Once a nice-to-have perk, employee wellness programs have long since become “a strategic imperative,” according to the Harvard Business Review.
Simply put: healthy employees cost less, stay longer and work harder. What’s good for the employee is good for the company.
Rising healthcare costs and an aging workforce have certainly driven the urgent prioritization of employee wellness. But there’s another factor driving HR’s empowered focus on building a healthy workplace. It’s a shift in how we think about the employee-employer relationship.
“We need to move away from the transactional model of ‘work to get paid’ to a model of shared vision and investment,” according to the Limeade ebook “The Truth About Great Places to Work.” This partnership model “goes beyond the paycheck,” and employees “gain personal fulfillment through work while contributing to their organization’s bottom line.”
In other words, it’s not enough to tell employees to eat better and exercise more. Real change begins with committed, sustainable organizational action — a company-sponsored farm share, improved cafeteria menu, smoking cessation help, gym discounts and healthy party treats, for example. The result? Individual change and lasting, sustainable organizational wellbeing.
With World Health Day coming up April 7th, let’s take a look at how employee wellness builds company health!
The Employee Wellness-Organizational Wellbeing Link
The opposite of employee wellness often manifests as “presenteeism” — like absenteeism, but worse.
With presenteeism, employees are technically at work, but they’re sick, suffering allergies, or lethargic from poor health or lack of exercise. As one employee with seasonal allergies explains in a Harvard Business Review article on presenteeism, “It’s hard to focus. You end up just muddling through.”
“Muddling through”? Not the pinnacle of employee productivity!
So what’s the cure? Employee wellness programs — but it’s important to remember that the success of any initiative rests on a company’s clarity and commitment. The hard truth is that most companies today, at least in this early growth and learning stage, still struggle to make statistically evident improvements in employee wellness, according to a critical analysis by STAT.
Ron Goetzel with Truven Health Analytics tells STAT that companies should “be wary of programs based on ‘pry, poke and punish’ — questionnaires, mandatory screenings, higher insurance costs for not participating.”
Employers need to strive for a “culture of health” with ready-to-go benefits, Goetzel says:
- bike racks
- cyclist showers
- standing desks
- lunchtime walking clubs
- healthy vending machines and cafeteria choices
Building an Effective Employee Wellness Plan
Last week, Goetzel and Transamerica Center for Health Studies‘ Hector De La Torre wrote a response to the STAT research with a Harvard Business Review article on “How to Design a Corporate Wellness Plan That Actually Works.”
“There are a lot of misconceptions about wellness programs out there. As a result, many leaders pick and choose options fairly blindly, doing their employees and their company a disservice. In the end, you don’t necessarily need the latest wearable or a new vendor,” Goetzel and De La Torre write.
When companies get employee wellness right, the benefits are sweeping.
“ROI in isolation fails to capture the full benefit of workplace health promotion,” Goetzel and De La Torre write. On the other hand, Value Of Investment (VOI) calculations “allow employers to examine the broader impact of programs and their impact on core priorities for their organization, which may include improved employee morale, talent attraction and retention, enhanced company loyalty and heightened customer loyalty.”
According to Goetzel and De La Torre, the five biggest mistakes companies make with employee wellness are:
- Administering Health Risk Assessments without giving employees the tools to change and track their behaviors.
- Paying people to change their behavior — money isn’t the best motivator and can even cause stirrings of rebellion.
- Sending people to your company’s health plan website without any further explanation or support.
- Introducing short-term, “Biggest Loser”-type events that promote quick fixes instead of longterm progress.
- Hiring outside consultants for one-off programming.
Instead, focus on organic, sustainable initiatives that have full C-suite support and are readily communicated to employees.
What does this look like in practice? Texas A&M Mays School of Business professor Leonard Berry describes a study of a random sample of 185 workers who participated in an expert-led cardiac rehabilitation and exercise training.
Within a year, “medical claim costs had declined by $1,421 per participant,” while a control group showed no such improvements. “The bottom line: Every dollar invested in the intervention yielded $6 in healthcare savings,” Berry writes.
The theme of this week’s World Health Day is diabetes prevention. Find out more (and get ideas for your own employee wellness initiative) by visiting the World Health Organization resource page for World Health Day.
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