Corporate Wellness – March 10th, 2015

Reducing health risks, improving quality of life, enhancing personal effectiveness, and benefits to your organization’s bottom line: These are the reasons you implement corporate wellness programs. But are you meeting these objectives? How effective are your programs? Are employees engaged?

In order to implement wellness programs that inform, involve and inspire your employees and their families to adopt and maintain behaviours that stand the test of time, they need to be more than ‘one off’s’ like hosting an annual health fair or flu shot clinic. Organizations reap the rewards of a wellness program when they move from a ‘check the box’ approach to developing a comprehensive and integrated strategy that addresses the specific health needs of their employees, health cost pressures, and the core values of the organization.

Significant Opportunity
With employees spending more than 50 percent of their waking hours at work, employers have a significant opportunity to influence overall health including employee physical, emotional, and social well-being. According to data from Statistics Canada and the World Health Organization (WHO) 70 to 75 percent of healthcare costs are due to modifiable risk factors including smoking, poor nutrition, obesity, and physical inactivity. Excellence Canada reports that returns on healthy workplace investments reported by large private sector organizations can range from $1.81 to $6.15 for every $1 invested.

The building blocks of a successful wellness program encompass initiatives that result not only in a return on investment (ROI), but, equally important, a value on investment (VOI). VOI is a product of a workforce that is happier, more engaged, and consequently more productive. Attracting and retaining skilled employees is more frequently cited as being the impetus for wellness. Companies also realize that taking care of their employees beyond compensation and benefits is an important link to achieving a ‘Best Workplace’ designation.

When the C-Suite is engaged and supports the organization’s wellness strategy, ROI and VOI are maximized. Their support demonstrates to employees that health is an important part of the company’s culture. When employees see a supportive leadership team they are more likely to get involved. Executive support also ensures that resources, both financial and human, are allocated appropriately and that there is a long-term commitment to program success.

Identifying a program champion is an essential component to a program’s long-term success. A champion should be a personal advocate of health, have the influence to rally the senior leaders and have the authority to drive the program forward.

These leaders are the gatekeepers that can support or sabotage the program, so it is important to get them ‘on board.’ Before launching your program, hold information sessions to share your vision for the program, hear their concerns, and solicit input. Their role is to engage employees, vendors, and partners to ensure an integrated approach to wellness. Program champions are particularly important for hard-to-reach employees who are in the production field or work away from the main worksite.

Engage your employees in establishing the focus and direction of your program. Asking employees what they are interested in and how they would like to participate in a workplace wellness program not only provides valuable information to ensure that programs are aligned with their needs, but also fosters a sense of employee ownership. Form a wellness committee to promote continuous improvement and keep the program on track.

Assessing employee health risks is an important building block for success. Many North Americans do not get regular check-ups. Biometric screening is a valuable tool for getting a pulse on the health of your employees which helps set program strategy. Also examine your health and other organizational cost pressures to assess how to best allocate your resources.

Connect cost pressures and wellness interventions. For example, if your drug utilization for high blood pressure is high, target your programs to control high blood pressure by promoting physical activity, healthy eating, and weight management. If anti-inflammatory drugs top the list, focus your efforts on MSI prevention and back health.

‘Baby Steps’
Understand where people are in terms of adopting a healthier lifestyle. Often this means helping them take ‘baby steps’ by focusing on one small habit at a time. One approach is to promote a ‘Healthy Habit of the Month’ initiative whereby employees are encouraged and supported to make small changes on a regular basis such as increasing their daily vegetable consumption by one serving or adding an extra block to their noon hour walking route.

Recognize that employees are at different stages of adopting new healthy habits. Provide a variety of ways to learn and engage. While some employees may prefer to download information from your wellness intranet site, others may prefer to participate in wellness clinics, one-on-one coaching, or team challenges.

ROI and VOI are maximized when participation in wellness is high. An effective communication strategy is a critical building block to getting employees on board. Consider creating a wellness brand for your program. Use catchy names that draw attention and that employees can identify with and easily remember. For example, one of our clients, a Canadian manufacturing plant that manufactures low voltage and medium voltage cables, recently launched the ‘Power FIT’ wellness program. Their brand sends the message that they are serious about fostering a healthy workplace culture. It also sets the stage for fun, fitness, inclusion, and integration.

‘Wellness Moment’
A brand, however, is more than a name and a logo. It is also about the conversations you have in your organization regarding wellness. For example, one company opens every Monday morning town hall meeting with a ‘wellness moment.’ To keep your wellness brand alive, communicate effectively and continually. Use multiple vehicles to promote your wellness message including print materials, message boards, the company’s intranet site, special events, town hall meetings, and social media.

Most organizations thrive on healthy competition whether it is a departmental weight loss challenge or an intercompany activity challenge. Participation in wellness programs spikes when there is a challenge going on. A few draw prizes, a team trophy, and bragging rights are all you need to keep employees engaged and coming back for more.

Share success stories. This keeps employees inspired through real-life examples. Highlight your ‘healthy heroes’ on bulletin boards, in newsletters, using social media, and at meetings. Highlight personal success stories of the executive team to promote healthy role models.

Create spaces in your workplace that foster social wellness and connectivity. When redesigning workspaces, many companies are now including lounges with fireplaces, pool tables, board games, and video games. Coffee bars that encourage conversation and socialization are becoming commonplace. ‘Wellness zones,’ where employees can take their blood pressure and pick up resources, are popular. Rejuvenation rooms provide soft seating and massage chairs to promote taking a break to relax and recharge. Multi-purpose rooms double as areas for yoga and meditation.

In many organizations, over 50 percent of health costs relate to dependents. It makes sense, therefore, to encourage employees to ‘take wellness home.’ Encourage this by including them in wellness challenges, providing access to your wellness portal, and organizing family wellness events. Involve food service vendors in providing healthy take-home meals for time-pressed families. These initiatives send the message that the pursuit of a healthy lifestyle is a 24/7 endeavour.

Employee Engagement
Programs that encourage activity and teamwork lead to enhanced employee engagement. Ways to foster peer-to-peer connections are important in a changing workplace characterized by a physically dispersed workforce. Social applications have the ability to bring disconnected employees together and foster a happy, engaged workplace.

Many companies successfully use wellness days as a means to increase employee socialization and to create a fun place to work which ties into their business goal of enhancing employee engagement. Staples hosts an annual ‘wacky olympics’ day that is a fun, morale-building event comprised of a series of team oriented relay games and activities.

Think about connecting employee health and corporate social responsibility (CSR). CSR is ‘near and dear’ to senior business leaders and connecting it to health will get their attention and increase the sustainability and success of your program. Autoliv Electronics, a company in the automotive industry fosters an ‘active living and giving’ culture. Employees have fun being active with their ‘friends at work’ for a good cause.

Creating a healthy workplace culture is more than a menu of programs and services. It is about creating spaces, norms, and traditions in your organization that revolve around health and overall wellbeing. It is not something you push on people and it doesn’t happen overnight. Like providing benefits, even though you can’t always put a dollar figure to the ROI and VOI, wellness has become ‘the right thing to do.’