Article: Wellness is not an initiative, but a culture

Life @ Work

Wellness is not an initiative, but a culture

A successful wellness program must be embedded as a basic behavioural element in the culture of the organization
Wellness is not an initiative, but a culture

The changes induced by a wellness program can last only if they become a part of the company’s culture and the wider community


Globally, workplace wellness is becoming extremely important. The most common strategic objective for wellness initiatives worldwide is improving productivity and reducing “presenteeism” (a situation when employees are at work but not fully productive due to personal health issues). There is definitely a strong perceived correlation between healthier workers and business performance. A U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report revealed that at worksites with exercise programs as components of their wellness programs, healthcare costs decreased from 20 per cent to 55 per cent, short-term sick leave was lowered from 38 per cent to 32 per cent and productivity increased from 50 per cent to 52 per cent. However, in India, health and wellness is still a neglected area that deserves more attention.

Importance of wellness programs

Most wellness programs typically address specific behaviour and health risk factors such as poor nutrition, physical inactivity, stress, obesity and smoking. These factors commonly lead to grave and expensive health problems thereby having a negative impact on workforce productivity. Corporate wellness programs help raise awareness, provide information and education with incentives that encourage employees and their families to adopt healthier lifestyles. Such initiatives help reduce the incidence and severity of chronic illnesses such as asthma, diabetes and heart diseases. Employers often integrate their wellness initiatives with chronic disease management programs to provide a continuum of healthy lifestyle support. Certain factors that drive employers to implement wellness programs are:

  1. Improved performance and productivity
  2. Reduced indirect costs such as absenteeism and presenteeism (on-the-job effectiveness)
  3. Reduced healthcare costs of employees
  4. Being a more attractive place to work along with a socially responsible corporate image

Steps to an effective wellness program

You cannot prescribe a medicine without a diagnosis and similarly organizations need to approach wellness programs in a step-by-step manner. This approach has already been adopted globally. Here is a four-step ladder to an effective wellness program:

Educate: Create awareness about the benefits of leading a healthy life. Support people in avoiding behaviours that cause the risk of chronic diseases. Further, ensure they practice a healthy lifestyle and then reinforce and reward the efforts. All this should be done taking into account the employees’ environment and culture.

Involve: Sometimes a very low percentage of the employee population enrols in wellness programs and those who do, are not always the ones who are actually at risk. The organization should assess employee health levels and introduce initiatives that encourage employees to accept the wellness program as a part of their life.

Change behaviour: Mere enrolment does not necessarily change a person’s behaviour and lifestyle. Employers should explore ways to encourage employees and their families to adapt the lessons learned during these programs. Through unique incentives for employees and their families, companies can improve the impact of wellness programs.

Ensure stickiness: The changes induced by a wellness program can only last provided they become a part of the culture of the company and the wider community. Employers must coordinate these efforts both inside and outside the workplace. Moreover, to make it an element of the organizational culture, some leading companies have also executed “from the top” strategies in wellness programs.

Choosing a Health & Wellness Service Partner

Wellness players have shifted their focus from traditional offerings like curative healthcare and value-oriented mass products to new generational offerings like preventive healthcare, luxury products and personalized services. This is also the reason why the outlook of organizations while choosing a health and wellness partner needs to undergo some change. The key point to consider is the experience and reputation of the service provider and its network and presence. The next aspect is technology, accuracy of its assessments and how it customizes the program for various industries and organizations. The success of a wellness program largely depends on the selection of the program and this is where the HR leaders play an important role as they not only know their people well, they can also make the right choice and be the driver for change.

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Topics: Life @ Work, Employee Relations

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