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Rick Blabolil

Why Employee Well-Being Should Replace Your Workplace Wellness Program

While considerable attention is being given to employee wellness programs, driven in part by the incentives embedded in the Affordable Care Act, we need to keep in mind that real wellness goes far beyond physical measures. To be truly effective, a workplace wellness program must support employee well-being, a concept that includes a range of factors that when fully addressed have a powerful impact on the employee and the workplace. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines well-being as a “…positive outcome that is meaningful for people and for many sectors of society, because it tells us that people perceive that their lives are going well…” Within the context of the workplace, physical, emotional, environmental, developmental and occupational well-being measures are used by some organizations. The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index® uses the following measures in its research on well-being: purpose, social, financial, physical, and community. In a two-part study of 11,618 employees at a Fortune 100 company, Gallup-Healthways found greater levels of productivity and retention for employees scoring higher in well-being,  Specifically, measures based on the Gallup index showed that employees with the highest well-being scores had:

  • 3.9 fewer unscheduled absences
  • 4 times lower disability costs
  • 4 times fewer short-term disability days
  • 43.7 lower presenteeism (the act of attending work while sick)

Programs supporting employee well-being are comprehensive and multi-dimensional, moving well beyond the typical measures of workplace wellness program success: weight management, cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and –often—the success of smoking cessation programs. It is important to keep in mind that areas in an individual’s life not directly related to physical health can have a direct impact on it. Financial worries and job stress are two examples. Both are shown to raise blood pressure and cause physiological responses of the sympathetic nervous system. The reverse is also true: Poor health can hurt an individual’s emotional well-being, ability to socialize or personal life. However you measure it or where you place it in your organization’s workplace wellness program, employee well-being will have a major impact on your bottom line. In fact, The Gallup study concluded that well-being should be viewed as an organizational performance strategy. But as you examine the role of employee well-being in your wellness initiatives, there’s another factor you want to consider: Does your organizational culture actively support employee well-being or detract from it? A quick scan of the following situations could provide some clues:

Is your organization, like many, striving to do more with less? If so, are you rewarding employees adequately for “going the extra mile”? The rewards don’t have to be monetary. Social recognition can go a long way as a morale booster.

Has higher productivity become a top priority? If so, is that focus on greater productivity balanced with programs that boost engagement and recognition? Even a simple system of regular breaks can recharge time-stressed employees. Tip: A manager can take a break with a co-worker to encourage the practice, as well as, getting some “casual” face time.

Is your organization siloed? A sense of belonging to a community is vital to well-being, inside and outside of the workplace. Look at social technologies that can break down those silos, or carve out health-boosting group activities, such as: walking or hiking;  planning for kids entering kindergarten or college, tracking inexpensive vacation spots or experiential locations; discovering bike paths and trails; or learning to play guitar (or other instruments) to name a few.

Does your organization have the resources, or access to resources, that contribute to employee well-being? For example, access to confidential financial counseling, support for professional development, or opportunities to participate in corporate social responsibility programs? Once you’ve taken the time to step back and make an assessment of your current wellness program and whether it supports the overall well-being of your employees, you can then draw on the widely available data to make the case for its expansion. The numbers point to greater productivity, lower costs, and longer retention. What better reason to broaden the focus of employee wellness programs to include factors contributing to overall employee well-being?

To learn more about the benefits of employee wellness programs, see our white paper, “The Double Benefit of Workplace Wellness: Health Cost Savings and Employee Engagement.”