It’s mission critical in todays competitive markets, to attract and retain the best talents. One determining factor is the engagement of all the employees and the culture of the organisation. In the last few years, corporate health and wellness initiatives have become high priority to help with just that. And rightly so as presenteeism (people at work but unproductive) is at an all time high. People are not motivated by money alone, so wellness programs are incorporated to add value to employees. Great health programs create powerful impacts on employee engagement, corporate culture and performance at work (productivity), naturally, since employees are healthier and happier.
However, few companies actually deliver programs that result in measurable health outcomes for their employees. The first one or two initiatives may gain traction, though the 'fad' wears out as shown by declining participation rates. One main problem is that the employees themselves aren’t part of the creation of these health initiatives. Their needs and concerns weren't requested for, nor addressed, so there’s less motivation for them to commit. So what do employees want? Ask them! And when you start your next health and wellbeing program include these best practices to ensure your corporate health initiative attracts true engagement.
1. Programs Are Doable, Accessible and Sustainable
Imagine a wellness talk or fitness class is starting in 15 minutes. Many employees dismiss it simply because they are too busy. "I'd love to go, but I really need to get this work done.” Are programs run when employees are most busy? Should you conduct them after office hours? Is the wellness program a broad-based and holistic approach? Or is it just yoga classes, cooking demonstrations and nothing else?
Next, ask if it is easy for participants to learn, and apply? What may seem easy when a trained chef prepares a healthy dinner in under 20 minutes may not be for the average person. Are steps 'chunkable', to help someone to implement and sustain the habit or change?
A comprehensive wellness initiative needs to offer a variety of scheduled programs that are broken down into achievable, sustainable habits that create a valuable outcome. Equally important is that employees can choose what they are interested in, and easily fit into their schedule.
2. The Work Environment Is Health-Conscious
It’s contradicting to implement health and wellness programs if the physical layout and psycho-social environment within the office doesn’t support to healthy habits. Great office design that support wellbeing has been the trend, since Facebook and Google showed us how to do it.
Creating creative spaces for smaller pod meetings, silence rooms, ergonomic set-ups, standing desks and ensuring the cafeteria and/or vending machines (with healthy options) around the office are some simple ways to maintain consistency of the health message, while encouraging good health. Ensuring regulated noise, playing inspiring music, with good air quality, adequate lighting (reducing glare) and appropriate temperature are also simple yet impactful features of a great office space.
Allowing ‘down’ times, and breaks from your desk are essential. Taking breaks, having a "brain-drain" (timeout) and socialising (creating real social relationships within the office) during work hours are seen as negative. However this is an absolutely necessity for human health and happiness. Real interactions and real friendships between co-workers satisfy the basic human need for social connection, belonging and internal health. We all need other people to love, trust and support us, at both a business and indivudual level.
3. Wellness Is Integrated Into The Company's Structure
Further to point 2 above, encouraging a healthier lifestyle and doing well at work shouldn’t make employees feel like a game of tug-of-war. I’ve know numerous companies that pay for employees' gym memberships (which is great!) However, when they are in the gym, they get a message or phone call saying they need to get back in the office because of ...[insert some 'urgent' reason here]. Therefore it’s equally important to not just run a corporate health program but to value and honour it consistently. If not, what’s the point?
Another example includes the holy grail of “work-life balance”. If your company wants employees to be healthy and have better work-life integration, yet at the same time silently imposes that people must continue working beyond standard office hours, it really does not make any sense. One of my clients told me their company allows them to leave an hour earlier on Friday's. They are allowed to leave at 5pm (instead of 6pm) ONLY IF they have completed their work. Guess what? Work NEVER finishes! She says people are still in the office after 6pm pretty much every Friday. One (partial) solution to this is introducing and not restricting flexi-hours and remote working. This will allow people to get errands done and attend to family engagements, while working from home, or a cafe. I call it a partial solution because it does allows "work-life balance", though it does not necessarily promote health or wellbeing (unless they are using their time in-between to exercise, cook nutritious meals or get some rest!)
4. Wellness Is Linked To Continued Support Programs
When a company is genuinely concerned about their employees’ wellbeing, they will naturally ensure that any wellness initiative, game or workshop has some form of continuation. Employee assistance programs (EAP) are common for mental health concerns, however there needs to be other support systems in place for other health concerns. In 2014, Apple's Cupertino, Calif.-based headquarters boasted a medical one-stop-shop "wellness center" offering in-house chiropractic care, dieticians and more. Collective Works, Singapore, one the largest premium co-workspaces in Asia, now also houses an in-house chiropractor, specialising in pain relief, peak performance for both individual and corporate health.
Gamification of corporate health programs usually run for a certain period of time. Workshops and classes may run for 8 weeks or throughout the entire year. Although participation rates are high initially, continued support programs is what sustains engagement, and creates the change both individuals and the CEO’s want to see. Engagement is what creates long term sustainable results.
5. Broad-based Approach
Wellness Programs aren’t all about offering free gym membership or just having smoking cessation programs. Health is health - a complete state of physical, mental, and social well-being. Fitness is “the ability to perform work (sports, occupations and daily activities) satisfactorily”. Pilates is a great way to exercise and strengthen the core muscles, however it is not equivalent to health. We need to meet individuals where they are at, not preach to them, but give them personalised solutions that is within their capacity.
A lot of people know they should quit smoking but doesn’t because they don’t realize how much damage it can do to their body. They may not have a strategy, nor enough motivation to make those changes. One method of offering voluntary health screenings while giving sound education and simple tasks from a variety of professionals is the key. Helping employees realise that the company does care, that their colleagues do care, that they too should care about their own health is of the greatest importance. Digging deep, and creating a safe place to improve their lifestyle choices on multiple levels should be the basis of every corporate wellbeing initiative.
Dr Gary Tho is the owner of Chiropractic Works, a Family Sports and Wellness clinic in Orchard Road, Singapore. He specialises in pain relief and preventative care and believes quality life is essential for happiness, success and peak performance. Dr Gary is also the author of The Pain-Free Desk Warrior, Free yourself from aches and pains which is the definitive guide for those stuck at their desk for more than 2 hours a day. Dr Gary can be contacted at DrGaryTho.com and Twitter / LinkedIn: @DrGaryTho.