Credit where credit is due, there are many companies attempting to give this wellbeing malarkey a go. They’ll have the yoga sessions, a workshop, maybe even an app for some reason? Although we do not think this is enough, Mind Work we are still happy to see as it shows a degree of awareness. It’s undeniable, wellness for employees is a hot topic.
That being said, it seems that many have not yet quite grasped the whole reasoning behind the “wellbeing for employees movement”. A ‘Wellbeing Week’ once a quarter simply won’t cut it. As with anything, commitment is a necessity if you want to see beneficial results for your company and more importantly, your employees. We know that a happy workforce will reflect on your company’s overall output so why do so many fall short when it comes to giving wellness programmes the respect it deserves?
Company wellness programs are failing, and one of the reasons are that they’re not ‘Programmes’ at all. Similar to the new years resolution of going to the gym and taking one spin class per week and jumping on the scales to be met with the 2 lbs you added, before declaring it’s not working. Don’t get me wrong, the employees (whom of which the programmes are designed to serve) themselves must also take their fair share of the responsibility with an attitude that seems to imply that they feel like wellness at work is something done to them rather than for them. These programs are often superficial/for show – they don’t elevate company culture, inspire commitment, or even tie to the company’s business goals. Any program that alienates, annoys, and distracts those it means to serve will fail to deliver results in the long-term.
Here is a great example of this from Henry Albrecht – Founder, CEO & Board Director at Limeade
“There’s no shortage of “wellness gone wrong” examples, starting with the programs that held people accountable for achieving biometric values but never gave anyone a hint that the company understood or cared about their lives. And frankly, for every egregiously punitive approach, there were (and still are) 10 programs barely skimming the surface of their potential. They’re feel-good distractions embraced by those already in the club. As corporate investments and priorities, they rank somewhere between the company party and bean bags in the conference rooms. Do they even matter?
Most corporate wellness (now often called “well-being”) programs have so far failed to deliver on their potential. But the good news is, with a more holistic well-being and engagement model, employers can achieve much bigger results than companies and employees have envisioned to date – results that go well beyond health and health costs to something richer: true work engagement.”
There are a number current reasons to why programmes don’t seem to be working. Three of which Henry Albrecht highlighted as being ;
1. Wellness Programs Don’t Work the Way Our Brains Work
Although the narrative indicates that the health of employees seem to be the driving force behind the reason of implementation, I think it’s safe to say that the main reason that these programmes have found their way into companies is in order to reduce the costs that poor employee health, both physical and mental rack up i.e. make the company more money (which is totally fine of course). On one hand we have the fact that healthier people will cost less to insure and less likely to take days off. The influencers embraced this, and the idea spread. There was a second and more suspect premise embedded, though: that you can pay people to comply. Those who don’t participate won’t get the same insurance benefits, effectively shifting costs from willing participants to unwilling ones. And it worked… in a short-term way.
Ultimately, however, this punitive Industrial Revolution mentality often created more resentment than value. It sent a clear message of accountability, which on the upside saved some lives and caught some serious issues early with its focus on important preventive care protocols. No one wants to be told that they need to improve their health to avoid financial penalties; that message absent an immersive cultural commitment to whole-person well-being breeds resentment and won’t help companies with long-term engagement and retention.
And these are much bigger, higher-value goals than lowering health costs.
Even when messaged positively, telling people the “right” thing to do and holding them accountable for doing it “or else” is fundamentally out of touch with how people think, work, and act – and what they want. What exactly do employees want? Barry Schwartz and others have shown that people crave a sense of purpose at work, as well as community, belonging, value, autonomy, and mastery. The science of motivation is the relevant science for voluntary programs. Prioritising these things has the potential to boost the bottom line while making employees happy, too. What’s more, creating caring and supportive companies – with high expectations – will help us take on the widespread isolation and suffering we face as a society.
2. “Wellness” Is Largely Irrelevant to the CEO
If you ask a Fortune 500 CEO about corporate priorities, you’ll generally hear a standard list that includes increasing revenue, profit, market share or stock price, serving customers well, globalisation, technology disruption and maybe winning that Great Company award. Some might even go out on a limb and mention attracting great leaders, retaining top talent, or even creating a great culture as a way to achieve these other goals.
Where is employee well-being on the CEO list? Is it even in the top 20? Is it “a given” but not explicitly measured or managed? Wellness isn’t seen as a strategic part of culture creation that can increase engagement and ultimately lead to a company’s success. It’s a check-the-box, unimportant thing that ends up buried at the bottom of a long list of employee perks. For many companies, it’s program number 21 from one of the least influential departments: benefits.
I see this disconnect every day with our customers, both in under-appreciated human capital functions and in the C-suite. And it’s not surprising given the way we’ve sometimes done these programs. But there’s no reason for this to happen anymore. Consider these findings from Limeade:
- 88% of employees with higher well-being are engaged at work, compared with 50% of employees with lower well-being.
- 98% of employees with both higher well-being and a higher perception that their company supports their well-being say they want to be working at the same company in one year.
- 99% of employees with both high well-being and organisational support would recommend their employer as “a great place to work.”
It seems like focusing on an energetic and engaged workforce has potential, but…
3. Wellness Programmes and the ROI issue
Wellness programs have historically been chartered with lowering healthcare costs – but proof of their results has been tough to nail down. One reason is that health costs fluctuate for reasons unrelated to health – like network design, unnecessary surgery, generic drug strategy, economic incentives for hospitals to do more procedures, and other “supply-side” issues. The second and third reasons are the ‘how our brains work’ and ‘irrelevant’ reasons outlined above. But there’s an important fourth reason, too: we have been looking in the wrong place.
Research shows that employee engagement and turnover are much bigger drivers of a company’s financial success (or lack thereof) than medical costs. And well-being has a direct connection to these outcomes.
Taking a broader look at the results associated with an engaged and energised workforce should have the potential to convince a CEO or CHRO to take a more strategic approach to employee well-being. Having a model to help the C-suite see these connections is the key to breaking through the noise.
So with all that being said, why is it still such a struggle/almost controversial for companies to invest in wellbeing programmes along with engagement? CEO’s and decision makers should be putting this stuff at the top of their agendas instead of continuing to subscribe to the ‘old-school’ systematic protocols that have been ingrained into the both the companies and the individuals running them.
A new approach from the forward thinking C-Suite is the only to build sustainable businesses in a time where burn-out is on everyone’s lips and more people are quitting their jobs than ever before . Just like that start-up culture prides itself on being ‘agile’, your wellness programmes should be strategised in the way. Actually including them into the model and the culture of the business instead of a nice-to-have add-on. A genuine focus on not only employees physical health, but mental states of wellness that encompasses their purpose at the company, community, belonging, work well-being, emotional well-being, autonomy, mastery, their energy, and even financial well-being. These are the true pathways to enjoy continuous innovation, loyalty and keeping companies happy in good times and bad.