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Where traditional workplace wellbeing programmes fall short – and what you can do about it

02 Mar 2020

Workplace wellbeing

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The concept of “workplace wellbeing” is one which dates all the way back to the 1600s - when researchers first started to explore the effects of the workplace on employees, and the measures that could be taken by employers to improve health outcomes.

Even today, over 400 years later, our understanding of workplace wellbeing “best practice” is constantly evolving.

New research and technologies are continually providing fresh insight into the tools and techniques that will ensure the best possible employee engagement and health outcomes (not to mention the greatest ROI for your organisation).

Popular traditional approaches to wellbeing can often fall short, so what can organisations do to address those challenges?

Wellbeing isn’t just physical health – it’s mental, financial and social too

According to the 2018 Global Human Capital Trends survey, over half of New Zealand organisations focus their wellbeing programmes predominantly (if not solely) on physical wellbeing – like health and safety, or medical assistance.

The earliest forms of wellbeing initiatives implemented in the workplace included daily exercise breaks, employee gyms and athletic programmes. Over time, we’ve seen these evolve alongside fitness trends to include practices like guided yoga, fun runs and step challenges.

While physical health plays an important role, there are many other elements that contribute to our overall wellbeing – which must be considered by employers wanting to create a healthier workforce.

A well-rounded approach to employee wellbeing should encompass not just physical and mental health – but financial and social health as well. There are many ways to help improve mental, financial and social wellbeing, including:

  • Mental: guided meditation, online counselling, mental wellbeing days and resilience training
  • Financial: financial literacy workshops, financial counselling and budgeting support, insurance cover for large, unexpected medical costs
  • Social: team building sessions, regular social functions, engaging in wellbeing initiatives as a team

If you work in HR or management in any industry, it’s important to understand how these different elements influence and impact upon each other. When an employee is lacking in one area of wellness, such as mental health, it’s likely to take a toll on other areas and affect overall performance at work.

No strategy? No data? No results. No impact.

According to a Lifeworks study looking at CEO perspectives on workplace wellbeing, some executives have realised that wellbeing programmes are becoming less of a perk for employees, and more of an expectation. With growing pressure on employers to offer wellbeing programmes, it can be tempting to pull some “wellbeing initiatives” from a hat, put on a few events during the year, offer subsidised gym memberships to employees and call it a day.

If the objective is to have a bit of fun (and hope that costs spent on sick days are reduced in turn), then activity-based programmes might seem like the right fit – but these initiatives don’t usually capture useful data such as participation or impact on health outcomes.

In order to truly make a difference to overall employee wellbeing, your corporate wellness strategy should be goal-driven and data-led – with strong measurement functions in place to regularly evaluate success and inform ongoing strategies.

Online wellbeing portals designed for corporate use can be an effective and easy way to plan, implement and measure the success of your wellbeing programmes – as well as engaging employees and employers alike.

For example, with our own nib portal, myhealthHQ, employees are able to complete a Wellness Assessment to learn more about their health. By providing feedback about their health-related interests and concerns, history, habits, including those related to mental-health, employees receive personalised feedback and recommendations.

On the other side, employers receive an aggregated view of the challenges facing their workforce and the propensity of their employees to change. This evidence-based snapshot of the workforce allows targeted initiatives to be planned, implemented and then evaluated.

Don’t do it alone – partner with the experts

And finally, according to best-selling worksite wellness author Dr. Steven Aldana, a traditional approach seen in far too many organisations, is the expectation for a HR Manager to lead the wellbeing strategy, without any additional support.

Dr. Aldana notes that it’s common, especially among SMEs, for someone in the HR department to be appointed as the wellbeing manager for the organisation. However, this person is often asked to take on this role on top of their existing remit, whether or not they have prior experience in the corporate wellbeing space.

That’s why, at nib Health Insurance, we have developed wellbeing solutions for organisations ranging from teams of fifteen, to those as large as 10,000+ employees.

Collaborating with an external wellbeing partner enables the planning and implementation of a tailored wellbeing programme that aligns with an organisation’s values and goals - and ensures the HR department is well supported by a team of experts, including trained wellbeing coaches.

When it comes to creating a healthier workforce, don’t get stuck in ways of the past. Make sure your modern wellbeing programme takes a holistic approach, clearly measures success against your desired outcome and leverages the ability of experts in the field.