Monday, July 2, 2018

Are you Serious about Employee Wellness?



Photo by Priscilla Du Preez
Plato, the pre-eminent Greek philosopher, once said, “The part can never be well unless the whole is well.” Wellness is nothing but a holistic way of living - a lifestyle engaging with all dimensions of body, mind, and spirit.
However, most corporate wellness programmes nowadays are anything but holistic. They involve simple components like dispensing health and disease tips; social service; diet tips; gaming and collaborative tools; etc. It is disconcerting to see the idea of employee wellness being compressed into a set of budget-driven engagements packed in ROI modules.
This article is an attempt to re-think the idea of wellness programmes and the importance of having wellness as an echoing theme throughout the organization.
The Evolution of Wellness Programmes
Unlike popular belief, wellness programmes are not a recent fad. Major corporations had initiated workplace activities in the late 1800s.
Organisations like Pullman Company and National Cash Register (NCR) were the first ones to establish athletic and gym centres for their employees from 1879-1900. Later on, fitness centres became the norm in 1950s-60s.
In the 1970s, smoking-cessation and alcohol-abstinence programs became popular. It took companies a while to make a holistic approach towards health management. For a long time, they maintained a clear distinction between health initiatives and employee recreation.
Towards the late 20th century, companies like Johnson & Johnson tied wellness programmes with productivity and profitability. However, it was in 2002 that Dee Edington who is better known as the ‘Godfather of Health Risk,’ suggested that it was morally and financially profitable for companies to develop healthy working environments.
The following years saw a divide between companies who were more invested in ROIs, and between those who cared about the overall well-being of their colleagues.
The second approach particularly piques our interest because of the word well-being. Thought leaders like Edington and Jennifer Pitts believe in the idea of positive organizational health more than short-term wellness programmes. According to them, optimal success can be achieved through shared values and goals within the organization. Wellness must be a continuous process and should be embedded in the organization’s ethics and culture.
Happy employees are the ones who believe that they are working for organizations who are making the world a better, more sustainable place, an agenda which motivates them much more than just working for a profitable company. An organization which has its heart in place will always win with the employees as well, who will walk the extra mile for you.
Busting the ROI Buzz
According to sources, workplace wellness has become a $43.3 billion industry today. Many executives and managers approach employee engagement and wellness programmes with a profit-driven mentality. The buzz surrounding ROI and profit-per-employee seems to have taken over the real purpose of ensuring their well-being.
How far can you go by altering your employees’ diet plan?
From fitness centres to elaborate diet plans, companies are encouraging employees to choose the healthy way. Weekly culinary workshops and 12-week weight loss programmes all sound very good.
However, the general idea that obese employees cost more to the business is not politically correct. It generates further stress in the workplace where people often feel put down about their weight, leading towards increased negative attitude.
Making somebody switch to olive oil and oat-cookies to curb absenteeism is impolite. Companies should instead help colleagues find personal goals behind choosing healthy lifestyles.
Why build your team’s spirit only at an Offsite?
Teams around the world spend months planning off-sites but often fail to achieve desired success. Why is it that many corporate off-sites are mostly forgotten, and team solidarity vanishes once you return to work? This is because an off-site is not the only occasion to build a team’s spirit.
Team building must be part of the everyday interaction and stream from the management. Interviews and personal conversations have revealed that many employees hate going to off sites with their colleagues because they do not find it enjoyable.
Such responses come from people who frequently deal with workplace conflicts and negative group dynamics. Therefore, an off-site can do little to build a team when the members already feel alienated. This is where the ‘holistic’ approach comes in. One needs to take a step back and think about making the office a more positive space.
There are many inexpensive ways to boost your employees’ well-being.
It starts with Good Leadership
A report in Psychology today mentions that impact of ‘good’ leadership on employee well-being is potentially staggering. Good leaders are good listeners; they are perceptive and aware of subtle nuances underlying their employees’ behavior. They are open communicators, approachable and available when needed and genuinely concerned about their employees’ well-being.
Ensuring there are no disengaged employees
Another worrying factor is the universal prevalence of disengaged employees. A study by Dale Carnegie Training placed the number of ‘fully engaged’ employees at 29%, and ‘disengaged’ employees at 26% five years back which means nearly three-quarters of employees are not fully engaged or productive. Again, the number one factor the study cited influencing disengagement was ‘relationship with immediate supervisor.’ Employees should be able to trust their supervisor and one another, enough to be able to communicate and perform better and not feel disengaged.
How well do you understand the essence of a Reward?
While most companies have strategic reward systems, one needs to be clear about the reasons they are rewarding the employee. Rewards and recognition usually emphasize on specific goals that are compensated through monetary gains. Many organizations recognize only those employees who have put in ‘extra’ time and effort. The challenge is that leaders do not try to see the personal compromises that were made for the extra working hours.
On the other hand, very few reward systems recognize individual behaviors that live up to the organization's core values and ethics. Considering that most rewards are monetary and dictated by profit margins, it is not difficult to understand why.
‘Why should I sleep? Someone else is getting ahead of me!’
Possibly the silliest thing one has ever heard. If one thinks logically, everybody is a step ahead of you some way or the other. Then should one sacrifice a necessary eight hours of sleep over a ‘possible’ someone who perhaps lives in a different time zone?  
Unfortunately, most prominent corporations promote the notion. There is an underlying sentiment that one get ahead only if they sacrifice personal health and well-being. This is a vicious circle, the more the leaders step on the personal well-being of employees, the more unproductive and disengaged your workforce becomes.
People are people, not pegs for holes!
“That was a widespread feeling in the world of work from some senior-level people: Treating people like a peg you put into a hole to get things done,” Says Dee Edington.
It is saddening to see that a lot of employees also comply, and begrudgingly work for such companies sacrificing their health and overall productivity.
Lack of Employee Recognition
study examining employee engagement trends in the financial services industry by TINYpulse, an employee survey firm, also focused on recognition-related results which were dismally low. According to the survey, only 20% of employees feel strongly valued at work. Eighty percent felt ‘poorly to moderately valued.’ If people don’t feel appreciated at work, they will not be happy at work either, or motivated, or productive. It affects everyone’s well-being and reflects on the company’s results.
Micromanaging Employees relates to declining retention
The same study by TINYpulse quoted in Psychology Today mentioned a high cost of micromanagement finding a strong connect between employee job satisfaction and ‘freedom to make decisions about how to do their jobs.’
Employees ‘whose hands are regularly tied are 28% more likely to think about greener pastures elsewhere.’ When management is persistently over-involved in unproductive ways, it can quickly become a retention issue.
All in all, the workplace doesn’t have to be a place where you have to keep getting ahead by toppling the other, getting stewed over deadlines, or losing sleep over a midnight mail from the boss. It’s high time that the companies step up to nurture competence and encourage healthy competition. The personality of a brand represents the people behind it.
There is a delicate balance between happy and healthy employees and overall job performance. It is possible to create a win-win situation through socially responsible, budget-friendly policies and programs that improve employee wellness as well as drive the economic value of the company. It just requires a paradigm shift in the mindsets of today’s corporate leaders.
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She heads a Delhi based niche consultancy firm, Alchemy Corporate Communications, specializing in brand communication.

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