Business of Well-being

Employee Engagement - Working to Improve Productivity

Employee engagement focuses on developing and motivating employees to enhance work productivity. An employee's attitudes and beliefs towards health and wellness can affect engagement. Incorporating the company's mission and values into a Health and Wellness program allows employees to thoroughly understand the culture within the company and helps initiate the engagement process.  

The creation of an engagement - company culture driven - program allows both sides to gain from the proposed value proposition that Health and Wellness programs offer.  This is only possible if the vision and corporate culture is combined with employee needs, and then ultimate engagement occurs which involves the willingness and ability to contribute positively to the company's success.

The engaged employee almost always guarantees an increase in productivity for the company. Once the elements which make up and impact the company are explored, one can analyze the culture to effectively initiate and plan for the engagement process.  The culture of a company is connected directly to various features internally and externally.

A wellness coordinator should be able to provide intrinsic and extrinsic motivators to initiate the first step in the engagement process.  These motivators provide employee incentives towards health and wellness while maximizing productivity and return for the company.

Although it is possible to measure engagement through online surveys, these tools are only helpful in the context of knowing your employees and what drivers will have the greatest impact on their overall health and well-being. Drivers range from sociological, environmental, demographic, performance feedback, communication, career development opportunities, to specific health related risk factors of the participants.

These drivers are used to structure a 'specific' program with clear goals and outcomes that can be measured.  Analyzing a myriad of employee drivers and connecting them to the company's visions and goals become the starting point for envisioning and creating a corporate health and wellness program.

Now that the foundation is completed, what is the next vital step to a value added corporate health and wellness program?  Communication is a key and necessary element for the engagement process. Understanding and communicating appropriate health-related terminology into the corporate culture requires knowledgeable leaders who can effectively incorporate that information.

A two-way feedback system can occur with the wellness coordinator and the employer or employee.  Again, the employee interest and employee commitment combination is continually evaluated to ensure a value added proposition, which will ultimately lead to increased productivity.

Many companies ineffectively communicate information from management to employees.  Older methods that allowed employees to communicate with management included employee written surveys and suggestion boxes.  While these methods may still be effective in certain corporate cultures, they are often ineffective in others.

New methods are suggested to ensure the bidirectional flow of information between employees and management.  This may start with the creation of teams with inside as well as outside members who are educated and empowered for innovative change.  The wellness coordinator(s) will help facilitate and educate management and employees.

Once engagement is commenced, it continues while achieving the goals set by the team.  Shared goal setting and decision-making often builds trust, which is a crucial factor in the bidirectional executive-employee engagement process. Employee engagement cannot exist without the employees taking on key roles in the decision-making process of a corporate health and wellness program.

Decision-making should be made along with higher levels of management who are active members of the health and wellness team to ensure that the company's vision and mission are embedded and it is adding value to both.We have a foundation, which includes a diverse team of internal and external innovative change makers who communicate the vision and plan.

Some skeptics in the company will ask why wellness is important. This question comes from executives, as well as employees who do not understand how staying well contributes to the company as a whole.  It is imperative that employees understand that their health and well-being can enhance or hinder workplace productivity.  

Business is rapidly changing and to continually meet the demands of the future, employees will need the necessary skills to maintain their health and be well.  Again, the wellness coordinator(s) will incorporate the company's philosophy into the wellness program.

Finally, there is buy in!  Employees and executives have accepted the initial engagement proposition as a possible option in the workplace combined with the company's vision and goals. It inevitably becomes necessary to implement a corporate health and wellness program tied directly to the specific needs of the employees.  

Gathering and analyzing initial data will help a company develop 'company specific' programs to meet the needs of all individuals within the company.  It raises the stakes and the level of commitment made by the employer to the employees, which creates the needed momentum for the initiation of a program, as well as continued engagement to move it forward.

Incentives and rewards can encourage employee participation and continually motivate to maintain employee involvement. Some of those incentives might include an employee's decrease in insurance premiums, free health club memberships or online nutrition courses.  Rewards will enhance engagement and boost the morale of the staff.  

More self-assured health employees will continue with the program.  Realistic, specific goals are developed and tracked to see the benefit employees are gaining, as well as determine the return on investment and value that the company will garner.  

It is imperative that an employer creates realistic incentives and sets realistic goals to move the health and wellness program forward. Positive emotional attachment via a health driven mechanism cultivates an employee connection and a commitment to the organization. This emotional attachment motivates employees, who are often motivated by personal growth as it relates to financial gains, to work towards the common goal and purpose of the organization.

Employees who have an attachment to their workplace show a positive attitude involving trust, commitment, and a high morale in their work environment. Committed and engaged employees are more productive and profitable. Stakeholders will often pose the question, "What do I get out of this?"

There are tangible and intangible benefits of a corporate health and wellness program.  The tangible benefits often include reduced absenteeism, reduction in sick leave, and a decrease in the cost of health benefits. Employers may often see a positive change in performance while at work.

Although business owners often focus on absenteeism, presenteeism is a key factor in lost productivity and loss of financial performance. When employees come to work while sick, they are not only likely to infect others, they are also not able to work to their full potential.

