Building an employee wellness program should take into account diet, exercise and overall wellbeing.

Building an employee wellness program includes exercise and diet activities, but should go beyond those, too.

Thinking about building an employee wellness program?
They’re still quite popular with businesses looking for perks that will benefit both workers and leadership. Per HR Dive, in a 2017 study by Virgin Pulse, 85 percent of employers surveyed said their wellness programs were good for employee engagement, recruitment, retention, and overall company culture. More than just offering exercise- and diet-related options, these programs are increasingly incorporating mental-health components as well. That shift has proven popular with employees, 85 percent of whom say they want help managing stress.
That said, employee wellness programs are far from a magic bullet. Further research reported by HR Dive reveals that while 56 percent of employers think building an employee wellness program has made their employees healthier, only 32 percent of those employees concur with that assessment. And in another survey, 55 percent of employers claimed to offer wellness programs, but only 36 percent of employees said they were aware of those programs.
If your company is interested in building an employee wellness program, you’ll want to think hard about what kinds of wellness are most meaningful to your workers. You also want to design a program your employees will actually use and that has practical benefits for the company as a whole.

Incorporate All Five Elements of Wellness

As Sharlyn Lauby puts it at HR Bartender, to succeed at building an employee wellness program, “organizations have to define what wellness means and how it fits into their culture. That drives the program.” Like many people in the field, she advocates a more holistic definition of wellness, one that encompasses not only physical health, but also career, social, financial, and community fitness.
Those five components aren’t chosen at random — they come out of intensive research by Gallup that ultimately formed the basis for a book by Tom Rath and Jim Harter, Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements. The five elements “describe aspects of our lives that we can do something about and that are important to people in every situation we studied,” say the authors — who spoke with people in more than 150 countries!
They define the elements this way:

  • The first element is about how you occupy your time or simply liking what you do every day: your Career Well-Being.
  • The second element is about having strong relationships and love in your life: your Social Well-Being.
  • The third element is about effectively managing your economic life: your Financial Well-Being.
  • The fourth element is about having good health and enough energy to get things done on a daily basis: your Physical Well-Being.
  • The fifth element is about the sense of engagement you have with the area where you live: your Community Well-Being.

The authors note that the greatest threat to our wellbeing is ourselves — because our short-term desires so frequently take precedence over the longer-term objectives we so desperately want to meet. Rath and Harter’s research eventually led them to an answer:

As long as we allow short-term desires to win, it will be difficult to effect long-term behavioral change. However, we learned from people with the highest levels of well-being that there is a simple solution to this problem: If we can find short-term incentives that are consistent with our long-term objectives, it is much easier to make the right decisions in the moment.

To relate that to the subject at hand: When building an employee wellness program, you want it to incorporate short-term incentives that motivate employees to make the healthy choices that will help them in the long run.

Choose Incentives That Will Actually Change Behavior

A 2016 Harvard Business Review article, “How to Design a Corporate Wellness Plan That Actually Works,” explains that financial incentives aren’t likely to get the results you’re hoping for. The logic is simple enough: If you offer to pay employees to make healthier choices, they should make those choices. But the reality is, most people will give in to their immediate desires — to eat junk food, to loaf instead of exercising — rather than consistently hold out for the monetary reward. That makes long-term behavioral change a real challenge.
Proper incentives do work, though, the HBR authors note. They write:

The challenge is to migrate employees from simply participating for a reward (external incentive) to a place where the new behavior or habit is sufficiently satisfying and worth maintaining (internal incentive), such as taking a walk daily while listening to music or a favorite podcast. At NextJump, teams participate in a weekly Fitness Challenge where virtual cash rewards for the winning teams are coupled with bragging rights, creating camaraderie and social cohesion among workers. The company has found that motivating employees to fit in a workout during the workday gives them more productive energy and is helping drive better performance. Employees feel good, are happier, establish close partnerships with their office mates, and at the end of the day find work fun and personally rewarding.

Building An Employee Wellness Program That Drives Engagement

Take advantage of being outside if you can when building an employee wellness program.

An outdoor fitness class is a great way to promote workplace wellness in summer. Photo via calvaryftlphotography, Flickr

A thoughtfully designed wellness program can help drive employee engagement says Forbes contributor Alan Kohll in “Your Employee Engagement Strategy Needs More Wellness”.

Believe it or not, work relationships have a strong influence on employee health, happiness and job satisfaction….
Whether it’s through walking clubs, group fitness classes or completing wellness challenges together, employees are more likely to feel engaged once they are able to connect with their peers on a deeper level.

And, it should be no surprise that employee health related behaviors impact engagement with coworkers. When coworkers are sleep deprived or stressed, they’re not at their best. Kohll continues,

However, when employees eat healthily, exercise regularly and get enough sleep, they’ll feel and perform their best. Wellness programs help support and promote these healthy habits among the workforce. Employees are much more likely to be engaged when they work for a company that nurtures a strong culture of wellness.

In short, a big key to building an employee wellness program that works is to center it around behaviors and activities that your workers can enjoy in the moment and support healthy behaviors and choices.  Offer a chance for workers to form workplace friendships, too — or at least an opportunity for more connection. Take the broader view of wellness and incorporate the five key essential areas of wellbeing. However you approach your plan, building an employee wellness program that employees are excited about is a fantastic way to show them some genuine appreciation.
To learn about the impact of appreciation on employee health, download our free eBook, “Transform Your Workplace with Gratitude” and share it with your team. The surprisingly simple act of gratitude can impact health in many positive and important ways. If you are serious about helping employees’ wellbeing, then get serious about building a culture of gratitude.

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