An increasing number of Kiwi firms are trying to keep staff healthy by shouting breakfast or fruit, running exercise or weight loss challenges and even offering to contribute money towards sports gear including snowboarding equipment.

But despite an increasing number of companies using health and wellness programmes and benefits to give them a competitive advantage as an employer, new research found almost half of kiwi employers still offer no health benefits.

Of the 55 per cent offering workplace benefits, 40 per cent offered flu vaccinations. Whereas as only about 10 per cent of employers offered other health incentives such as discounted gym memberships, free fruit and health checks, according to the latest Southern Cross-commissioned research.

The research carried out by TNS 2000 people was weighted to be representative of the New Zealand over 15 population by age, gender and region.

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Southern Cross Health Society head of people and talent Vicki Caisley said employers needed to take a more proactive approach to workplace wellness if they wanted a fit, healthy and productive workforce.

Ms Caisley said introducing fitness into the workplace removed barriers to getting healthy such as cost, time and travel after a quarter of those surveyed felt they did not have enough time to exercise.

Southern Cross' own internal wellness programme included seminars around gardening and finances, as well as on site health checks.

The company launched a new initiative this year where a registered nurse carried out blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, BMI and height and weight checks twice.

Ms Caisley said as a result there had been some dramatic changes in the health of some staff with an extra 14 per cent of employees' BMI dropping into the healthy range and 13 per cent moving out of the obese range.

Brad Norris, managing director of workplace wellness provider Synergy Health, said demand for programmes had increased as companies strived to improve their employer brand and reduce sick days.

Companies were moving away from the traditional pedometer challenge which measured how many steps staff were taking and were instead running programmes encouraging sugar reduction by eliminating sugary drinks and searching out sugar in packaged food, or promoting gratitude, he said.

"What we are seeing more of though, once upon a time it used to be seen as a bit of a competitive advantage to implement a wellness programme. I guess what we are seeing now as it's a bit of a disadvantage not to do it."

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Unison, an electricity distribution company servicing Hawke's Bay, Taupo and Rotorua, has been running a health and wellness programme - including monthly themes and activities such as the pedometer challenge - for three years and was reaping the benefits.

In 2014 the number of incidents in the workplace had dropped by 36 per cent, medical treatments were down 14 per cent and near-miss reporting was up 300 per cent.

Unison marketing and communications manager Alex Booth said staff engagement levels were higher than they had ever been and the turnover rate was at record low this financial year. "So it does have benefits and obviously showing that we really do care about employees wellness and that they do keep a healthy lifestyle because we are going to get more out of them."

SkyCity's 3,500 employees were also offered a range of fitness and nutrition initiatives. Fitness challenges included staff being challenged to race up 51 stairs of the Sky Tower, as well as an annual team-based challenge where employees have participated in the company's version of the Amazing Race or a Survivor-style obstacle course. While the company also runs an internal weight loss programme which 270 staff have participated in since its 2010 launch and also offered healthy choices in the cafeteria to promote nutrition.

SkyCity general manager corporate service Gráinne Troute said the programmes were aimed at influencing employees in the areas of health and wellbeing given they spent a considerable amount of time at work.

Vodafone is currently running a global wellness challenge encouraging staff to monitor their intake and exercise with technology prizes offered as an incentive. Staff log their daily activity in an app which is uploaded to a global platform and put onto a leader board.

Vodafone head of health and wellbeing Scott Kyle said the firm invested in the scheme, which included free Southern Cross health insurance, free breakfast for customer care representatives and health checks, because having healthy and happy staff was important to them.

Healthy workers

Southern Cross survey benefits in kiwi workplaces

• 45% offer no benefits

• 55% offer benefits

• 40% provide flu vaccinations

• 15% subsidised health insurance

• 13% discounted gym membership

• 11% free fruit

• 11% health checks

• 4% provided healthy options in the snack box

"I feel healthy. I can do my work more efficiently"

Michael Tang is fitter than he's ever been which makes hauling is heavy equipment around job sites a breeze.

The 33-year-old joined Unison over a year ago and has since been involved in marathons, relays, zumba classes and a special type of cross fit for lines men called line fit, which are all either run or sponsored by the power firm.

He is also one of the 180 staff members who have committed to wearing a pedometer at work as part of the company's latest challenge called Stepping in Unison where they competed in teams to rack up the highest number of steps over eight weeks.

Last year Mr Tang won the challenge averaging 26,000 steps a day, but this year he admits he is a little demotivated due to such tough competition and is averaging 12,000 steps a day. But this is still above the company's target of 10,000 steps a day.

Although his last work place in Fiji had a gym, Mr Tang said the health programmes offered by Unison motivated him to try new activities away from his usual regime of running and working out which was a definite advantage of working for the company.

"The advantage is I feel good when I come to work. Especially working out in the field. I feel healthy. I can do my work more efficiently - carrying the equipment and stuff. It's like easy when you go to the gym you become more fit."