Government standards increasingly demand that businesses support the health of their employees, so services and extras promoting staff members' fitness are becoming an integral part of human resources. These services are also used as an incentive when recruiting new staff as well as being an important tool for staff retention.
Clare Phizacklea, human resources director at Busy Bees, points out that curriculum changes and a desire to educate the children about the importance of diet and exercise have a knock-on effect on staff awareness.
Joe Poole, group operations executive at Bright Kids, agrees. She insists that the nurseries' environments have changed, 'We're role models. Before, staff might have drunk fizzy pop and eaten crisps at work, but now they can't eat those things in front of the children. As a result I think a lot of them are healthier and more active.'
Bright Kids won the BBC Big Challenge Health Works Award last year and is a prime example of a provider that takes staff health very seriously.
One of the initiatives that impressed the BBC judges was staff members'
inventive use of the company's bouncy castle. The staff at Bright Kids'
site in Studley, Warwickshire, began 'sponsored bounces' and have run staff-only bouncy castle exercise sessions. Chief executive Tricia Wellings was pleased to share the bouncy castle around other nurseries and soon the idea caught on. Sam Mulhall, who works in group operations at head office, is a regular bouncer. 'It's a social time for staff and, with the added bonus of keeping active in the fresh air, it's a really useful resource.'
This fun and unusual activity demonstrated to the Bright Kids head office that a staff health policy would be well received by their employees. Ms Wellings says, 'It enhances your position as an employer. It communicates that they will get a good deal with us.
'We started thinking about introducing a "Feeling Good and Keeping Healthy"
policy in October last year. We thought this would be a good thing to attach to our work-life balance initiative.' The policy will be in action by the end of the year and will complement existing activities, like the woodland walks which staff do regularly with the children. These aren't just a leisurely stroll - they can be up to four miles long.
Tricia Wellings believes encouraging a healthy lifestyle is beneficial to her staff and to the company as a whole. 'I'm sure it helps keep staff stress levels down. Hopefully, they will take less time off work with illness and I think it retains them as well,' she says.
Exercise is a great way to integrate a nursery into a community, as demonstrated at one of the Bright Kids nurseries in Shropshire. 'The Cleobury Mortimer nursery in south Shropshire had their local rugby team make it to Twickenham and it was a real local effort.
'The nursery was very involved in fundraising and so everyone's into rugby now! It gets the children and nursery involved with parts of the community they wouldn't normally be involved with,' says Ms Wellings. These activities also raise the nursery's profile and popularity in the local area.
But it is not just exercise that the nursery chain is focusing on. A health newsletter is being launched this month, which will include practical health advice for staff members including tried-and-tested remedies for common minor ailments, vitamin supplements, how to check breasts for lumps and many other wellbeing issues. The quarterly publication will also act as a forum to encourage staff to voice any health concerns.
At Nunu there is a staff welfare budget and staff members are encouraged to suggest how it is spent. Joining a gym is a popular health option for staff. Lorna Butler, marketing manager at Nunu nurseries, explains, 'What we try to do is work with the local gyms to break down from the yearly and long-term contracts. It gives access to people who may not be able to afford it.'
The manager at Nunu's Sandbach nursery negotiated with the local gym to organise free trial passes so that newcomers to working out could try the facilities before they committed to a membership contract.
It has been found that providing a break from routine in the work environment can boost staff members' enthusiasm and reduce work-related stress. With this in mind, Sandbach nursery staff have also been treated to surprise pampering sessions. A beauty clinic was brought into the nursery for use during the staff lunch breaks. Staff had a choice of treatments including massages, manicures and facials.
Ms Butler says, 'The staff were delighted and then went in and had a fantastic afternoon with the children. In terms of health and fitness, childcare is a stressful career so it's nice to give something back. It's important for staff to feel like they are supported and valued.'
An inventive morale boost at another Bright Kids nursery was inspired by TV's 'Big Brother'. Many staff were hooked on watching the programme and a 'Big Sister' scenario was launched for two weeks in the nursery.
This involved fun physical tasks for staff to participate in that encouraged team work, as well as being good for keeping fit. A diary room was also set up as a private place to off-load during and after shifts.
'There was a huge difference not only in morale but staff motivation as well. Funnily enough, not one person got sick in the whole two weeks. Ideas like this help to keep staff at work and enjoying themselves,' says Tricia Wellings.
Such themed events are an excellent opportunity for staff to bond and build friendships within the company. Joe Poole says, 'It's about enabling them to have a healthy spirit. We create something extra to coming in and doing their jobs.' Not only does this make staff happier and more loyal to the company, but it will also be noticed by the children and their parents.
On the go
Experts in specialised exercise regularly visit nurseries in the Busy Bees chain. There are also organised sessions in yoga and 'music and movement'
for the staff to participate in.
Clare Phizacklea says that Busy Bees has ensured that it is not only the children who are running around. 'We've had training courses in playground games to make sure staff actually join in with the children. We don't want a school environment where the teachers are on the sidelines, we want staff participating.'
Diet is another key priority and most nursery chains are expanding their healthy eating policies to cover staff. Busy Bees nurseries offer balanced, low salt meals for the children and these are available to nursery staff too. At the Nunu nursery in Shrewsbury, healthy snacks chosen by the staff, including fruit, salad and pasta, are provided at staff meetings.
The Nunu head office in Castle Donnington even organised the company's own version of television's 'Celebrity Fit Club'. Lorna Butler says the event was organised to encourage weight loss through healthy eating. 'It wasn't dieting, just taking everything in moderation, especially things like chocolate with tea and coffee - because we all love it!' she says.
Nunu, Busy Bees and Bright Kids all encourage their staff to participate in fun runs. Employees from all three chains have joined in the annual Race for Life, a five-kilometre sponsored run or walk to raise funds for Cancer Research. And a team of 15 Busy Bees staff took physical fundraising to even greater heights in May when they scaled Ben Nevis for charity. The Busy Bees' in-house newsletter is used to promote involvement throughout the company in such activities.
Often, the staff themselves are the driving force behind endeavours like these and it's the varied interests and pursuits of staff members which are spurring on health policies, supported by the employers. Joe Poole says, 'At the end of the day it's beneficial for the company, we have more motivated, energetic and happy staff. It's in everybody's interest.'