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Workplace Wellness - Where To Start

Workplace Wellness

Workplace wellness programs have been taking a lot of heat in the press recently, with major news outlets reporting that company-sponsored wellness programs "don't work" because a couple of studies have shown that companies that offer these programs are not seeing health care cost savings.

In Part 1 of our Workplace Wellness series, we will look at this new information and share our beliefs that these studies are missing the point; that a successful Workplace Wellness program has benefits that go FAR beyond health care cost savings. We will also address the first things you need to look at before starting any Wellness program.

Is Workplace Wellness Worth It?

The conclusion that workplace wellness programs are not effective seems to be based on one study by the RAND corporation, where they found that disease management can save money, but lifestyle management does not. When you pick it apart, as the Chicago Tribune does, and look at what other experts have to say, it seems more likely that the focus on an immediate reduction in bottom line costs is unrealistic, and may not be looking at a complete workplace picture.

We know that unhappy and unhealthy employees cost a company more than just health care expenses. The effect of disgruntled employees on the overall morale is seen in lowered productivity, and, with the prevalence of social media, in poor brand perception. This leads to the double whammy of increased turnover and reduced candidate pools. Unhappy employees ultimately leave, after poisoning the well, and when your company has a reputation for low morale, you can't attract the top candidates to replace the departing employees.

Incentives and penalties are not necessarily the answer, either. How well has the reward-and-punish method worked for you when you tried to make big lifestyle changes? Often one or the other will work for a while, but eventually you go back to your old, familiar behaviors.

What does work is encouragement, support, community, and making healthy habits easy. To be truly successful with a wellness program, companies have to do more than just offer a financial reward for adopting a healthy behavior or assess a financial penalty for not meeting a randomly-set health parameter. They need to walk the talk by creating a culture of health.

How Do You Develop a Health-Minded Culture?

I'm not going to tell you that creating a vibrant, healthy and health-focused company culture is an easy task. It's not. But if you are committed to retaining employees, increasing productivity, improving the health and wellness of your people, having a desirable brand reputation among top employment candidates, and ultimately increasing innovation and profits, it's worth the work.

Start with Authenticity

Offering bonuses and perks may sound like the way to fix your company culture, morale and health problems, and it's easy to see why, especially in the Silicon Valley. We regularly see reports in the media of company X offering their people weekly free beer tastings or ice cream socials, while company Y has created indoor tree houses, or water slides. Even when the the perks are a bit more down-to-earth, your employees know when your motives are self-serving, and the result is like putting a band-aid on a dog bite: It works to stop the bleeding for a while, but bad things fester below the surface. You end up alienating a significant portion of your staff.

Below are three ways to start creating a culture of health and wellness in your company

Make Employee Well-Being Part of Your Company Values

Your company values likely include things like integrity, customer service, respect, and so on. Add the health and well being of your employees to that list of values. Bake it into the strategy and long-term goals. In the same way that "delight customers" may inform everything your company does, "promote healthy employees" should, too. Are your goals taking into account employee well-being? If not, how can they be changed so that they do?

Support Healthy Habits, Make Wellness Desirable

If you say that employee health is a top priority, yet your people are penalized for getting up and walking around the office for short periods during the day, there's a disconnect. What's the chance that any true cultural change will happen?

Make sure that your policies align with your goal to have healthier employees. Solicit suggestions from the rank and file, implement the ones that make sense, and support your people in making the healthy choice. Changing habits is easier when there is positive support. Recognize when your people are making good health choices and reward those choices with recognition and praise; we suggest avoiding financial rewards or gifts.

Walk Your Talk

We are always fans of any kind of walking even if it's the metaphorical kind!

If your leaders, from the executive suite down to the supervisory staff, are not practicing what you preach, no amount of cajoling, incentives, or pressure will make your culture change. Senior leadership in particular should be modeling the new healthy values they want to see take hold company-wide. Your people look to the leadership team for their cues on what is important, and the behaviors they see will inspire them or demoralize them, so make sure leadership is on board, offering an example daily of the new healthy behaviors your company values.

Leading your employees to adopt healthy behaviors works when employees know you truly care about their well being, not just about the corporate bottom line. Knowing that when they are ready to engage the tools and support are there for them gives them the confidence that they can make healthy change.

When a culture of health and wellness permeates an organization from the top down, everyone benefits. The impacts range beyond healthy employees to increased satisfaction, lower turnover, and enhanced productivity, collaboration, innovation and, yes, profitability.

How will you drive healthy habits in your company?

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