Investments in the promotion of wellbeing at work have increased in recent decades. This shows in the growing popularity of health and wellbeing programmes at the workplace.

The Finnish Olympic Committee study entitled Henkilöstöliikuntabarometri 2019 (Staff physical activity barometer), investigated the state of physical activity for employees in Finland. According to employees and employers, the main arguments for supporting staff’s physical activity include keeping up working capacity and mood as well as improving health and wellbeing at work. In addition, such staff activities are considered to enhance productivity and economic efficiency at the workplace.

Musculo-skeletal and mental disorders are the most typical work-related health problems in Finland as well globally.

Recent research findings indicate that exercise interventions at the workplace, such as high-intensity strength training and/or integrated health care, can reduce pain and symptoms in employees suffering from chronic musculoskeletal disorders. Moreover, mental health programmes implemented at the workplace have been reasonably successful. Empirical evidence shows that the most effective programmes included supportive measures for mental and physical health, multifaceted mental health and/or psychosocial programmes as well as those focusing on specific problems, such as anxiety disorders.

It is a challenging task, however, to summarise the research evidence obtained from the health and wellbeing programmes at the workplace. These programmes are defined very broadly, encompassing a variety of research settings and content as well as small sample sizes. Hence, despite the positive findings, research evidence about the health effects of different programmes is still somewhat limited and inconsistent. Therefore, the health and wellbeing programmes ought to be comprehensive and long-lasting enough in order to yield possible long-term economic benefits.

In Finland, the most usual staff incentives for physical activity include, for example, physical activity vouchers, staff sport days, break time exercise, and fitness tests. The staff physical activity barometer shows, however, that participation in events or the tracking of physical activity does not activate those who are the least physically active. According to employers, about half of their staff participates regularly in employer-sponsored physical activities and more than two-thirds at least sometimes. Thus, about a third of the staff remains passive, even if various forms of support are available. Sixty percent of employers reported that they were going to invest in activating these passive people, but only a fourth of workplaces have organised support for those with insufficient physical activity in terms of their health.

In January 2019 the University of Jyväskylä launched a health and wellbeing programme which encourages the staff to engage in physical activity, thereby supporting their wellbeing and working ability.

When work allows for it, staff may use two weekly working hours for physical exercise as agreed with their superior. This kind of an investment and message from the employer is one way to increase wellbeing at work, community spirit, and efficiency. It is also a potential attractive factor in the University’s recruitment.

A key concept in the new HR strategy is wellbeing, and this approach shows in our University’s activities. Next spring, the dynamic and creative University community (LiLY) project will organise health and wellbeing days with a low threshold for participation.

These events will take place on the University campuses and offer an opportunity to participate in fitness index measurements, which are conducted in collaboration with LIKES Research Centre for Physical Activity and Health. LIKES has organised these measurements for the staff of Central Finland Health Care District, for example, and they have been popular and easy for the participants. Normal clothing is acceptable and the tests do not cause any sweating. The participants receive personal feedback on the measurements plus information about personally suitable forms of physical activity. The health and wellbeing days are open for everybody to learn more about the University’s activities to support wellbeing and also about the various physical activity possibilities offered by different regional providers. More information about the events will be given at the beginning of next year and these activities are planned to continue in autumn 2020 as well.

The LiLY project is connected to KEHO – Central Finland Health and Wellbeing Ecosystem. KEHO’s goal is to make Central Finland an internationally competitive centre of wellbeing, health promotion, social welfare, sports, physical activity, rehabilitation, and health-related business and research.

As one component of the University’s strategy and the University community development programme, the Healthy Teacher programme is being implemented under the lead of HR Services. This project collects and promotes existing activities to support teachers’ wellbeing. In addition, by experimenting with different means to promote wellbeing, the project also seeks new measures to support the wellbeing of teaching staff at different points of their work careers. The project involves various pilot programmes within the University and together with several cooperation partners. Based on teaching staff’s experiences, services will be extended later to cover the whole JYU staff.

Matti Munukka and Mikaela vonBonsdorff

Faculty of Health and Sport Sciences and Gerontology Research Center

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