How much responsibility should you be taking for the healthy habits of your people? Well, how much is it costing you for them to stay as they are? …

I had the pleasure last week of presenting to the HR team at Discovery, and in the run up, I got to thinking as I always do, about what is distinctly different about the organisation I am about to work with.

In Discovery’s case, there’s an easy answer: through programmes such as Vitality, Discovery aims not just to provide medical insurance in case its members get sick, but to create programmes such as discounted gym memberships to decrease the chances of that happening in the first place.

It makes sound financial sense for an insurer to lessen the odds of a customer having to make a claim, but the thinking is much more broadly applicable than that.

How much responsibility does an organisation have for the health of its employees? The answer, from a purely functional standpoint is none. It’s not our place to dictate how people live their lives outside of a very narrow band of expected behaviours that serve to protect the organisation’s reputation.

But how much does your organisation hope for high, positive energy levels to achieve its goals? I’d guess that question would elicit a very different response.

The logic therefore is that creating workspaces, work habits, leave habits, positive interactions and anything that can lower employee stress levels even in the pressurised environment of a high performing organisation, should be universally significant goals.

It makes no sense to aim for high, positive energy levels from employees strung out on sleepless nights, coffee, bad air flow, lack of sunlight, and fatty fast food. And it must therefore follow that any organisation that abdicates itself of responsibility for the health of its employees is simply shooting itself in the foot.

What can you do about it? In the past few weeks, I’ve written about the massive potential of unlimited leave, adding personal goals to KPIs, taking walking meetings, creating organized employee lunch dates and forever ending the the year-end stress of the performance review. I’d like to add to that list however and suggest three (almost) free things that your company should do right now:

1) Go to war against junk food in your building. If someone wants to order in McDonald’s, it’s not your place to stop them unless you want to run a nanny state. But make the easy choices available through your office canteen the sorts of things that a top-line dietician would recommend. Consult a dietician first. If it costs a little more, bear it. It’s probably worth it in the long run.

2) Seek to lower stress, like it’s a cockroach infestation. Pressure is a given in the workplace, and most people are able to handle some of it. Stress is pressure without a backup plan however and all it is, is stupid. I’ve worked in organisations that pride themselves on getting as much work as possible out of employees and even giving them the work of two or three people. Aside from the loss of quality in the work done, the loss of such an employee’s excitement and enjoyment of the work is costly and dangerous. If you need another person, add another person and to hell with the fiction of your revenue-per-head ratios.

3) Assign a second track for each employee to change things up for a day every month. By getting people to do something that improves the organisation in a meaningful way, beyond their operational roles, you could well get both refreshed people and a better organisation. Ideas could be to organise them into think tanks about aspects of policy, with responsibility to feedback improvements to the organisation’s leaders, or to dream up new suggestions for marketing campaigns (as long as they’re not currently in marketing), sales strategies (as long as they’re not currently in sales), or anything else that engages their creative brain for the good of the company. Steve Jobs once said: It makes no sense to hire people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.