How can you apply behavioural science to wellbeing?

When you apply the science of behaviour change to health, you can have both short and long term success in improving your lifestyle. Doctor Chatterjee said that “wellbeing needs are different for every individual. The 4 Pillar Plan outlines the four core pillars of health: food, movement, sleep, and relaxation. We might perfect any one area, but you need to pay attention to each one in order to have a healthier life.

“Stress was prevalent in society pre-pandemic. But, from what I can see with my patients, friends and family, stress levels seem to have gone up significantly. In the digital era, we can read a million health blogs or scroll through Instagram and see content that makes us feel like we could be doing more, but I say let's start small.

“The two most important rules of behaviour change is that you have to make it easy and tack it onto an existing behaviour that you do automatically now. When we're feeling really motivated, for example when making New Year’s resolutions, or after a significant life event or weekend of excess, we set unrealistic goals we most likely won’t meet.

“Amazon was able to increase their revenue by $300 million a year with one-click ordering; by simplifying the ordering process from four or five steps to one, profits increased exponentially. We need to apply the same thinking to behaviour change.”

Kate added that “we don't often think about the role of behavioural science in an organisational setting. We've worked together to embed this concept of small daily steps into the heart of the YuLife model, which is very much centred around kind of risk prevention. We want to help organisations give their people the tools they need to talk about de-risking themselves and be healthier.”

How are physical and mental health linked?

“We talk about physical and mental health as separate entities, which of course is not true,” argues Dr. Chatterjee. “I think the problem is because we've been so focused on physical health for so many years. We're trying to get mental health the same parity. But ultimately, a lot of the things we talk about actually help many different components of health.

“Inspiration by itself is not enough, you have to take action, even if it's one small action”

“One of the most impactful things you can do for your company is to set a culture of wellbeing - for example, by encouraging everyone to take 15-minute walks over lunch. 40-80% of us have changed our recent behaviour in response to stress, including 45% of us eating more, so there needs to be an understanding that it's not about willpower, it’s about combating the stress that’s driving eating behaviour. Instead of looking for a new diet or restriction, stress levels need to be addressed.”

Dr. Chatterjee discusses in more detail that even the smallest of stresses can impact your health: “The stress response, even if it's coming from your email inbox, is preparing your body for physical activity. So, by walking at lunchtime, you helped to literally burn off some of that stress. If you switch off for those 15 minutes, you’ll be able to solve more problems and have more room for great ideas. Inspiration by itself is not enough, you have to take action, even if it's one small action.”

How has employee assistance changed since the pandemic?

Stress, and particularly presenteeism has increased massively since people have started working from home. “The way in which many companies may have supported their people prior to the pandemic might be not accessible right now, so the role of digital is integral in helping to keep people connected, motivated and incentivised,” Kate said.

Dr. Chatterjee agreed: “It's about simplicity. And I do think the YuLife app is beautifully designed. It’s engaging and makes health fun, which is another missing piece. We've been conditioned in our culture to think about health as deprivation and punishment, but I think that's completely false. You're going to get much more out of your life when you're feeling healthy and feeling good. We've got to keep things simple, and I really think the last six months, a lot more people now are concerned about their health.

“Businesses are really understanding that they need to help people look after their health; that's a win for business as well because it's not just about the employee’s health or the team's health productivity performance will go up as well.”

“I think that many of us have started to look at our lives, and society, in a very different way than we used to. We’ve been reminded about what's important in the world. For companies, they re-evaluate the way they’re working, the best ways to engage our staff so they enjoy their job and have a good work-life balance.”

What are the benefits of prioritising employee wellbeing?

Dr. Chatterjee elaborated further on the long-term benefits of having a comprehensive wellbeing programme: “I think the companies who are ahead of the curve and are thinking like that are the ones who are going to get rewarded in the long term. It's much better to focus on health, boundaries, and happiness - you get much better retention and productivity.”

“There's this particular climate at the moment where a lot of people are scared about their job security. They don't want to take time off, they want to make sure that the boss knows that they value their role. As managers, you have to explore the concept of expectations around communications and emails - if you’re sending them late at night around your schedule, do your employees know that they don’t have to reply straight away? Does the team feel under pressure to respond? Even something simple like that can have a profound impact. Like in any relationship, it comes down to clear communication.”

How can employees get the most out of their wellbeing programme?

Employee benefits are increasingly moving away from the one-size-fits-all approach to suit most, with a core focus on lifestyle: “Even if you're struggling, lifestyle treatments can reverse symptoms that can often reduce the severity of them. So whatever you and your team may or may not be struggling with, helping them make small changes to their lifestyle is the number one thing that every company should be doing. At the first hurdle, be aware of what the staff want, because it differs from team to team” says Dr. Chatterjee.

“Give your team protection, but also do it in a way that helps give them more in their life. A lot of companies need an understanding of where to kind of spend their efforts and investment. Businesses need to ask these questions about their wellbeing programmes: Is it for everyone? Is it inclusive? A successful programme is one that everyone can connect to in some shape or form.

“The best wellbeing programmes are the ones that people engage with. I love programmes that allow us to personalise options for employees. That's how you get the change that works, short, medium and long term.”

Doctor Chatterjee’s Top Tips to Improve Wellbeing

  1. Do a five-minute workout every morning - In the morning I put the kettle on, and I set a timer for however long it takes my coffee to brew. In those four or five minutes, I don't go on Instagram or look at emails. Instead, I do a five-minute bodyweight workout in my kitchen. This can include weights, squats, press-ups and lunges. I know that, in order to form behavioural changes, you need to make it easy and reward yourself for it. I do my quick workout, often in my pyjamas, and then reward myself with a cup of coffee.
  2. Create a five-minute tea ritual - I think this is really important at the moment, particularly where a lot of families, partners or flatmates are around each other all the time. Once our kids are in bed, right before we do anything else, we come into the kitchen, we make a pot of mint tea, and for five minutes and catch up. It's so simple, but it nourishes our relationship daily when we do it. Don't underestimate the value of five minutes focused attention, each day with the people that are close to you.
  3. 3-4-5 Breathing - Breathing is one of the most powerful tools to help reduce stress levels and anxiety. It is more powerful than any drug that you've ever been prescribed and can help straight away. Take a minute to do a breathing practice. So, one of my favourite ones is something that I call the 345 breath, when you breathe in for three seconds, hold for four, and you breathe out for five. Whenever your out-breath is longer than your in-breath, this helps us switch off the stress parts and promote the relaxation parts.

Click here to watch the event recording.

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