Wellbeing in the Workplace: Strategies that Work

Callie RushtonEmployee Engagement, LeadershipLeave a Comment

This is the first of two blogs that examines how employee wellbeing initiatives have become a key business strategy for organizations. Then, we discuss a critical step that is often skipped in the process of designing a robust wellbeing strategy.

Employee wellness isn’t a new topic. For decades, employers have understood that having healthy people on payroll is good for the bottom line, as it means reduced absenteeism, fewer safety incidents, and lower insurance costs. They have also known that having competitive benefits—like great healthcare and paid sick leave—are essential offerings if they hope to attract and retain the best talent.

However, the focus has begun to shift from wellness to wellbeing—the difference being that wellness looks solely at physical health, while wellbeing takes a more inclusive view of someone’s overall quality of life. In other words, physical wellness is just one part of wellbeing, which also includes a person’s emotional health, social relationships, intellectual stimulation, and spiritual fulfillment.  

With this shift, organizations have been trying out new programs that go beyond promoting exercise and healthy eating. They are beginning to understand that they can—and should—play an important role in maximizing overall wellbeing. The goal is to help employees perform well in their roles, not just avoid absences.

By providing a comprehensive package of perks, services, and opportunities that support all dimensions of wellbeing, they can demonstrate to employees that they truly care about them as people—leading them to be more committed and productive at work. They can also use their wellbeing initiatives as selling points when recruiting new employees, particularly younger ones who have come to expect more from their workplaces and reject the notion that going there is just a means to an end. 

In short, caring about employee wellbeing is good business strategy.

So how do you go about creating an excellent wellbeing program for your employees? You’ll need to begin with listening. In addition to being multifaceted and dynamic, a good wellbeing strategy must take into account what your people actually want.

Many “progressive” companies (think: Silicon Valley tech start-ups) have added game rooms, built basketball courts, and offered free meals, all in an effort to improve employee wellbeing and productivity. But are these things aligned with genuine employee needs? Are they making a difference in improving people’s overall wellbeing?

They might, but you certainly won’t know for sure unless you ask people. So before you get excited about designing and implementing a new wellbeing program, take the time to determine which areas of wellbeing your employees are most interested in based on their goals and challenges. Find out which dimensions of wellness your employees need the most help with, and leverage the ones they feel best about.

For instance, you might assume that building a “relaxation room” where people can practice meditation or take a nap will put everyone’s mental health at ease, as these topics seem to be trending everywhere you turn. But after talking to people, you might find that emotional wellbeing isn’t top of mind for most of them, and they’d rather have more opportunities to interact with each other socially and develop meaningful work relationships.

Utilizing a quick survey focused around the topic of wellbeing gives your employees a voice in the design process and makes their desires and preferences known from the outset. Seeing as they will be the primary beneficiaries of the final program that is implemented, you’ll save a lot of time, money, and effort by taking the time to learn what really matters to them.

Once you’ve gathered feedback and discerned some common concerns and interests employees share, you can begin devising a plan to meet them. However, be sure to recognize that each individual is on their own personal wellbeing journey, and so a one-size-fits-all approach will likely fail. Giving employees the flexibility to choose which aspects of the wellbeing program they would like to take advantage of is the best bet for ensuring everyone’s unique needs are met. In the next blog, we’ll dive deeper into specific strategies for addressing each of the five aspects of wellbeing.

As you consider various options you may like to incorporate into your organization’s wellbeing program, remember this: supporting employee wellbeing isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s good for you too. Using insights from your employees to design your organization’s own holistic wellbeing program will benefit your bottom line by bolstering productivity, teamwork, and ultimately, engagement.

Read Part Two of this blog for specific strategies that address the five dimensions of wellbeing we consider at Newmeasures.