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April 21, 2017updated 19 Jan 2022 10:37am

Employee wellbe-ING a priority for top Dutch bank

By Anna Milne

Things are fast-changing. The younger workforce coming through has different habits and expectations, driving digital transformation at the same time as levelling the traditional corporate hierarchy. Now, one incumbent institution is taking note and ringing change. Anna Milne writes

The diet and fitness revolution is well underway- in one fell swoop the UK’s daily fruit and veg intake guideline doubled. Dare we mention that this is still less than two thirds what it is in Japan?

It is refreshing, therefore, to see a corporate entity take action and make an investment that nurtures its workforce rather than bleeding it dry. ING Bank has launched an employee wellbeing programme which, over a six month period, will train the participants to become more attuned to different factors playing into their quality of life and work.

The programme is called WQ, Wellbeing Quotient, and is based on three years of the bank exploring EQ, emotional intelligence and its value to the business. WQ is a numerical figure, calibrated by four metrics: Eat, Move, Sleep, and Relax. These are measured on a fitness tracking band, linked to an app, which in turn can be linked to a Dacadoo app in which the group’s collective quotient can be measured.

To deliver the programme, ING has partnered with Lifeguard – experts in stress management, wellbeing and ‘corporate fitness’, and TomTom Sports, which supplies the band (just don’t call it a Fitbit).

The band tracks steps taken, heartbeat, calories burnt, activity and percentage body fat and professionals are on hand in the form of former Olympic athletes, professors and coaches in nutrition, fitness and sleep.

Ninety five per cent of ING’s 350 global financial markets sales staff across 30 countries has signed up to the programme. It is executed in six week blocks, each focusing on one of the four key metrics. In addition, the programme is also open to family, friends, colleagues and clients.

To its credit, ING Bank has done a fair amount of research into leadership qualities and the different strengths and intelligence dimensions required for good leadership. The EQ programme focused on aspects such as communication, performance and consequence management to enhance the performance of staff and, hence, the business.

A great number of psychologists have looked into the importance of wellbeing in all its forms on corporate performance and ING looked into a great many of these psychologists.

Cindy Wigglesworth, president and founder of Deep Change, an organisation that promotes excellence in leadership through the development of key intelligences, identifies four key intelligences leaders need: Cognitive, Emotional, Spiritual and Physical.

Physical refers to the ‘lower level’ physical needs of the body, which cannot be ignored, and must be met, before any kind of so-called upper level intelligence can be employed.

The most obvious analogy to be drawn is that of an athlete or any sportsperson following a strict regime in which everything, from the obvious metrics of diet and training, to stress management and sleep tracking is taken into consideration.

A corporate performer is often expected to run on empty. How often are flights taken at unholy hours or lunch skipped or days stretched into the wee hours? No Usain Bolt or Jess Ennis would perform on any of that nonsense.

You could argue it is a selfish endeavour- a happier, healthier workforce will be more productive. But it is clearly win-win, because a happier, healthier workforce is also, well, a happier and healthier workforce.

A working environment in which money is perhaps the only metric to the fore, vis-à-vis performance, companies don’t pay attention to the maths of how much more they may get out of their employees if their employees were a little healthier all round.

A groundbreaking book in the early eighties, Frames of Mind, by Howard Gardner, first put the notion of multiple intelligences into the broader public domain. In his research, Gardner distinguished seven different types of intelligence. Seven. These are: Linguistic, Logical-mathematical, Musical, Spatial, Bodily-kinesthetic, Interpersonal and Intrapersonal.

And Gardner has recently even added an eighth to proceedings, namely, Naturalist intelligence. (Incidentally, he is also threatening to throw a ninth into the equation, Existential intelligence, but that’s by the by.)

By this point, we may have lost some of the more sagacious, or just plain cynical, among you, so let’s bring in Daniel Goleman, who defined emotional intelligence within a business context, in his 1998 Harvard Business Review article, based on his 1995 book of that name.

The article told of “a persuasive story about the link between a company’s success and the emotional intelligence of its leaders” and claimed it was possible to develop one’s emotional intelligence, if not initially inherent from birth. Not everyone is born blessed.

“This can be developed around four main Emotional Intelligence constructs: Self-Awareness, Self-Management, Social Awareness and Relationship Management,” Goleman says.

True, the notion of a corporate athlete may make some want to run a mile in the other direction, myself included. And it begs immediate questions and yes, it could be a shrewd PR stunt; and yes- how many of the initial sign-up contingent will stay the course? And will it actually have a measurable impact on life quality or indeed corporate sales? And do people really want to log such personal data- won’t they just fling the thing out the window as soon as it buzzes in judgment at some late night dodgy burger binge? Who wants to be judged by a bracelet- and then collectively judged by colleagues and bosses (not that the data is shared but conversations are inevitable)?

While there are many questions and many angles from which to take the cynic’s view, it does remain fact that more attention could be paid to body and mind; and fact that this largely improves physical and mental wellbeing. Who wouldn’t want to give that a fleeting chance? And who wouldn’t want to be gifted a fitness tracker by their employer (doubles as a watch)? And if it does do what it says on the tin, why judge without having tried it? And isn’t it a tad tired, not to mention cheap, to be the armchair cynic anyway?

This remains an astute move by a forward-thinking bank and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see more of these initiatives being rolled out over the next few years.

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