Improving employee wellbeing with the great outdoors
As much as we love being in the office, the great outdoors and being one with the countryside has plenty of positives too. This month sees National Parks Week hike its way into the calendar, the National Parks’ annual celebration of its 15 sites across the UK, with plenty of free events taking place from Brecon Beacons to the Yorkshire Dales.
National Parks Week, which takes place in the last week of July (24th-30th), is the perfect opportunity for your staff to get some fresh air, lace up their walking boots, and pay a visit to mother nature. With outdoor activities such as cycling, trail running and walking routes on offer, employers could use the occasion to support their employees’ health and wellbeing.
Taking your team away for an employee retreat to a National Park could be a fantastic addition to an engagement strategy that promotes employee health and wellbeing – when combined with voluntary benefits such as cycle-to-work programmes, corporate gym memberships or an employee assistance programme, healthy activities help to contribute to a workplace culture that really cares about the wellbeing of its employees, and takes active steps to improve it!
So, to get you prepared, we’re taking a look at the benefits of persuading staff to swap PowerPoint for the UK’s national parks. It’s hiking time!
The history of national parks
National parks have their own legacy. The first official national park status was awarded to the Peak District in 1951, and has featured in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit, and countless other period dramas. This could provide some extra interest if you’re planning on taking your team for a visit. But would your employees be interested in going?
A report by National Parks England found that 90% of people say national parks are important to them, so clearly this idea has some legs.
The good news too is that your office shouldn’t be too far from a park if you’re thinking about the logistics. In fact, over 50% of the population of England are living within one hour’s travel from a national park.
Introducing a company trip might be a good idea to complement the company culture of the organisation. Rewarding your team with trips like this can help your team feel appreciated for their hard work.
Interestingly, 19% of executives said new hires leave because they don’t like the organisation’s culture, so retreats can be a useful tool to help inject something a bit different – and truly engaging – into a company culture.
Health benefits of visiting national parks
Of course, getting out and exercising is very important when it comes to staff health and wellbeing. Technology, and particularly social media can cause anxiety with 53% saying social media had changed their behaviour, and of those 53%, over half said it negatively impacted their behaviour.
Getting your team off their phones and into the great outdoors will do wonders to their mind and body. Walking for just a few minutes in nature can reduce depression symptoms, according to researchers at the University of Michigan. Dr. Sara Warber, the associate professor of family medicine who helped organise the study, explains their observations:
“Given the increase in mental ill health and physical inactivity in the developed world, we are constantly exploring new, accessible ways to help people improve their long-term quality of life and wellbeing, Group walks in local natural environments may make a potentially important contribution to public health and be beneficial in helping people cope with stress and experience improved emotions.”
Not only does it help those who suffer from poor mental health, it assists physical health and is a great form of exercise. Hiking for an hour can increase fitness and burn 500 caloriesdepending on the steepness of your climb and how much you’re carrying, so it could be a great workout that helps employees feel good for slogging it out in the hills.
What does businesses get out of it from their staff? Improved concentration, for one. Taking staff for a walk in one of Britain’s national parks can boost their attention, with a study in testing people’s ability to focus finding that, between three different groups – groups who walked in the city, groups who walked in nature and those who just relaxed – the group who strolled in countryside scored highest in a proofreading test.
Even if you went for a company jog in a national park, it’s much better for your employees’ mental state than letting them go to the gym. Researchers from Glasgow University noticed a 50% improvement in people’s mental health if they exercised in a natural environment, compared to those who didn’t, highlighting the positives nature can give to your staff’s health and wellbeing.
Use it as a team bonding experience
Using a trip to a national park to develop skills that will help people perform better as a unit, and getting colleagues to know each other better out of work, can help the performance of the business.
A trip away worked wonders for Huddersfield Town, the small Yorkshire football club who have returned to England’s top-flight league after a 45-year absence. Their manager, David Wagner, took his team away on a retreat to bond his new players, all of the different nationalities together in a completely different world to that you’d associate with pampered footballers. He told The Guardian:
“We went to Sweden for four days and three nights and we didn’t bring a ball. We were really in the wild, no electricity, no toilet, no bed, no mobile phone or internet. If you are hungry, take your rod and get a fish. If you are thirsty, go to the lake and put your bottle in. If you are cold, make a fire.
“We had three guides with us to help, but if you are always together, in a two-man tent or eight hours a day in a two-man canoe – and we always rotated the pairings – then you have to speak to each other. I am convinced that the better you know your mate off the pitch, the more you are able to work for him on it in uncomfortable situations.”
Having your retreat in a national park or camping in the peaks doesn’t have to be as drastic as that, although there’s a lot to be said about going from one extreme to another to get the best out of people. Realistically, even going for a day trip or overnight camp-out can prove effective, but how do you want to use it?
Using mother nature as the theme for your team building event can be a great way to rekindle staff relations, inspire departments that need an injection of morale, or introduce new staff members to the company and its culture.
It’s important to think what you want to get out of a stroll, hike or cycle in a national park, and that needs to be communicated clearly to staff members so they understand what to expect. The words ‘team building’ can make people imagine forced fun activities or trust exercises that wouldn’t go amiss in a sitcom, whereas ‘retreat’ can be associated with a getaway or holiday.
Talk to your employees and see what they’d like to do from the options discussed – giving them input will help gather interest, make them feel part of the process, and create a buzz around the office. If you crack that, and the employees are on board, it can be a great investment for staff engagement.
If you have any questions about using national parks as your starting point to boost staff health and wellbeing or as a treat of incentive, then talk to us, we’re chock full of ideas.