Creating Workplaces that Work

Steps to Improve Wellbeing in the Workplace
Written by Jessica Ferlaino

Businesses are at the height of productivity and output when the processes and people that drive their operations are functioning at optimal performance. In order for employers to maximize employees’ functionality and thus output, many have adopted health and wellness programs to support improved wellbeing, reaping the many benefits that come along the way.
When investing in a health and wellness program in the workplace, the multiple facets of wellness must be considered in order to achieve wellbeing goals. In adopting workplace wellbeing programs and initiatives, companies enjoy great benefit from the culture of transformation that promotes health and wellbeing internally, while improving the overall work culture and output of the organization.

Workplace wellbeing programs aim to improve the health of employees and their families through preventative health and lifestyle modifications. One great example of a workplace wellbeing initiative being adopted by many companies is incentives and resources to promote tobacco cessation.

Workplace wellbeing programs are both highly attractive to new employees and can help employers retain existing employees. Programs dedicated to workplace wellbeing and worker wellness help to differentiate a company from its competition.

Wellbeing programs have far reaching impacts beyond improved worker health and wellbeing and greater productivity, including a reduction in health related costs for the company and the individual, lower rates of absenteeism, reduced stress levels and an overall improvement in the company’s work culture and employee happiness. Through the adoption of workplace wellbeing programs, health related costs can be reduced by over 25 percent, with workers’ compensation and disability management costs being reduced by over 30 percent. Employers also saw an over 25 percent decrease in absenteeism with the implementation of a workplace wellbeing program.

By reducing health related expenses and increasing productivity and morale, these programs can have a substantial impact on a company’s bottom line, resulting in cost savings in both the short and long term. These kinds of investments offer a great return on investment thanks to a happier, more active and healthy workforce who are engaged in a work culture of wellness and continuous improvement.

In 2008, Buck Consultants conducted a survey of 628 employer groups. The findings showed that 74 percent of U.S. companies surveyed cited reduced health care costs as the main motivator for the adoption of a workplace wellness program. Other motivating factors included: improved productivity, reduced health-related absences, employee retention and employee happiness and satisfaction.

Buck Consultants’ Working Well: A Global Survey of Workforce Wellbeing Strategies is just one example of a company that is dedicated to measuring and improving standards of wellness in the workplace. These strategies help to ensure programs have the time, resources and commitment necessary for successful implementation. Buck collects information on strategies and objectives, wellbeing program components, financial wellbeing, incentive rewards and penalties, organizational ownership, communication and culture, program effectiveness and successes and challenges to encompass all elements of wellness and wellbeing.

Finding balance between the physical, spiritual, environmental, intellectual, emotional, occupational, and mental health aspects of an employee’s wellness is quite the task to achieve. By considering the demands of work-life balance, stress management and occupational health and safety legislation, wellness program options can take a broad but holistic approach to achieve success. Indeed, these programs require a multifaceted approach in order to be most effective. Even if a company is not in a position to implement a formal workplace wellness program, there are many strategies that can be adopted to encourage health and wellbeing in the workplace.

Whether a company decides to adopt a complete workplace wellbeing program or just decides to implement elements of a program to incrementally introduce ways to promote wellness and wellbeing, flexibility is paramount. What is important is that a commitment to preventative care has been identified and will continue to be supported and promoted within the workplace.

Education is also key to a successful workplace wellbeing program. Workplaces can get involved by offering opportunities for employees to learn healthier practices and how to more easily include these practices into their everyday lifestyles. Examples can include teaching healthy meal options and learning about the importance of nutrition, stress management workshops, or even hosting a fitness class.

Though physical wellbeing is only one aspect of a person’s overall wellbeing, a great place for a company to start when implementing wellness programs is to encourage exercise and physical activity. Walking trails, locker facilities and showers, and subsidized gym memberships are all good ways to encourage participation. Some companies have even dedicated timeslots throughout the day for exercise. In many cases, simply making healthcare available can make all the difference in a person’s overall health. Some companies have dedicated the resources to support on-site clinics which enable employees to prioritize their health issues without requiring time away from work to attend appointments.

Beyond the benefits of better health and wellness and improved vitality and wellbeing, many employers have included additional incentives to encourage active participation in these programs. If the resources are communicated and available, many employees jump at the opportunity to improve their lives and wellbeing, especially if these incentives are tied to pay, for example.

Workplace wellness can be promoted in any way that fits the overall needs, corporate culture and wellness goals of a specific company. One way to better understand the needs of the workplace and take the pulse of the current culture is to conduct an assessment or distribute an employee survey to garner a better overall picture of a company’s wellness from the inside out. In identifying and better understanding current levels of health and wellness, companies can establish more realistic goals and better assign resources to become a happier, healthier, more productive workplace. Workplace wellness programs have been proven to generate cost savings regardless of the general level of health among employees at the program outset. Some companies choose to form a committee dedicated to workplace health and wellness, and many companies will dedicate human resources departments or hire workplace wellness coaches to see the program through.

Sherwood Park Chevrolet, featured in the May issue of Business in Focus, has adopted a life coach and workplace wellness program that has experienced exceptional results. GSDC, featured in this issue, is making a large push to promote wellness in the workplace and in the community.

Wellbeing programs require extensive stakeholder engagement and consultation, a process which can include employees, unions, health and safety professionals, human resources departments, management, employee assistance programs, local health organizations or even medical professionals. Once a company has the buy-in of upper management and the commitment of company leadership to invest time and resources into a workplace wellbeing program, and once it receives the support from the collective, there is no stopping the potential of these programs.

Once workplaces are able to identify the needs of its workers, goals and reasonable timelines can be set. A detailed plan can then be drafted in order to adopt an approach that will help to achieve these established targets. Companies must be sure to evaluate existing programs to ensure efforts are not being duplicated and resources are not being wasted. Once the plan is set into motion, continuous evaluation can help to ensure continued program success. If changes need to be made, companies can tweak their wellness approach to better suit the specific needs of their workers.

Smaller companies are less likely to implement a workplace wellbeing program, partially due to resources, though wellness programs are proven to have an impact on companies ranging from large to small. Regardless of the investments made and the resources being committed to a workplace wellbeing program, some of the most effective changes come at no cost, such as lunchtime walking groups.

Efforts to promote wellness in the workplace and worker wellbeing would be in vain if not accompanied by a complete shift in the company culture. A culture of wellbeing and a continued commitment to the program is the only way to see it through to success.

A company’s costs can be drastically reduced simply by promoting fitness and regular medical screenings. With the prospect of improved productivity, a better return on investment and an overall improved workplace, what is there to lose? A healthy, happy worker is a more productive worker with high morale: it’s the perfect blueprint for a workplace that works.



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