Mental and physical problems are on the rise: many employees want more health-promoting measures from their employers. Why should companies urgently respond to this need - and what possible solutions do they have? A conversation with Sophie Lampé, Deputy Chair of the Board of the Bundesverband Betriebliches Gesundheitsmanagement (BBGM - Federal Association for Occupational Health Management).
From one Zoom meeting to the next, mailbox fuller than ever, where and when work ends is hazy. The Covid-19 pandemic and its accompanying measures have moved our workplace into our own four walls and blurred the boundaries between private and professional lives. While the home office may serve to protect physical health, it does so at the expense of psychological wellbeing, as recent studies show. According to the health insurance company DAK-Gesundheit, the number of days lost from work due to mental illness during the Covid-19 year of 2020 was higher than ever.
Ms Lampé, how do you currently take care of your health during working hours?
In the home office, I try to change my workplace several times a day. I rotate between a height-adjustable desk, a changing table converted into a standing desk and the dining table. At the end of the day, I just try to move around again, with or without children. And then a balanced, healthy diet plays an essential role for me.
According to the health insurance company DAK-Gesundheit, the number of days lost due to mental illness rose to a record high during the Covid-19 year of 2020. And the numbers have been rising for years. Are we moving towards a psychological pandemic?
I think that depends on how things actually go now. The pressure situation is different, we are all running on fumes. It doesn't matter whether that is due to short-time work and existential fear or the social isolation we all find ourselves in. Our working world has changed fundamentally overnight and we have had to find ways to deal with the changed situation. But I am an optimist and wish that exactly the opposite will happen - that we get to a state where we can be more aware of our freedoms again and enjoy life.
About Sophie Lampé
Sophie Lampé, born in 1994, studied health management and works as a self-employed health and nutrition consultant and corporate health manager at cerascreen. Since November 2019, she has been deputy chair of the board of the Bundesverband Betriebliches Gesundheitsmanagement (BBGM - Federal Association of Occupational Health Management).
Despite the developments, according to the #whatsnext2020 study from spring 2020, only around 13.5 per cent of the organisations surveyed had digital health offerings in their programme. How do you explain this low level of involvement?
This is something that has been a massive concern for us all year. When we drew attention to the need for employee health, most companies replied that they just had other problems and had to cut costs. In my opinion, the origin of this lies in the fact that the prevention funds were suspended by the politicians. The health insurance companies were therefore not obliged to pay their usual share for workplace health promotion. In a pandemic, the first thing to do is to save on prevention and health, which is exactly the wrong approach. Unfortunately, the topic of occupational health management is still treated warily in politics. It does not get the attention it deserves and which would be essential at the same time. It is therefore up to the companies themselves to invest in the health of their employees - even without health insurance benefits.
Promoting employee health can mean: supporting companies in physical fitness, mental health, work processes and work accessories...
Another direction is working environment and corporate culture. Health is a classic of the trickle-down principle. If CEOs and top managers are fine with going to a back class, joining in with a cooking event or attending talks on ‘health days’, this has an important effect as they are role models. Corporate culture must be lived authentically and health must be communicated as a value.
Let's move on to physical fitness. Gym aggregators predict that up to 20 per cent of fitness classes will take place online in the future. What is the benefit of such an offer for companies?
I think a very important point is time and space flexibility. We don't know exactly what life will be like after Covid-19. We can use online courses anywhere and at any time. That makes digital training a well-suited building block even for a time after Covid-19. However, I am always a bit sceptical about digital offers because they continue to take place in the environment we actually want to escape from.
What is the BBGM?
The Bundesverband Betriebliches Gesundheitsmanagement (Federal Association of Occupational Health Management) is an independent professional association founded in 2011. Its goal is to strengthen, maintain or restore the health and performance of all employees. To this end, the association wants to provide information, ensure quality, network with politicians and promote research on the topic. "Occupational health management needs advocacy that does not yet exist in politics and is still too small in companies. Together with my colleagues, we are constantly trying to improve this at the BBGM and thus strengthen the sector in the long term," says Lampé.
You are a health and nutrition consultant: how successful is the concept of regularly giving employees a fruit basket?
It is certainly a solution for the home office. When I put a fruit basket in the office, maybe three or four employees reach for the apple. But the other ten still take Snickers from the drawer. There are better and cheaper ways to promote the health of my employees. Individual screenings, for example, are still completely underestimated: they measure which employees are lacking which nutrients, the employees are individually informed about this and then the right supplements are provided.
According to a recent study by Forsa in co-operation with gym aggregator Urban Sports Club, 86 per cent of respondents would find it good or very good if their employers focused more on the topic of health and supported employees financially in health-promoting measures. In your experience: how many of these employees actually do sport when their employer makes it possible?
Employee engagement is a problem in workplace health management. Whether employees take advantage of offers is largely up to them. However, the form of the health-promoting measure is decisive. It is up to the company to choose the right offer for its staff and to communicate it properly.
What is Urban Sports Club?
Urban Sports Club is the largest sports and wellness platform in Europe. Its co-operation with thousands of different providers gives members access to a wide range of disciplines. With a flexible sports flat rate, the German start-up not only offers the practice of more than 50 different sports, but is also completely location-independent. There are now more than 12,000 locations in nine countries. The offer lowers barriers to entry: "Employees are more likely to find the right sport for them, go to it in the first place - and are more likely to stick with it," says CEO Benjamin Roth.
What does a fitness or wellbeing offer need to make employees more likely to use it?
How the offer is communicated plays a very important role. Above all, the terminology is very important. There are terms that have become so disreputable and discredited that no one refers to them any more. A classic example of this is back training. The contents are still extremely effective, they just need to be translated into modern language and advertised accordingly.
Let's move on to mental wellbeing. As BBGM, what advice do you give to companies to promote mental health?
For me, mental wellbeing is closely related to corporate culture. You are not a manager, you are a manager. And in Germany, unfortunately, people are not hired on the basis of whether they can lead well and healthily. Companies have to get to the root of the problem and train their managers. For me, a good leader is an empathetic person whose job it is to know his or her employees individually. Knowing a person also means sensing when they feel overworked or stressed. Even digitally, you can have personal conversations and ask: "Listen, how are you really doing?
Home offices will probably stay with us even after the pandemic. How can companies take care of well-functioning work processes and a positive working atmosphere remotely?
The key word here is communication. We don't have enough of this kind of exchange. Christmas parties are no longer held, success stories can no longer be celebrated. Of course, we need to translate this into the digital world. Despite our online fatigue, we can also shape digital meetings positively and connect them cognitively: an online lunch or a joint digital coffee break. If this is what managers want, then this time is well invested. And motivated, happy employees work better than those who don't feel picked up.
And what is the best way to pick up employees?
I advocate a holistic approach: a living corporate culture, a modern, transparent management level, a tangible sense of purpose in the work, as well as individual sports and nutrition offers. An offer that is adapted to the needs of the employees is the most efficient. It's all about the whole.