Workplace Health and Wellness: The Profits of Prevention and Impact on Employee Engagement

workplace health and wellness

There’s a ton of research out there singing the cost/benefit praises of workplace health and wellness programs. Stats point to links between recruitment and retention, absenteeism, presenteeism, productivity and how it pays to keep healthy people healthy. Estimates suggest a $2 to $4 return on investment (ROI) for every dollar spent in workplace health and wellness. You could go on for days looking at business case bravado. There’s no lack of information. And demand is certainly there; employees want it.

What are employees saying?

The physical part of the wellness equation is really a cost measure; it really is the organization investing in people to keep them healthy so they can be more productive. It sounds mercantile, but ultimately that’s what the business case says. Anonymous comments collected by Talentmap point to the emotional ROI in terms of how people feel about workplace health and wellness programs.

“I think the introduction of 2 personal days and the wellness account are wonderful additions to the benefits of working here. It makes me feel appreciated.”

Counter views imply health and wellness programs should be part of a greater people strategy; other things need to be managed as well.

Sometimes the messages we get about wellness seem contradictory. While they ‘say’ they want us to be healthy and well (which the programs do evidence), sometimes it’s hard to find the time during the day to act on wellness initiatives and not worry about missing deadlines or meetings with business partners.”

The reality behind employee engagement and wellness program links

The key question is whether gains in employee engagement can be tied to wellness programs (maybe) –  this is what you’re going to hear from plenty of vendors. But does research really bear that out?

TalentMap employee engagement survey studies find, yes, employees are more engaged – there is a link there – BUT they’re also rating work environment and non-cash rewards/perks more highly. Intuitively, wellness programs show employees their organization “cares.” But, employees are not necessarily more truly “engaged” solely due to wellness programs.  In other words – expected improvements in employee engagement do not materialize with the introduction of wellness programs. It’s much more complex than that.

Professional growth and development drives engagement. Organizational vision drives engagement. Leadership drives engagement. Innovation drives engagement. But dimensions that include a wellness program, the work environment, safety, work-life balance – those do not tend to be drivers of engagement. They tend to be taken for granted as nice to haves.  As such, the jury is still out regarding wellness programs alone directly improving employee engagement.

That said, wellness IS the right thing to do. Just don’t expect the employee engagement payoff. Expect showing you “care” is never a bad thing in the employee engagement context. And know not all people practices will necessarily improve employee engagement, however, improving health and wellness is positive: healthy employees are happier and more productive.

How to get started?  Follow these five steps:

  1. Obtain commitment from senior management
  2. Form a health and wellness committee
  3. Determine the status of the situation; collect appropriate data and about your organization and do a diagnosis
  4. Prepare and implement your plan with a focus on four spheres of intervention.
  • Work environment: adequate computer equipment, workloads, facilities for workers (showers, kitchen appliances, stand-up desks)
  • Work/life balance: flexible work schedules, remote work, leave for family obligations
  • Management practices: internal communications, team activities, onboarding
  • Lifestyle: promotion of physical activity and healthy diet, a gym culture (walking meetings for instance).
  • Measure – measure – measure! Include a question or two specific to your wellness program in your employee engagement surveys. Evaluate the program implemented and make changes as needed.

Remember, while one of the anecdotes around work-life balance is implementation of wellness programs, often little if anything is done in the workplace to address cultural issues, the root causes of why people are stressing in the first place.  Root out those causes. Tend to your workplace health and wellness programs around those concerns, as a concerned and engaged organization, and reap the rewards of employee engagement as that nurturing people connection continues to flourish and grow.

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