Workplace Wellness Trends

Feb 2020 // Johannesburg

Workplace wellness has gone mainstream, with many corporates realising the importance of having wellness programmes as part of the company offering.

The latest trends are all about holistic wellness – incorporating various aspects of wellbeing to assist employees on all levels, from managing stress, to taking part in physical activity and even including things like workshops on financial fitness.


While it’s not a new trend, mindfulness is definitely at the top of the list when it comes to mental health. Author and abundance coach Mary Morrissey says that in order to not succumb to the negative effects of stress, we need to make space to pause, even in our busy work days.

“People today have to make more decisions in 24 hours than our ancestors did in a year,” she says. “Our conscious mind may not fully pick this up, but our subconscious does, and this constant stimulation leaves us overwhelmed, tired and stressed.”

She says mindfulness is simply about “being present” wherever you are, whether you are sitting at your desk working, or driving in the traffic. Morrissey suggests using a simple breathing technique to centre yourself – this can be done in the office, or at your desk.

WDBIH Board Member, Joy-Marie Lawrence agrees and believes that the simple act of conscious breathing does wonders not only for her headspace, but for her physical body too.

“When you consciously breathe, it takes deliberate action and thought. Notice and feel the breath as it comes into your body and as you exhales through your nose, and just by drawing attention to that, you’re slowing your heart rate, she says.

Joy-Marie says the simple act of focussing on her breathing and pushing away any random thoughts that come into her head (for a few minutes until her breathing practice is over) really helps her to focus her mind. When she is about to go into a stressful meeting or do anything that creates anxiety, she says the simple technique of focussing on her breath makes the world of difference and calms her down almost immediately.

Privacy and Space

The wonderful thing is that in our technological age there are a number of apps and online programmes that help those who just need to take five to 10 minutes at their desk to recalibrate – Headspace, Calm, Insight Timer are all extremely helpful for workers who need to maximise their me time in among deadlines and work pressures.

In workplaces that are open-plan, having five minutes to yourself to be mindful can be very difficult – and a number of human-centric workplaces are buying “pods” or special areas that offers privacy for workers to simply take a few minutes to catch their breath.

What is interesting to note is that in the US, there has been a move away from open-plan offices in light of research done that says open-plan spaces hamper productivity, and that workers are more productive when they have a quiet space to work in.

So, it’s important for companies to create “quiet spaces” within the office environment – whether it’s an empty office that can be transformed into a quiet space for those who need a little bit of time out, or a snazzy little pod where workers can catch their breath, having a place for reflection is hopefully going to become an office norm.

Incentives to Get Moving

While a lot of companies have invested in exercise programmes in the workplace – by having an on-site gym, a personal trainer for the staff or yoga sessions over lunch – research says there is a sizeable uptake from staff when a programme is introduced, but then this wanes a few months down the line when the pressures of the offices take centre stage. A number of companies have introduced incentives to staff members, and if they can prove they have engaged in some form of exercise – whether it’s at the office or after hours – they are rewarded. And if they are rewarded financially, even better!

According to an article by CNN, financial rewards are the way to go if you want staff to commit long-term to their fitness goals.

“People are more motivated by losses than gains, and they like immediate gratification,” said Dr Mitesh Patel, an assistant professor in the Perelman School of Medicine and at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. “They (staff) want to be rewarded today, not next year or far into the future.”

Definitely something worth thinking about. Perhaps instead of spending money on costly Christmas parties that don’t really benefit anyone, these funds could be used to incentivise staff members to take better care of themselves…?

Back home, the Discovery Vitality programme is a big incentive for people to take better care of their health, based on rewards, showing that us human beings will often only do something if there are added benefits.

Financial Wellbeing

Staying on a financial note…

Introducing staff to financial wellbeing programmes in the workplace is another way of helping them to deal with stress. While it’s not an obvious trend like nutrition or exercise, it is definitely one way of helping staff to deal with the pressures of juggling finances.

The Financial Times reports that money worries in a tricky economic climate are a major distraction for employees and that regular finance management workshops are a good idea.

“Companies are trying to help staff better cope by providing a range of so-called financial wellness benefits. They are starting to take money-related problems among the workforce as seriously as they do physical injury or illness,” writes the FT’s Alistair Grey in an article titled: “Employees’ money worries hit the bottom line.”

Whether its financial literacy sessions, to advice workshops on ways to save, or educating staff about debt management – certainly investing in education about finances could go a long way to alleviating one of the biggest stress factors that anyone has to face in our modern world with its rollercoaster economies.

Recognising the Need to Prioritise Self-care

In the book Recovery from Burnout by Judy Klipin, released by Bookstorm earlier this year, she says that she doesn’t believe burnout only affects people who are suffering from career fatigue, but that it’s a wider malady and it affects everyone.
“Those affected by burnout are as diverse as any population. What they have in common, however, is an inability to prioritise their own needs and desires.”

For many women, simply recognising and acknowledging their own needs is a good starting point in turning things around. Have a read of Klipin’s book, where she unpacks what causes burnout and what to do to change habits that exhaust you, as well as avoiding traps that will take you back along the route to burning out.

Knowing What’s Good for us and Doing it

The good thing is that companies have realised that it’s not a case of one-size-fits all, and that employees have different wellness needs. One can’t generalise that what works for one person will work for another.

No matter what new trends arise, the wellness pillars remain the same: a combination of mindfulness/meditation; a decent amount of exercise; and paying attention to what we put into our bodies – both in a nutritional sense and what we expose ourselves to mentally – all play a role.

Taking that small step towards one’s most healthy self may start off with just a few steps in the right direction.