SHU Wellness: Helping to reduce sickness absences for employers

June 1, 2016
By Hanna Leahy, Business Development Manager and SHU Wellness Practitioner - Centre for Sport and Exercise Science, Sheffield Hallam University.
SHU Wellness: Helping to reduce sickness absences for employers
Poor staff health and wellbeing is estimated to cost the UK economy around £100billion a year. For over 10 years now, academics at Sheffield Hallam University, a key partner of the Olympic Legacy Park, have been delivering the SHU Wellness Programme.
The service is the only staff wellbeing service in the country providing a comprehensive health and fitness assessment alongside behaviour change techniques.
It’s been developed in line with scientific evidence and has proven to be extremely effective across a variety of sectors and industries.
Led by fully-trained experts, the programme is available to all Sheffield Hallam staff and, since it was established, we’ve conducted over 9,000 appointments and seen significant improvements in the physical and mental health of participating staff.  As a result, an impressive return on investment is secured and staff feedback is consistently excellent.
The service includes an hour-long appointment testing cholesterol, blood pressure, resting heart rate, diabetes risk, lung function, aerobic fitness and body composition (including body fat percentage) Results are generated immediately and presented in a personalised report with instant feedback, advice on how to make positive health and lifestyle changes as well as a comprehensive action plan.
The service also offers tailored, ongoing individual support including 1-to-1 lifestyle reviews and additional workshops. Notably, it’s the psychological technique of Motivational Interviewing, for which all SHU practitioners are trained by an internationally-recognised organisation, and fitness assessment that sets this scheme apart from many competitors.  Indeed, fitness is proven far more pertinent to health than fatness, yet the majority of wellbeing services do not measure fitness.
Motivational Interviewing creates a bespoke session used to encourage clients to take responsibility for implementing their own lifestyle changes, rather than relying on the health professional. We’ve found this has helped to improve the sustainability and efficiency of the programme and increases the level of engagement from the individual.
As a result of its success within Sheffield Hallam, SHU Wellness has been trialed on staff within Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust thanks to a partnership with the Yorkshire and Humber Academic Health Science Network. The first trial of 50 people in 2012 saved the Trust £36,223 in staff sickness absences and we recorded significant improvements in their levels of aerobic fitness, weight and cardiovascular disease risk factors. 
Almost nine out of ten participants agreed that the project had a positive impact on their motivation to make changes to their lifestyle or health.
In a second study of 277 employees from three regional Trusts, 95 per cent of staff reported making changes to their health and/or lifestyle and 98 per cent agreed the programme would be a valuable workplace benefit. From the 45 per cent who had at least one cardiovascular disease risk factor, 43 per cent of them improved their health within six months of starting the programme.  We’ve since worked out that if this was replicated across the NHS workforce, the NHS would save around £35.4million over a 10-year period in reduced healthcare costs - that's in addition to a 300 per cent return on investment for workplace costs.
Thanks to the success of the programme, we’ve looked at ways to develop and replicate it across other sectors and business types. 
Organisations wanting to establish their own employee wellbeing programme can access our Train the Practitioners course; a bespoke five-day training course which will allow qualified staff to deliver the programme to their own colleagues in their own organisations.
Since the Train the Practitioner course launched in 2015, a significant number of NHS Trusts in the Yorkshire and Humber region have been able to deliver SHU Wellness to their own staff and it has since been adopted by organisations in the wider public and private sector, with great success.
To find out more about SHU Wellness contact Hanna Leahy on or The Centre for Sport and Exercise Science at Sheffield Hallam University at or 0114 225 2544.