How does one define well-being? It can incorporate various concepts including, physical, economic, social, and psychological considerations. There is no definitive answer. In simplest terms, well-being can be described as complete contentment, a life filled with positive emotions that foster a deep sense of satisfaction with most or all of our daily living.
Our places of employment take up a huge part of our daily lives – at least one-third – and account for close to eleven hours of the typical waking day including commuting to and from work. It makes sense that a sense of well-being should reach beyond the boundaries of family and personal life. The workplace can become a very real contributor to well-being for a substantial part of our population.
A growing number of businesses are recognizing that creating a sense of well-being through wellness programs within the organization not only contributes to a healthy, focused, and satisfied workforce, but also represent cost savings, particularly with respect to reduced numbers of sick days or workplace injuries. Wellness programs and initiatives also result in increased productivity, a healthier corporate image, and a culture of cooperation. Some reports indicate that at least ninety percent of employers with over two hundred employees offer an employee wellness program.
But not all wellness programs are created equally. What have to be assessed are the underlying health issues and requirements of employees as well as both the direct and indirect costs to an organization. For example, workplaces considered safety-sensitive will have different concerns and wellness priorities than an office environment.
The bottom line is that addressing employee health and well-being is a crucial focus and should, if it is not already, become a conscious business strategy for any organization that hopes to be successful and innovative with an equally successful and innovative team. Research that indicates that content and happy employees are twelve percent more productive than discontented ones, and this should be reason enough to include such strategies.
Creating an overall healthy workplace is no easy task. It requires businesses, both large and small, to take years of effort and dedication to create programs that will enable such a result. But the return on investment is immeasurable. A healthy workplace attracts quality employees, reduces turnover, has less stressed employees, and enjoys a sense of camaraderie within an organization.
We are all aware of the benefits of actively engaging in some form of physical activity whenever possible. Such movement results in better health, longevity, and productivity and creates a better life balance. This holds true in any workplace situation. Granted, some job demands will give a full body workout, but for those in more sedentary jobs, exercise is essential.
Addressing the physical aspects of employees’ well-being has led many organizations to create on-site fitness centres and accompanying programs. Some even have exercise program consultations that address individual concerns and fitness levels. Such on-site gyms can be readily used as an employee chooses during breaks or before or after work. For smaller businesses not capable of financing an on-site gym, securing partnerships within the community, such as those at a neighbourhood YMCA, with a reduced rate for employees, can be a viable option.
Sit-stand or walking desks, bicycle racks for those who cycle to work, hourly flash walks, stretch breaks, encouragement to take the stairs rather than an elevator, and corporate fitness events and challenges will create an essential culture of health and activity. For the employer, it becomes a matter of leading by example, so they too should be actively engaged and encourage peer support, keeping in mind that employees are motivated to become active for different reasons.
Not to be minimized is the importance of informing employees about the overall benefits of physical activity through such means as internal newsletters, emails, inserts in paycheques, poster displays, or ‘lunch and learn’ sessions, for example. Successful campaigns let creativity and ingenuity be the guide.
A third of our daily caloric intake derives from foods consumed in the workplace, so it is reasonable to assume that proper nutrition has a vital influence on work performance by enhancing energy and concentration levels or reducing stress levels, for example.
Making healthy food choices is voluntary. Employees are free to choose what they consume. But organizations can be proactive by acknowledging that they can be effective influencers by providing education, co-worker support, and healthy food options. These may include a variety of salad and fruit options, reduced pricing on healthy low-fat snacks from vending machines, access to organic and non-processed foods, portion-controlled foods and on-site farmers’ markets, when available. Here again, innovative strategies will lead the way toward healthier eating.
Another important initiative to be considered under the umbrella of well-being is that of financial education. Organizations that implement financial education programs find that their employees have reduced stress levels, better comprehend their existing financial situations, and can better position themselves for retirement.
According to the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans (IFEBP), employee financial education is offered by close to seventy percent of organizations. Although the benefits of such education may take several years to be realized as employees learn about various options, the long-term rewards become obvious as employees become more attuned to the financial requirements at various stages of their lives and particularly as they head toward retirement.
Such financial education and planning may be about topics like budgeting, life insurance, employment after retirement, wills, and estate planning, and annuities and can be in the form of personal consultations, voluntary classes, online resources or courses, workbooks, or newsletters.
These educational initiatives have proven to have an overall positive impact not only on employees’ financial well-being but subsequent mental well-being, boosting positive morale through mindful career planning and a realization that one is truly prepared for retirement.
It is no secret that stress and anxiety are huge contributors to how an employee’s well-being is gauged. Prolonged stress and anxiety can lead to numerous health issues. People handle stress and anxiety through various coping mechanisms. These mechanisms either work in one’s favour or they do not. Drugs, alcohol, or smoking, for example, are not the most healthy of tools.
Employers are instrumental in this regard and concerned, caring organizations will have programs in place to assist employees who are perhaps struggling with social anxiety or personal or work-related issues. After all, employers require staff who are capable of working productively, who realize their potential, and who communicate effectively about their concerns.
What have to be created are a workplace environment and a culture that are supportive of any employee concerns both within and outside the workplace. Research indicates that dysfunctional organizational practices such as being over-worked, lack of job control, or ill-defined roles have a considerable impact on stress and anxiety.
So how can the employer assist? Try to ensure that work tasks are satisfying, interesting, and challenging with real responsibilities and genuine recognition for achievements which can lead to both advancement and growth.
Employees require a sense of connectedness with each other through positive interactions, mutual support, and sensitivity during times of stress or when assistance may be required for particular tasks. Again, employers and their supervisory staff can lead by example by demonstrating their own positivity and sensitivity to voiced employee concerns whenever they may arise.
Other initiatives to support social and emotional well-being can include the creation of policies for supervisors so that they may be more equipped to address well-being issues; social functions for employees and their families; seminars on topics such as time management and conflict resolution; free or subsidized workplace massages; yoga classes; or meditation techniques. Perhaps more importantly, make employee well-being a boardroom issue.
The list of initiatives is extensive and may be unique to each organization. Such initiatives require careful planning and implementation with a means to determine how effective or ineffective such initiatives are once in place. In other words, they need an evaluation plan.
An overall sense of well-being in the workplace derives from a supportive workplace. And creating a supportive workplace goes far beyond merely nice places to work. It delves into the realm of ethics and ensuring that employees remain strong in mind, body, and spirit. Having these three elements will be the differentiating factor in success now and in the future.