Employee wellness programs are all the rage across the corporate space, with yoga and mindfulness sessions making their way into the schedules of executives, while startups of course look to keep employees happy with everything from ping pong tables to catered meals. However, the effect these initiatives have on employee wellbeing and productivity can be hard to measure.
Adelaide startup The Wellbeing Challenge looks to help employers provide structured programs for their employees and help them measure their effect through an app and online dashboard solution, which takes users through eight focus areas: move, save, eat, connect, inspire, think, snooze, and work.
Cofounder James Podsiadly, an AFL Premiership winner with Geelong and now an assistant coach at the Adelaide Football Club, said he was inspired to create what he calls a “dashboard approach to wellbeing” while sitting on a plane coming back from the US.
“If you think of a plane you think about altitude and speed and fuel and stuff and it’s no different to what we are in our lives of well being, where you think about how much you exercise or how well you sleep or what your financial situation is, it’s almost like that sort of dashboard approach to wellbeing,” he explained.
“I fleshed out the biggest changes we’ve seen in behaviour over the last five, 10, 20 years as a society and the biggest one is obviously social media, and having things that are digital in your life. One of the things that has been blamed for people’s poor well being is digital, but we actually should embrace digital and actually use it to improve wellbeing.”
So, essentially, the startup’s goal is to help people use digital methods to better their approach to wellbeing, with Podsiadly believing that this can start at work.
“I think where we’re headed as a society is that this is going to be part of everyone’s workplace culture, because we know the performance benefits of healthy employees and how healthy employees improve results of the company,” he said.
Given the number of corporate wellbeing programs already in the space, Podsiadly teamed up with cofounder Paul Baulch, former general manager of health and safety at Coles Group and GM of health, safety, and environment at Telstra, to create a program that takes a holistic approach to wellbeing rather than focused on just one aspect of the problem, whether it be nutrition, sleep, or exercise, for example.
Work on the startup began in 2014, with a significant amount of time spent on the science behind the program; Baulch and Podsiadly worked with Dr Carol Maher and Professor Tim Olds from the University of South Australia.
The Wellbeing Challenge program works by having an employer, of course, first sign up. They are able to deploy the program to employees, who download the app and from there pick from the eight components to focus on for a ten week cycle..
Users are helped through this process by a survey, which helps them figure out where their strengths and weaknesses lie. They can then choose what challenges to complete, personalising the system to set out when they will complete an activity and how they would like to be reminded about it.
As users progress through the program, the employer is able to track things such as engagement levels, the activities being chosen, where the gaps in the organisation lie at the start compared to at the end of a ten week cycle, and so on. To help encourage users to keep going and progressing, The Wellbeing Challenge also has a social element, awarding users trophies and other rewards that they can share among friends on social media for goals and milestones.
Given the number of competitors in the workplace wellbeing space Podsiadly said that the startup will be looking to go beyond just the corporates sitting behind a desk and explore other sectors that have for the most part been overlooked.
“The space that really interests me especially is the SME level, that has probably never had an opportunity to create a wellbeing program for their employees. If you think of a company with ten people, they’ve probably never even thought about implementing a wellbeing program, so I suppose one component of our platform is it can be rolled out to something as small as five people or 10 people on a team. You can’t forget about the person that’s packing boxes in a warehouse, or the truck driver, or the delivery driver. Everyone’s got to think about wellbeing,” Podsiadly explained.
“The thing about this is it can be deployed via an app and the whole idea is it can be individualised. We haven’t created like a program where you go, here’s your program, you’ve got to do three sets of this, or ten reps for the next month, it’s almost like, well, you work out what areas you’ve got to focus on and then you choose what you need to do within that,” he explained.
Having self funded the development of the startup to date and run a handful of pilots, Podsiadly said he and Baulch are now excited to get clients on board and help improve the wellbeing of employees around Australia.
“We’re motivated to change people’s lives and actually improve wellbeing, because my thoughts in this space is that we’ve had all these different initiatives, but workplace stress keeps going up, chronic diseases keep going up. I mean, when are we actually going to embrace technology and use it for our benefit? And that’s what motivates us to keep going.”
Image: James Podsiadly.