Article: This is why wellness is the new frontier of HR technology

#Life@Work

This is why wellness is the new frontier of HR technology

As organizations focus on the employee experience, health and financial wellness of the employees have come into scrutiny. This article outlines the key components of wellness programs.
This is why wellness is the new frontier of HR technology

As organizations shift to a networked, team-based structure, the employee experience becomes both important and complex. In today’s economy, employees often have multiple roles with multiple managers. A Deloitte study found that only 14 percent organizations believed their internal processes for collaboration and decision making were working well, while 77 percent believed that email was no longer a viable tool for effective communication.3

The challenge is more pronounced when you compare the increase in productivity in conjunction with increased work hours. Research indicates that while the average vacation time went down to 16 days in 2016 from 20 days in 2000,  productivity has improved by about 1 percent annually, putting the pressure on employees seeking a better work-life balance.

In this context, employee wellness is fast emerging as one of the key components of a holistic approach that companies are exploring to not only manage the benefits costs but also to improve company culture, employee engagement, and productivity. 

 

Research indicates that while a majority of companies invest in medical benefits or health promotion programs, they are largely focused on reducing health care costs and improving productivity. In certain cases, such benefits are provided as they are industry standards and help organizations attract and retain talent in a competitive environment. However, increasingly companies realize that best programs not only focus on cost savings and absenteeism but also on qualitative impressions of how their programs contributed to the organization mission and long and short-term goals.5  

The components of wellness

Wellness or wellbeing is a combination of physical, mental, and spiritual health and in many cases, companies are also expanding this circle to include financial health of their employees. The Global Wellness Institute6 estimates the size of workplace wellness market at USD 43 billion, even though only an estimated 9 percent of the 3 billion plus global workforce has access to workplace wellness programs at their jobs. 

The institute defines “wellness at work as the right to work in a manner that is healthy, motivating, and edifying. Everyone – workers, managers, and business owners- should endeavor to work in a way that improves their own wellness and the well-being of others.” 

The institute further states that there are three key areas where action needs to be taken to improve wellness at work, irrespective of industry or country we work in:

  • Physical Environment: Every workplace and occupation has its own health hazards and risks. Employers and governments must set, apply, and enforce appropriate standards to reduce job illness, injuries, and deaths and also address growing issues such as “sick buildings” and indoor air quality. 

  • Personal: Employers need to develop a holistic vision of wellness at work to include safe drinking water, living wage, work-life balance, or even managing personal finances. Many factors in the workplace can be improved to ensure that the relationship between working lives and personal lives is positive and mutually reinforcing. Employers need to recognize the huge impact workplace stress and culture can have on personal well-being and health behaviors. 

  • Social and Community: Social interactions and relationships at work – with co-workers, clients, managers, partners and the community – have a profound impact on our wellness and that of others. Leaders and managers that focus on a purpose driven (rather than profit driven) interaction at work and display empathy, honesty, openness and healthy behaviors are more likely be a source of motivation and wellness for their employees. 

Challenges in implementing a holistic wellness program

As interests and investments in workplace wellness rise, it has also come under increasing scrutiny.7 The range of grievances expressed is wide and varied, but mostly amounts to following concerns:

  • Lack of proof that workplace wellness programs are cost-effective and contribute to company performance

  • Coercive and punitive approaches creating resentment and lower employee morale

  • Over-screening that may be unnecessary and harmful

  • Intrusion of privacy and inadequate protection of personal biometric information

  • The robotic adoption of off-the-shelf programs so employers can pay lip service to wellness

  • The suspicion that “wellness” is simply a diversion so that employers need not address fundamental issues related to compensation, workplace culture, poor management or exploitative labor practices. 

Most wellness programs start with providing a health care benefit and have evolved from there. Most programs are thus a cross-section of various programs offered over a specified period tackling different aspects of employee health and wellness. They often operate in silos and are not coordinated with each other. Most of them are also reactive rather than preventing health and wellness issues proactively. Such programs typically fall under HR as a necessary component of employee benefit packages but are not central to company operations, management style, or mission. 

