Realising the importance of work-life balance and flexibility under the shadow of the Covid pandemic, companies today are going all out to ensure social, emotional, and spiritual health for their people. Wellness and fitness competitions are all the rage.
These challenges don’t just provide a welcome break from work; they also stoke people’s competitive instincts and help them to adopt positive and healthy behaviour.
However, if not done right, these can have an adverse impact on employee wellbeing and engagement.
Zerodha, India’s biggest online brokerage, announced a “fun health programme” (BMI (body mass index) challenge) for its employees early this month.
In a social media post, Nithin Kamath, founder and CEO at Zerodha, announced an employee with a BMI of less than 25 will get half-a-month's salary as bonus.
“The average BMI of our team is 25.3 and if we can get to <24 by August, everyone gets another half month as a bonus. It'd be fun to compete with other companies. The lowest average BMI or the largest change in average BMI wins. The winner chooses a charity everyone else contributes to,” he wrote in the post.
Though he ended by stating he knows that BMI isn’t the best measure to track health and fitness, but is “the easiest way to get started”, his initiative received a severe social media backlash.
While some appreciated and supported it, a majority found fault in his initiative at many levels. Some called it one that promotes body shaming, and questioned the entire idea of linking monetary benefits to health.
For far too long, the dominant paradigm in wellness has driven by “weight centric health paradigm”, and it is time now time to move to a more holistic approach to that is focused on overall wellbeing, a “wellbeing-centric health paradigm”, says Ashwin Naik, health entrepreneur, author, and founder of Manah Wellness, which works towards building emotionally healthy workplaces.
"The time for one size fits all approach to health is no longer applicable during these times when multiple physical, emotional and physiological factors can impact one’s wellbeing. Not to mention the individual constraints due to medical conditions or social situations... if there is one focus, some employees might feel excluded. Or worse, alienated from the team,” he adds.
Naik says an employee health and wellness initiative that is designed and managed by employees, with support from leadership, is the right way to move forward.
Health programmes, monetary rewards: A good combination?
An incentive is a good motivator but it may not always need to be monetary.
Naik says a holistic wellbeing that allows an employee to identify, address, and heal, in a systematic format, with a supportive peer group and leadership involvement would be ideal.
“Incentives do work, and much like any programme, a combination of recognition, reward and reinforcement of positive behaviour helps a mass programme like this get attention and traction,” he adds.
Contours of good employee wellness programme
“Wellbeing-centric health paradigm” needs to take into account an overall approach to wellbeing, rather than one or two key metrics.
The focus is to personalise it to individual needs, allow choice to individuals, and focus on overall wellbeing.
“Wellbeing programmes, in the past, have not been successful since they followed a top down and one size fits all approach. As a leader, empowering employees to create an opportunity to select their individual and personal wellbeing journey can go a long way in helping create actual impact and engage more employees,” says Naik.
“While working with multiple organisations supporting employee wellbeing, we encourage leaders to think of wellbeing support not as a benefit but a skill every manager, team member or leader needs to have. Making it part of your work, not an add-on or a campaign which kicks off once in a while helps to build a culture of wellbeing,” he adds.
Key to a successful employee wellbeing programme
Some of the most successful wellbeing programmes have the following characteristics, says Naik.
Leadership buy in: All things being equal, if the top leadership does not make it an organisational priority, there is very little chance of the programme going anywhere.
Meet people where they are: Instead of starting a new initiative, find places where initiatives can be integrated. For example, including meditations in meetings for 5 minutes is better than a meditation session once a week.
Celebrate progress, not outcomes: Wellbeing is a journey and not a destination, and needs long term consistent commitment. Celebrating small milestones along with the team helps keep the momentum going.
Employees' lives are now more intertwined than before with work, life and everything else. Making sure that spouses, children and extended family is part of the wellbeing programme helps build social capital, and move it from being just a workplace initiative.
Build champions of wellbeing : While leadership buy-in is critical, building a community of wellbeing champions helps support each other on the journey, and leads to higher engagement and overall adoption of programmes.
A programme that allows for an open, non-judgmental and supportive environment to identify and select a wellness path, with one-on-one interaction with the wellness coach, is what works, says Naik.
Anonymity and privacy also play an important role, which means even the participation or involvement of the HR team needs to be more as facilitators and not as implementers.
“An environment designed by employees and supported by leadership would be the one that would work best,” Naik adds.