Why employee wellness programmes matter
Stress and illness-related absenteeism are key factors in our ability to be effective and productive as an organisation. However a greater hidden threat to organisational performance is presenteeism, where employees show up but underperform due to illness or stress.
Employee wellness programmes are employer-sponsored programmes designed to support positive behaviours that reduce health risks, enhance personal effectiveness, and improve quality of life for all employees.
Research consistently shows that wellness programmes are significantly cheaper than the cost of lost productivity due to health-related issues. Beyond the financial benefits of increased productivity wellness programmes can also have a positive impact on company culture if designed effectively. They have the potential to strengthen the organisation’s culture through increasing employee pride, trust and commitment. An effectively designed employee wellness programme can increase productivity, boost moral and reduce stress.
Although financial incentives can be effective, employees won’t buy into a programme that is just about money. Behaviour needs to be demonstrated from the top down. When the CEO makes time for exercise, employees take it as encouragement and tend to feel less self-conscious about taking a fitness break. An effective strategy can be to ensure managers adopt personal health goals as one of their personal business goals to set an example for their teams.
Keys to an effective employee wellness programme:
1. Begin at the bottom
Discover the needs and expectations of employees and management. The key to effective wellness programmes is the bottom-up approach. What do employees need and expect from a wellness programme, and how do these elements link to the goals of the organisation? It’s essential to assess both sides and not only take a top-down approach.
2. Get buy-in
Buy-in is required at all level of the organisation. Demonstrate the potential return on investment to leadership. Once they understand the potential to reduce absenteeism, increase productivity, improved retention and to help recruit talent ask them to become role models for other employees. Buy-in happens when people participate. Include all levels of the organisation in the creation and roll out of the programme.
3. Analyse the data
Ask questions to determine the elements that will work with your existing culture. What will motivate employees to get healthier? Mindfulness workshops, fitness classes, individual health assessments, healthy meal programmes, or a combination of the above? Education on what, why, when and how helps ensure employees understand the real benefits and that they take advantage of classes and courses. Understanding employee needs and requirements (e.g. work hours, commutes, childcare, etc) is essential. Forced behaviour change (such as suddenly mandated smoke-free work sites) increases the risk of sending the behaviour underground instead of providing support to change unhealthy behaviours.
4. Communicate, communicate, communicate
Changing behaviour and embedding a culture of wellness doesn’t happen without reinforcement. It is essential to create a communication strategy that shares the program’s framework and elements in a digestible and relatable manner. Wellness stimuli can be embedded throughout the workplace. Wellness communications must overcome personal apathy; take into account the sensitivity of personal health issues; as well as geographic, demographic, and cultural differences. The range and complexity in wellness programmes can also pose challenges. This means it is essential to keep the conversation going, or the a programme that began with a big splash may fade to a ripple.
Remember the pleasure principle in wellness initiatives. Rewarding and acknowledging employees appropriately for getting healthy and achieving results encourages the type of change needed. It takes time to end old habits and develop new ones. We cannot approach wellness as a quick-fix solution. Incentives, understanding and availability of resources help drive sustainable change. e.g. Healthy food at work needs to be tasty, convenient, and affordable.
Start small and allow your employee wellness programme to evolve. Begin with one or two policies or programmes that make sense for your environment, monitor and tweak them based on feedback and ensure the policies remain relevant, feasible, and supportive of your employee’s personal goals.