Tufts-New England medical Center in Boston conducted a study that demonstrated the impact of lost time on businesses. Employers make a significant investment in their employees, but the investment is often eroded because of unplanned absences. However, employers often fail to consider the impact of non-urgent medical conditions when employees are still at work.

The study assessed the impact of twenty-eight conditions and their impact on the productivity of workers at the Lockheed-Martin Corp. The findings from the study demonstrated that employees who attended work while ill, cost the company approximately $34 million.

An employee that comes to work sick is not necessarily a sign of dedication; instead, it drains a company's financial health. Some intangible benefits may include improved physical conditioning, increased employee loyalty, and a reduction in organizational conflict, which all factors into establishing a more productive workplace.

In order to optimize and maintain employee engagement, employers need to incorporate strategies to ensure program success.  Tailoring, maintaining, and modifying a program focused on "strategy and success" will ensure positive outcomes of the program and optimize the engagement of employees.  

The strategy and the ultimate success of an engagement program are hinged on the CEO's direct involvement in supporting and assisting the wellness specialist in developing a health and wellness program. In order to ensure that a program is in line with the culture of a company, a combination of outside experts working with an internal team is often the most beneficial and cost effective.

A critical part of this external team includes health professionals that can tailor programs specific to the needs of the company.  A specific need based program allows health professionals to identify and address the needs that will have a greater impact on the workplace community.  

The team should track staff health needs to develop innovative wellness programming, as well as review and implement administrative policies in regards to absenteeism and presenteeism.  An outside team of professionals can often identify the root causes of lost productivity as it relates to health and wellness.

Weaved within corporate culture health promotion, behavior modification, disease prevention, and health maintenance programs will assist with the overall company buy in and benefit. Companies realize that employee engagement drives employee performance and after initiating the initial part of the engagement process, engagement goes beyond initiatives and rewards.  

The workplace becomes a team of executives, management, employees, and health professionals who focus on ideas, growth, efficiency, profitability, and sustainability all on the platform of being healthy and living well.

"Successful start to a bidirectional engagement - corporate culture driven program." Although a range of tailored programs exist depending on what comes out of the employee engagement process, a company should seek to encourage employee engagement on specific health issues.  

For example, if survey results show that a large number of employees are at risk for cardiovascular disease, the wellness coordinator develops a corporate health and wellness program focused primarily on cardiac and vascular issues.

The things that create a pipeline to managing cardiovascular disease are incorporated into programs as it relates to health promotion, such as nutrition management, exercise promotion, smoking cessation, stress management courses, and family history.  

Such programs allow for a greater emphasis on specific health issues once, which will have the greatest negative impact on the work environment.  Clear goals are set and tracked with outcomes more easily measured.

Communicating the proper information and health education to employees can help effectively manage and prevent or improve the likelihood of illness and disease. Companies can increase the return on investment through employee engagement and culture driven specific programs at all levels to decrease absenteeism, decrease health insurance premiums, reduce disability claims, and cultivate a healthy and productive work environment.  

Setting appropriate strategies includes creating metrics that can drive accountability in a company, create effective communication, design opportunities for all members of the team, and disseminate the information through programs.

The willingness for modification and change based on the data allows for a sustainable corporate health and wellness program. In order to allow for the continued impact and benefit of programs, an objective wellness team must collect and analyze data on productivity in the workplace at regular intervals. They must also continually examine the underlying causes affecting the performance of employees.  

With such analysis and key indices to productivity, company leadership can make informed and accurate decisions about changing existing programs or developing new initiatives and intervention in the workplace and other measures of performance. Strategists should also look at how capable the company is at retaining employees.

For instance, when a company writes their strategic goals, they should focus on workplace health and well-being of all employees and should also communicate the strategy of the business to employees. When employees understand the strategic goals of the company, they often experience less stress and will achieve wellness in this area because of reduced stress and higher levels of satisfaction in the workplace.

Ultimately, employee engagement cannot be achieved by a single action since there are different levels of engagement. When a company takes a stand to make gains in workplace productivity by incorporating a health and wellness program, there is a more comprehensive approach as it relates to performance.  

A successful wellness team will develop employee engagement solutions and promote healthy members at all levels, which in return will bring business goals to fruition and ultimately increase the return on investment and value added to the company and its employees.

About The Authors

Sheila E. Woodhouse, MD, MBA FAC

Sentikon is a business consulting firm creating value in the synergy that exists between health/wellness and various industries. Dr. Woodhouse is a practicing cardiologist with business expertise and a lean six sigma certification.  Consumer engagement, marketability, healthcare technology & reform, product, and program development are some areas of focus.

Stacey LaRue, RNSentikon Consulting, LLC

Director of Corporate Health and Wellness Director of Policy and Procedures. Stacey has been in the healthcare for over 20 years. She is involved in management, developing guidelines, implementing educational programs, and chairing of various policy and employee directed committees.  She continues to work with health insurance companies devising, and implementing cost efficient protocols and procedures for employees and consumers.  

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