What if you created a more productive employee base by giving them time off?

In this guest post, Rachael Lonergan, head of strategy at Foundation, discusses why introducing flex time for staff to undertake exercise and mental health is an investment in her company’s future.Rachael Lonergan

Work/life balance.

Some people don’t believe in it and others think it’s unrealistic in an ‘always connected’ world. Yet there are literally millions of articles online about how to achieve this elusive concept. We really want it, but we’re not necessarily sure how to get it.

Meanwhile, the technology that promised to make our lives easier and more efficient is not meeting that promise, with Australian workers logging more unpaid work hours and less personal time than ever before (and wondering where the demarcation between work and personal time begins and ends).

As we all know (and most of us have experienced at one time or another) job burn-out is a huge problem that contributes to staff turnover and lack of productivity. And yet despite us being aware of this, as an industry we don’t seem to be coming up with effective solutions that make a real and positive difference to the people who power our companies.

The ongoing ‘Health and Wellbeing In Australia Survey’ by the Australian Psychological Society identified the Top 5 stressors for Australian workers as:

  • Personal finances – 49 per cent;
  • Family issues – 45 per cent;
  • Personal health – 44 per cent;
  • Trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle – 40 per cent; and
  • Issues with the health of others close to us – 38 per cent

People are stressed about their health and their lifestyle. We’re stressed about being stressed. The Black Dog Institute says that 20% of us are suffering from a mental illness in any given year and 65% do not seek treatment. The vast majority of those people are productive, valuable workers performing at a high level. But sometimes their stress continues unabated and they burn-out, taking with them experience and talent which is very difficult to replace.

With these concerns on our agenda at our recent Management Planning Day, we wondered what tangible actions we could take to communicate with our team to let them know that we take this issue seriously?

Generally, we don’t have a high stress culture and because we’re a boutique agency we have enough oversight to be able to nip issues in the bud. We’ve previously provided seminars on health and wellness at work. We provide fresh fruit every day. We have access to all the support services that a company within a big network like OMG offers.

We want our team members to be as healthy and happy as possible, because frankly, we get more productive teams that way.

And then we talked about the stress of getting out of the office to a yoga class because it’s going to make us late getting back after a lunchtime session. Or making an appointment with a psychologist without having to tell everyone why you’re late into the office every Tuesday. Or maybe you love to meditate in the mornings or you like to power walk in the afternoons but put those aside because you feel the weight of the expectation to always be at your desk; to always be connected.

And we realised after talking through the different scenarios that what we could give our team that they would benefit from more than anything else, was 1) time and 2) trust. Specifically, time to pursue their personal health goals without judgement or fear. And trust that if given this time, they would use it wisely and to their best advantage.

Today, Foundation is proud to be announcing a new initiative, ‘Wellness Leave’.  It’s not a huge demand on the company at only three hours per month per employee (or less than 10 minutes per work day when averaged out). And how they use it, is entirely up to the individual.

Maybe within a month they’ll take 9 x 20 minute power walks, attend 3 x 1 hour counselling sessions or, instead of ditching it, get to 12 x lunchtime gym classes using the extra time to shower and change.

It could be time for a massage, 10 minutes of meditation per day, or an early finish to access some ‘me time’ at the hairdresser or nail salon. As long as they’re free of external meetings and commitments, their Wellness Leave time will be sacrosanct.

Some people may have problems that pop up that require more than three hours per month, and this will be handled at the discretion of their manager, as would normally occur.

But the point is to actively encourage – and, in fact, insist – that people step away from their desks and do something positive for their personal wellbeing.

Of course, being a media agency, we love data. So, in a few months time we’ll survey the team and get their feedback on whether they’ve found this to be a useful initiative.

It doesn’t feel like it can hurt and we hope it will prove to be a useful tool for retention. And in the meantime if we help some of our valuable people stay happy, healthy, engaged and productive, then the company will be the ultimate beneficiary of Wellness Leave.


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