Ireland’s third annual workplace wellbeing day took place last week, Friday 31 March. Whilst workplace wellbeing programmes are in their infancy within many areas of the Public Sector, many private organisations have developed sophisticated wellness initiatives to deliver the benefits associated with employees who are well physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Not all programmes deliver long-term sustainable results. Wellness days, weeks or even months may create a short-term “feel good factor” but do little to contribute to the long-term productivity of the organisation. They can, in fact, be counter-productive and result in inefficient use of resources. This article highlights some fundamentals organisations may wish to take into consideration when designing wellness programmes if they want to achieve sustainable benefits. The return on “value” can be significant.
The Harvard Business Review, in their 2010 study “What’s the Hard Return on Employee Wellness Programs”[i], found that the financial return on investment for a comprehensive well-run programme can be as high as 6 to 1. Towers Watson’s Global Workforce Study 2012[ii] found that where programmes were measured:
“Companies with engaged workforce with high wellbeing are found to have operating margins almost three times higher than companies with low engagement.”
They also reported significantly lower attrition rates of 9% versus 15%.
The following are six common pillars of successful wellbeing programmes, based on research carried out by Harvard.
- Engage leaders and managers throughout the business
It is important that the leaders and managers are seen to help define, support and participate in the spirit of the programme. Without this, it will be challenging to build momentum with employees. A professional wellness manager and wellness champions should be appointed throughout the organisation to coordinate and generate participation.
- Strategic alignment with company identity and aspirations
It can take time for a company to shift culture. A macho culture of working long hours, overdosing on coffee or skipping lunch does not guarantee long-term sustainable productive employees. Mismanagement of emails and meetings can be equally counter-productive. Small steps may be taken to develop policies and encourage behavioural change to address these challenges. Many successful businesses even build wellness goals into their Key Performance Indices.
- A design that is broad in scope and high in relevance and quality
Activities need to be fun, easy to attend and bring real tangible benefits not just to a small cohort of employees but across all levels of the business.
- Broad accessibility
If initiatives can be held on-site and do not cost the employee financially, it will make for higher and more sustainable participation.
- Internal and external partnerships
Learning and support can be received from both internal and external resources, be it colleagues in the industry or professional wellness providers.
- Effective communication
Poor communication can lead to poor uptake and disappointment for everyone. Email overload is a common challenge facing us all and many employees only read business critical communication. Effective branding and communication strategies are key to a successful programme.
Whilst the above recommendations are based on quantified research from the American market, these challenges are also common to Irish businesses. However, Irish and American employees are very different animals and there are significant differences in what works for both populations. The differences vary greatly between state, semi-state and private companies. Such factors must be taken into consideration when designing and implementing any wellness initiatives if one wishes to secure a return on value. The return on value merits another discussion.
[i] Available on the Harvard Business Review website, here.
[ii] Text of the study can be found here.