Most leaders would generally agree that healthy and happy employees are safer and more productive, so investments in their well-being would therefore be worth it.
But the urgency of safety initiatives can stay ahead of long-term health priorities even though both are important. Traditional thinking correctly positions safety first—but only on the surface. Once you fully understand the impact of a robust wellness program and where your company is positioned in terms of proficiency in each area, it can become clear that it’s time to ramp up your health program to catch up with your progress in safety.
One of the main problems with the concept of employee wellness is that it’s not easy to define and there are many degrees of it.
For some companies, wellness might mean a number of separate and standalone initiatives. Smoking cessation program, a meditation class, financial compensation for outside activities, or simply some information on heart health.
But truly focusing on wellness requires an all-encompassing program that addresses multiple issues, from anger management to handling stress. After all, there are many parts to wellness and addressing one might not necessarily improve the workers’ overall wellbeing. One person might need help with learning mindfulness, while another might benefit from physical exercise.
What we know
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “almost half of all U.S. worksites offered some type of health promotion or wellness program in 2017.” The CDC cites a study published by the American Journal of Health Promotion that showed the continuous growth of worksite health initiatives in America.
The study notes that “almost 30 percent of worksites offered some type of program to address physical activity, fitness, or sedentary behavior. Some 19 percent of worksites offered a program to help employees stop using tobacco products, and about 17 percent of worksites offered a program to address obesity or weight management.”
However, although the report focuses on strategies that include “health-promoting policies, health benefits design, and physical changes to the work environment,” it’s easy to overlook that many of these approaches simply offer motivational information rather than actual programs.
For example, the most comprehensive programs offer biometric health screenings, nutritional programs, fitness classes, and educational seminars on health and wellness topics. But even these can fall short of achieving long-term success because they don’t address the underlying human factors involved in building and maintaining steady habits.
It seems that many, if not most, employers realize the value of such initiatives. They can save money by reducing health care and absenteeism costs as well as improve worker productivity. In fact, productivity increase resulting from wellness initiatives is “approximately equal to an additional productive work day per month for the average worker.”
According to researchers at the University of California, “wellness plans can boost employee satisfaction by offering a tangible benefit that empowers them to take care of their health in a way that’s integrated into their busy lives. The result is healthier and happier employees who are not only less expensive and less absent, but also more productive.”
Different company, different needs
Any organization that decides to improve employee wellness has a tough job ahead of it. First, the organization needs to figure out what wellness means to its workers and then must design a long-term plan for various initiatives and support. Wellness programs shouldn’t be a one-off initiative but rather an ongoing effort and a combination of many different activities offered under a wide umbrella.
There are various options available to organizations and many companies pick one or several. But it’s not particularly helpful to focus on one area unless it’s something that would apply to a lot of employees and wouldn’t single people out. For example, weight loss or strength training is not going to be for everyone. But mindfulness, stress management, ergonomics, and stretching could speak to a large segment of employees.
Employee age can be a factor in the success of workplace wellness programs and organizations should ensure that initiatives match their workers’ life and family situation. For example, if most people at the company have small children, they would potentially appreciate on-site daycare rooms (or even napping pods for themselves) much more than a healthy-eating class or gym memberships.
So it might be best to try and provide an overarching program that includes a number of initiatives workers can pick from. The list of ideas is long and which ones are most applicable will depend on the company, its employees, and their needs, but here is a selection of several options:
- Employee assistance programs (EAP)
- On-site gym or discounts for local gyms or fitness clubs
- Stress reduction programs
- Smoking cessation
- Vaccination clinics
- Massage therapy
- Healthy eating classes/good food sharing
- Flex hours
- Remote work
While at first glance the last few examples might not seem related to wellness, the importance of flexibility and seamless work-life balance or the option of working from home is often worth much more to people than great salaries or job titles. Such options can contribute enormously to employee peace of mind, happiness and productivity.
The University of California research noted above states that, “By showing concern for workers, organizations can strengthen employees’ loyalty and commitment to the company.” Whatever programs an organization decides to implement, executives need to remember that it’s important to show commitment and engagement rather than hand out uninspiring information bulletins about different programs available to their employees.
The relationship between workers and workplaces needs to go both ways. Why would employees be expected to offer their dedication and commitment if they don’t feel the same is given to them? Some old-fashioned leaders might consider a salary a good-enough reason for people to perform good work. But the truth is that money isn’t everything and it won’t buy initiative, loyalty, engagement, or going above and beyond.
And when it comes to money, leaders would do well to remember that “when programs help employees make healthy choices this can positively impact their wellness, mood, energy, and ultimately increase their productivity through increased capability.” Most organizations know this to be true, so it’s time to put a little more effort into formal wellness improvement for employees.