Article: Designing holistic employee wellness programs

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Designing holistic employee wellness programs

With health and wellness programs increasingly becoming a necessary mandate within companies, we look at certain imperatives in designing a robust holistic wellness program that doesnt just aim to meet short term goals but improves employee health in the long run
Designing holistic employee wellness programs

Of late there have been increasing cases of stress related issues among employees that are affecting their productivity levels. With employee health and wellness becoming a critical factor of how employees can perform, the staple corporate response to growing levels of stress in the urban workplace has been to create wellness programs, one after the other, without often looking at a proper design and execution of the program. Most wellness programs play a transactional role where they are deployed by HR functions to meet the organizational mandate to have healthy employees. Most restrict themselves to providing a health insurance package along with organizing routine medical check-ups and in some cases a couple of sessions of healthy practices eg yoga sessions thrown into the mix. Such short sighted wellness programs have very low rate of success. There are some that are successful while others fail. And most of the time this comes down to how they’re designed and executed.

Employee burnout in the modern day workplace has been a growing concern globally. A mixture of both physical and psychological problems arising from a highly competitive work culture, these issues often get missed out when it comes to employee wellness programs. The one size fits all model often ends ups generalizing the healing approach of such wellness programs, limiting its scope and area of influence.    

As aptly noted by Willis Tower Watson’s Staying at Work survey, “The ultimate success of the health and wellbeing program depends on the ability of companies to connect with employees around issues that have long been personal to them and their families.”

 This doesn’t just ensures that the basic metrics of good health are met but rather employee able to tackle health issues that matter to them the most, increasing engagement levels and their productivity levels. So how do you create an evidence-based health promotion program that works?

A report by the Transamerica Center for Health Studies and the Institute for Health and Productivity Studies at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health enumerates the dilemmas of most workplaces when it comes to putting their resources behind a holistic wellness program. Most fear that they are “too small” to support a comprehensive program, or that the program will “cost too much.” 

According to the Hector De La Torre is the executive director of the Transamerica Center for Health Studies and Ron Goetzel, Ph.D. a senior scientist and director of the Institute for Health and Productivity Studies (IHPS) the following might help organizations tackle the situation and perhaps move towards fixing their present wellness programs

Build a culture of health

The initial impetus to follow a healthy lifestyle within the company can only be maintained if the company culture allows for it. By embedding components of health and wealth programs in the functioning of the company, HR professionals are better equipped to increase the chances of their employees being healthy. A healthy company culture has to be built;  it isn’t the by-product of running wellness programs that most assume it to be. It looks at creating a ‘way of life’ within the workplace that integrates components of both physical and mental well-being and is reflected in the manner in which everyday work operates. It's necessary to build a culture that supports employees overall emotional financial, physical and social well-being. This expands beyond the mandate of short-term wellness programs. Examples include offering flexible work schedules, giving workers latitude in decision-making, setting reasonable health goals, providing social support, enforcing health-promoting policies and establishing a healthy physical environment.

Increase top leadership’s commitment and support 

No initiative in today’s workplace is successful without the intervention, commitment and support of the senior leadership of the company. Remaining healthy, although critical part of human life, sometimes isn’t a strong enough incentive in pushing employees, and managers alike, to follow healthy practices and utilize the benefits of the companies wellness programs. 

“A successful health promotion program starts with a commitment from company leaders, and its continued success depends on ongoing support at all levels of the organization. In particular, leaders at companies with successful programs establish a healthy work environment by integrating health into the organization’s overall vision and purpose,” say Hector De La Torre and Ron Goetzel. IT also helps in strengthening the effort to establish a healthy company culture.  

Listen to your employees

One of the critical factors why workplace wellness programs fail at addressing stress and burnout issues is because of the nonalignment of the reasons why employers think employees face stress and burnout vis-a-vis what employees actually feel. In the Willis Tower Watson’s Staying at Work survey, Employers highlight work/life balance issues, but employees are focused on three far different areas: adequate pay, the right resources to do their work, a clear understanding of priorities and a work environment that allows them to be effective. When employers don’t recognize and address the stressors employees face, the risk of turnover and low-performance increases. 

Any workplace health promotion program cannot be simply imposed on employees as it would be faced with resistance. This method usually ends being a cost effective measure from the employer's end, rather than actually dealing with issues that employees face. Ownership and agency over their health programs ensure that there is regular engagement from the employee's end. Creating transparency on how both they and the company benefit from the program make them a key stakeholder in the program. 

Form committees that help employees voice their concerns and choose which initiatives are relevant for them. Use focus group discussions to test the suitability of a health program before implementing it. Your employees know what they need. It’s often a matter of creating the right channels to hear their concerns and design initiatives accordingly. This also involves using the communication channels within the company strategically to explain the complete details of a health program. Consistent, informative, tailored and engaging communication is often necessary to ensure the relevance of your wellness program doesn’t fade into the chaos of everyday work. 

Having a pragmatic set of assessment metrics 

Program evaluation is critical to maintaining accountability for a wellness program. Inaccurate data collected often leads to a fall in both investment and the institutional drive towards having a robust wellness program. It is important to have a strong monitoring and evaluation framework in place before the program is rolled out. Field testing what will work and what doesn’t should be undertaken along with its close monitoring to ensure the best solution is available at the employee's disposal.

An integrated approach that looks at wellness programs as a critical component employee engagement and management efforts today stand to reap greater benefits. With the compensation component of many companies reaching a stable point for the same job role, candidates today look for a work culture where their health is also given importance to. Having a holistic wellness program that is supported by a culture that promotes a healthy lifestyle stands to greatly benefit the company’s overall employee productivity levels

Topics: #TotalRewards, Corporate Wellness Programs

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