Business of Well-being

Why Workplace Wellness Programs Fail

Corporate Culture

Wellness at work is rapidly evolving since the pandemic eased about a year ago. Employers are beginning to evaluate their well-being offerings to see if they are moving the needle in regard to the health and well-being of their workers. Essentially, this involves identifying the flaws of traditional well-being programs and then remodeling them to meet employees at their different points of need. 

In a recent episode of the Edelheit Experience, Rebecca Johnson and Natalie Johnson, co-Founders of ViDL solutions share insights about deconstructing conventional models of wellness in the workplace and changing the narrative to ensure these programs work. 

Think of building an effective wellness program as treating a patient successfully. Treating a patient for say, a chest infection, involves several processes from diagnostic procedures, including a simple physical exam to laboratory investigations and chest X-rays, to identifying the right antibiotic regimen for the patient. In the same way, providing the most effective wellness solutions for your workforce requires first investigating to understand what their real health and wellness challenges are and then offering solutions that work for them. 

Alluding to this simple description, Rebecca explains how in ViDL, clients, who are mostly business owners, employers, and HR managers, often come seeking wellness solutions that aren’t exactly what the workforce needs or addressing workforce challenges that are secondary problems rather than primary workforce concerns.

“One conversation that comes to mind happened a couple of years ago with a woman who was the head of HR in a fairly large healthcare organization. She had reached out to us stating that they had put out a lot of well-being initiatives for their employees but they were not having the impact they had hoped it wound on the workforce, adding that they needed help rebranding the program or making it look more attractive,” Rebecca said

“So one of us asked her to tell us a little bit more about her organization, the culture, the leader-team relationships, and the day-to-day operations, and then there was a long pause before she began talking about some things that had been going on in the organization that had left a lot of uncertainty and disruption, in addition to staff shortage, work overload, burnout, and underskilled leaders,” She added

Rebecca’s response was not what the lady had hoped she would get but it gave her a lot of insight into recreating the organization’s workplace wellness program. what the organization needed to focus on was not making the wellness programs more attractive or adding a few more generic offerings, but dealing with these primary challenges, which were obviously driving the poor wellbeing outcomes within the workforce.

Using the instance of the patient with a chest infection for context, addressing the secondary issues (symptoms) stemming from the infection, such as cough, chest pain, and fever, with just pain killers, cough mixtures, and anti-fever medicines do not rid the lungs of the infection. While symptoms may subside transiently, they persist and open the door for more severe complications. 

Well-being takes the same holistic approach. In the case of the healthcare organization, providing leadership training for managers, training and re-training of staff, recruiting more staff, improving communication channels in the workplace, and putting in place measures to check burnout are the true and most urgent solutions that the employees needed.

“Organizations may have good intentions about attending to the mental and emotional wellbeing of their people, but they don’t recognize that you really can’t improve those things through check-the-box programs, there are larger and harder things to be done” 

In diagnosing these problems, employers need to ask tough questions and have hard conversations. A doctor cannot diagnose a problem without asking a patient about the history of their symptoms, their medical history, and performing a clinical examination on them. In the same vein, employers need to ask their team these hard questions. What is our organizational culture; What changes do your employees really want to see; what are their deepest concerns about work; what are their mental and physical wellbeing challenges; how is work impacting their quality of life; what can be done differently?

A mismatch between actual problems and solutions provided inevitably leads to waste. Rebecca and Natalie pointed to some well-being measures employers take as part of their offerings, which often translate to resource waste. Rebecca advised that employers might need to re-channel resources invested in routine biometric assessments and incentives into providing coaching services for employees, a key to improving their personal and professional well-being. 

Therefore, well-being programs are not one-size-fits-all; what works for one organization may not work for the other. A mental health lunch & learn week may fit just right for an organization that has a strong culture of wellness and is supportive of its employees’ health through strategic solutions but may be ineffective for an organization that is yet to solve these primary issues. Wellbeing programs need to be custom-built depending on the needs of the workforce and what stage they are in in the well-being journey. 

Part of creating a customized wellness program for your workforce is also individualizing these offerings. Even among a group of employees with similar well-being issues, what solution works best for each employee varies. Providing an individualized wellness plan for employees involves understanding their individual contexts, identifying their social, economic, and cultural health determinants, and integrating these nuances into their health solutions. 

For instance, while providing mental health offerings for people experiencing workplace stress, consider that stressors for persons of the LGBTQ+ community may differ, and may border on issues of acceptability, discrimination, and limited access to unique healthcare needs. If a member of the LGBTQ+ community experiences burnout from facing intense scrutiny and pressure for being different, while yoga lessons may alleviate their symptoms temporarily, they do not solve the well-being issue in this context. 

Building the right wellness program for your workforce requires paying attention to the granular issues of wellness and health in your organization. Well-being and health are not stand-alone issues and they are dependent on a large number of factors, including organizational culture, workplace issues, and personal health circumstances. Understanding these contexts help managers and employers identify their employees’ actual wellness problems and roll out the most effective solutions. 

GHA For Business

Global Healthcare Accreditation (GHA) for Business offers employers and business owners the tools and resources to remodel their wellness programs to achieve better results for their workers. GHA For Business helps organizations understand the nuances of workplace wellness, providing them with the needed training and information to recreate their wellness models to achieve high wellness metrics. 

In the post-pandemic era of work, an organization’s wellness package is a crucial currency for attracting and retaining the best talents. The GHA For Business demonstrates to your clients and employees that you fully understand what wellness is and the critical role it plays in an employee’s overall quality of life and that you are committed to their health, wellness, and safety.

Learn about how you can become a Certified Corporate Wellness Specialist→