Health | Ageing

Workplace health: employers need to engage staff curiosity

“Of course we can get the behavioral economic techniques right – like having to walk past the staircases to get to a lift – but if you can ignite people’s curiosity to their own health, then we’re far more likely to get engagement in the longer term”, Lend Lease Head of Workplace Health and Wellbeing, Duncan Young has told a CEDA audience in South Australia.

At the Healthy workplaces event in Adelaide, Mr Young outlined a myriad of ways employers can improve workplace health for staff, while highlighting the benefits it produces for overall company productivity.

“The World Health Organisation has identified that the workforce is the number one place to fight lifestyle disease... (such as) cardiovascular disease, stroke, type two diabetes – diseases that are largely preventable through exercise, nutrition and good sleep, etc,” Mr Young said.

“Just by identifying how much time we spend at work, what you do at work matters – obviously. And it’s not just what you say at work, it’s what you do at work. It’s the food you provide and it’s how you run your business.”

Speaking on Lend Lease’s approach to a healthy workplace, Mr Young said, “We have a four-pillar framework: healthy minds, healthy bodies, healthy places and healthy cultures. Setting up a healthy culture pays huge dividends within the business.”

He highlighted the impact a healthy workplace has on productivity with a study on Israeli parole judges, detailed in the book Thinking, fast and slow.

“There are 1100-odd parole cases charted on the daily graph (in this book), and as you can see, if you’re in jail in Israel and you’re trying to get out, your best chance of being let out is getting a 9.30am hearing; a bit over 70 per cent of cases are successful at this time,” he said.

“By 10.25am, your chance of being released is basically negligible. Luckily, after this point these judges stop for a bit of a break, have a bit of food, etc. So if your case is lucky enough to come up at 10.45, just after their break, you’ve got a 60 per cent chance of being released. And so it goes on during the day.”

Mr Young discussed how workplaces formerly used to have morning tea, lunch, and afternoon tea breaks. However, in the contemporary workplace, work demands may require working without break. He cited studies saying the most productive way to work is for 52 minutes with a 15 minute break.

Having outlined the productivity and accuracy benefits of healthier workplaces, Mr Young discussed particular ways workplaces can improve their health culture.

Reduce social isolation

My Young cited research stating that if you have a best friend at work, you are seven times more likely to be engaged at work.

“Where do you find a best friend at work? No longer are we building these places for people to take time out and to build a social network,” he said.

Mr Young said at Lend Lease the company has a dedicated floor for a café, as well as learning weeks and a health and wellbeing room to encourage employees to interact and develop friendships.

Give purpose

“All people that live over 90 and 100 have purpose and meaning in their life. And finding meaning in work means people are engaged in their work,” Mr Young said.

Global statistics say that only 13 per cent of people the world over are highly engaged in their work. Whereas 26 per cent are actively disengaged in their work.

“If you can link meaningful work with what people do, I think you can be a lot further ahead,” he said.

Encourage healthy eating

“Not eating a breakfast leads to a range of bad decision making. Those who don’t eat breakfast go on to eat seven per cent more food during the day.”

Additionally, he advocated for eating healthy food over unhealthy alternatives, saying Lend Lease makes it so that employees are “literally having to trip over healthy food to get to bad food”.

“It’s that mental reminder that if you’re hungry you’ve got a healthy food choice. We replaced all of those biscuits that are high in sugar and replaced them with the less exciting ones that are high in fiber,” he said. 

“We had a real move to low glycemic index food. And that also happens in our meetings. We make sure we’re giving people food in our meetings that will increase their ability to do their work, not decrease it.”

Get people curious

Mr Young said that “if you can provide people with a bit of science about their own health” you can get a lot more engagement from them in managing it. Because, while a company can implement the behavioral techniques, sparking curiosity with employees would likely result in prolonged engagement in a healthier lifestyle.


My Young advocated focusing on “keystone habits”, due to the fact it’s very difficult for people to change more than one or two habits at a time. Lend Lease has also created promotional materials to give to staff to assist them with changing these core habits.

“If people are looking for a way to improve their overall health and wellbeing, we can direct them towards these simple steps.”

He said to create a healthy work place culture, the organisation will need support from senior leadership, as well as a “grass roots” campaign for health and wellbeing within the organisation.

“This top-down and bottom-up approach leads to long-term health and wellbeing for everyone.”