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Why having an employee wellness program could be the best thing you do this year

It is no secret that a healthy and productive workforce leads to a healthy and productive business, but it is one thing to promote this in principle, and quite the other to promote it in deed. With a growing emphasis on health in the wake of a pandemic, and the stark light it shines on mental health, social well-being, security and home life, an employer that actively promotes and enables employee wellness not only sets itself apart as a desirable organisation to work for, but reaps the benefits of a healthy, engaged workforce.

A Healthy Workforce

Countless studies have shown that workplace performance and productivity is improved when its workforce exhibits elevated levels of health and well-being. People who feel stable in their physical, mental, emotional, and social health tend to feel happier and perform to a greater level. One study showed that happy employees are 22% more productive than their unhappy counterparts. Not only that, given their overall job-satisfaction their levels of loyalty are much higher, leading to a lower rate of employee turnover.

However, while it’s easy to spout out statistics and highlight the benefits of health, those of us who have ever tried to start a diet will tell you it’s not as simple as flicking on a switch, just because you know the switch is good. In order to see healthy change in the workforce, a work environment that fosters health and well-being needs to be in place.

A Healthy Employer

A global study on more than 35,000 employers that offered some kind of wellness program or counselling service found a significant growth in productivity when employees used the service. In the month leading up to the study it was found that employees who struggled to apply themselves due to health and stress related issues lost 63 hours of productivity. However once engaged in the employer’s assistance program, 75% of productivity was restored. This was a return of three full working days per person.

Another study found that in over 100,000 cases where employees took advantage of the employer’s assistance program, productivity improved by 86%, while absenteeism went down by 64%.

These workplaces actively promoted health and well-being through services provided and operational adjustments in the workplace.

The Importance of an Effective Employee Wellness Program

While employee wellness programs are gaining traction, especially in a post-pandemic world where an emphasis on physical health has exacerbated challenges to social and mental health, it’s important to implement an effective wellness program. It’s no use being ‘on trend’ with wellness programs and promotions if it isn’t actually engaging the workforce.

Factor in All Elements of Health

Health is complex, with multiple facets interrelating. The physical, mental, emotional, financial, social, psychological, and more, all feed off and affect each other. In the same way a doctor cannot prescribe one medicine for all ailments, neither can a wellness program be ‘one size fits all’. People have varying issues across the varying contributing factors to their well-being; an employee program that recognises this and is flexible enough to factor in different needs will be more successful.

Actively Promote Your Employee Wellness Program. Consistently.

A busy employee does not always notice every announcement or service an employer provides. A great amount of effort may have gone into building your employee wellness program, but if the employee simply saw it on a memo while they were rushing for a deadline, it will be unlikely to stick out in their mind.

The promotion of health and well-being needs to be entrenched into the culture of the workplace in order to be effective. Where wellness programs have petered out before, there has been a brief push for it, much like a fleeting diet fad, before the relentless demands of the workplace sweep everyone back into the all-consuming issues of the day-to-day humdrum. The emphasis and long-term push for health and wellness needs to match the importance of it.

Tread Carefully Around Incentivisation

There have been many cases where workplaces provide incentives for employees to engage in workplace wellness programs, from participation-based incentives to outcome-based incentives. This may seem like a great way to engage employees, especially those who respond well to ‘being up to a challenge’, but there is growing research that highlights negative outcomes when this occurs. For example, some challenge-based incentives have led to dangerous eating behaviours in order to ‘win’, over-treatment for healthy people has been cited where employees only wanted the incentive, and even discrimination issues have arisen where staff either felt pressured to or were unable to engage.

Workplaces that simply promote and actively engender a culture of acceptance, health, and well-being as part of a wholistic approach to work and life have reported higher success.

Genuinely Healthy

One study of workplace happiness found that a wholistic and healthy culture in the workplace was affected when management genuinely cared about the well-being of the workforce, not when the well-being of the workforce was only pushed as a means to increase the bottom line. The study cited a CEO claiming that healthy and happy employees are almost always found in organisations where management prioritises the health of its workforce. Whereas management that prioritised its own gains above the health and well-being of employees often fostered a negative environment and employee dissatisfaction, which led to lower productivity.

Having an effective employee wellness program not only enables a workforce to increase health and ultimately productivity, but it demonstrates in a practical way the employer’s genuine interest in the health of its employees.

In a world that is increasingly recognising the value of health in many different aspects of life, having an employee wellness program is one of the best steps an organisation can take to set itself apart in the workforce and attract employees who recognise the value of health, and ultimately a healthy company.