There’s been a massive push for corporate wellness in the last year and a half. The coronavirus pandemic has admittedly exposed the deficiencies of our workplace wellness programs and this is driving a great shift in the workplace.
Before the pandemic hit the world, corporate wellness programs were largely created for the sake of it in many organizations. For HR managers and business leaders, corporate wellness was just another business tool to make them look good and help them attract the best talent and employees. The programs were not necessarily focused on building a healthy workforce.
One of the reasons many corporate wellness initiatives failed to achieve their goals was failure to engage employees. A survey by UnitedHealth Group noted that 83 percent of employees were less likely to fully participate in wellness activities, saying they were unwilling to devote at least an hour a day to improve their health.
You would think these employees are unwilling to take care of their health or are healthy enough to dismiss these well-being activities. But the answer is no. Everyone has one health need or the other, not just physical health needs, but also emotional, mental, and even spiritual health needs. Where employers have got it wrong is in approaching all health needs the same way and offering the same set of wellbeing initiatives for all health needs.
Laura Kirk, Director of Total Rewards at Radial, in a recent episode of the Edelheit Experience talked about how there is a great re-awakening in the corporate wellness space and how employers are remodeling the workplace wellness framework to truly achieve what it was meant to.
No two employees are the same, and neither are their health concerns. Therefore, an employee wellness program would definitely not receive full engagement from one employee or even both if it does not factor in the specific needs of each of them. Herein lies the problem with generic corporate wellness programs. These programs often offer initiatives that are too broad to have any significant impact on an employee or provide segmental offerings that only address a single issue without a holistic approach to an employee’s concerns.
“Wellness programs cannot have the desired impact unless they go down to the individual level of wellness needs,” Laura said.
For instance, an employee who is battling with excess weight is offered only weight loss programs but has no mental health support to help them cope through the process. Or providing support for employees who are addicted to psychoactive drugs without considering and addressing the social factors that may enable such behaviors, such as financial stress or family factors that drive such behavio.
Another example is offering yoga sessions or meditation classes for employees experiencing significant stress without understanding and addressing the individual stressors of each employee. While some employees are stressed out about their finances, others may be burdened by heavy workloads and others are stressed by caregiving responsibilities athome.
There are five key elements of wellbeing: physical, emotional, community, career, and financial, according to Gallup, and these elements intertwine more often than not. Challenges in one element often affect the others, so problems affecting one need to be addressed taking into account the other individual elements.
Therefore, well-being conversations should begin with employees. It is not enough for HR managers to design well-being plans based on what has worked in other organizations or what seems to be a sound idea but based on what people truly want. A one-size-fits-all approach to wellness ultimately dilutes the desired impact. Carry out a survey or biometric test of your employees’ pressing health concerns and what works best for each.
An employee who is overweight may just need to cycle to work daily to achieve a healthy weight, while others want gym memberships. An employee struggling with mental health issues may just need a hybrid work model to enjoy more social interactions than working in isolation as a remote employee. An employee with chronic back pain may simply need better ergonomic work conditions and not necessarily more sick leaves.
Are you offering your Gen. Z employees the same wellness benefits as your older employees and wondering why engagement and outcome are poor? While your Gen Z employees may be more concerned about improved mental health, work-life balance, and better developmental support, your older employees may be more concerned about their financial plans and benefits as well as chronic disease management and prevention.
Providing a blanket well-being plan that does not factor in these differences will not achieve much for the employees and the organization itself.
One further step to take away from the traditional, piecemeal workplace wellness architecture is to be flexible. Many programs may have low employee engagement because employees have a hard time accessing them. Are your remote workers missing out on wellness offerings because they are still traditional and on-site? Are there virtual offerings, including teleconsultations and virtual counseling sessions for remote and hybrid workers? A wellness program should come to the workers, and not the other way around.
Collecting these useful data help HR professionals to identify and choose the degree of personalization needed. But it’s not just about collecting data but actually listening to employees. Are employees reluctant to engage with these offerings for fear of a privacy breach? Are employees not participating because the organizational culture does not truly reflect what the program hopes to achieve? Are employees saying one thing, but you’re hearing something else?
Now more than ever, employees are taking their well-being and health more seriously, and this has become a major determinant of organizational success. Employers need to revisit the corporate wellness architecture and fix these deficits. In the long run, offering employees a more personalized and holistic approach to wellbeing not only achieves the set health indicators for their workforce but also saves organizations lots of money.