In such cases, the participation of employees in the wellness programs offered is tepid at its best. With less than a third of employees believing that the employer offers workplace wellness programs because it cares about their wellness. 

Many such programs do not consider the interdependence of wellness and work. If you ignore this interdependence, you may focus only on health problems that employees bring into the workplace while completely ignoring the impact of work environment on employee health. In addition to physical risks, work can create mental and emotional distress. Well-designed wellness programs consider such systemic challenges in achieving workplace wellness and design programs and interventions to address these aspects. 

Technology to the rescue

As the market and interest in corporate wellness programs grow over next 5 to 10 years, technology, data and increased insight into what encourages employees to stay healthy will start to shape the future of corporate wellness programs. 

One of the biggest drivers for successful wellness programs would be data. Software platforms, wearable, and other data sources have the potential to deliver important insights into wellness program options. Companies like Fitbit, Endevr, Garmin, Apple, Jawbone, and Misfit are some of the companies that help employees monitor their fitness activities. Platforms like “feet apart” then integrate this data captured from these devices to convert the same into organization-wide gamified fitness challenges to drive engagement and rewards. 

In recent years, wellness programs have included some basic financial education in their offerings. But increasingly companies will look to provide just beyond education and proactively help employees manage their financial well being. Companies like Best Money Moves and YourLifeAndMoney are providing holistic solutions which help not only educate employees about their financial health but also help them get the necessary guidance to make right decisions. 

With a focus on health, companies can offer multiple options to their employees via solution providers like DoctorInsta, HealthifyMe, Healthi, and TrueWorthWellness. These solutions offer unique solutions around doctor consultation and preventive health check-ups among others. Companies can use these benefits to help personalize the offerings based on their needs and past actions. 

Some other platforms like Castlight health, Limeade and LifeWorks provide an integrated wellness solution that is mobile first and helps employees make lifestyle changes while also providing them medical assistance when needed. 

Some other apps that are focusing on specific areas of wellness are Zoojoo.be – an app focused on using the power of social networks in the workplace to form healthier habits. Zenseek – a Healthyproduct based on positive psychology, behavioral science, and data analytics to help you cope with stress and anxiety effectively. 

Virgin Pulse is one of the leading solution providers in this space, which puts the culture of wellness at the centre of its program design and offers customized programs and solutions to drive your wellness agenda. Apart from Limeade, this is one of the other players making investments in research in this area. 

One of the important aspects of workplace wellness is the workplace itself. As companies become aware of how the workplace impacts wellness, they will focus on the design of the workplace. Solution providers like RestWorks are emerging in this market that provides workplace installations that allow employees to rest or take a nap.

While this space seems to be occupied by newer players, the enterprise HCM solution providers like Oracle, Ceridian, and SAP are also working to introduce their wellbeing solutions as part of the HCM suite. Most major HCM solution providers will include the wellbeing solutions as part of their platform over next 12-18 months. 

In conclusion

As the world of work transitions from the knowledge economy to the next era- sometimes labeled as the “wisdom economy” or the “human economy”- work will look very different. As technology continues to advance, workers will need to bring skills that complement and not compete with machines. This will make both employees and employers realize that physically, mentally and emotionally healthy employees can add a lot of value to the organization, thus making the business case for workplace wellness even stronger than it is today. Wellness at work will move from being a luxury for professional workers in wealthy countries to an imperative for all countries for economic growth. 

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References

  1. 2017 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends
  2. Why Chick-fil-A's restaurants sell 4 times as much as KFC's
  3. Transitioning to the future of work and the workplace
  4. State of American Vacation 2017
  5. The Definitive Text in Workplace Health Promotion
  6. Global Wellness Institute-Statistics and Facts
  7. Workplace Wellness Programs Could Be Putting Your Health Data at Risk

Topics: Life @ Work, Corporate Wellness Programs, Employee Relations, HR Technology

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