By Josh Lambert
You only need to walk into the headquarters of any number of Australian companies – or observe the shifts in workplace design and “activity-based” or “agile” working – to see that wellness in the modern office has grown from being a nice-to-have concept, to a major strategic focus for Australian and global organisations. Whilst health and wellbeing initiatives are not a new idea in the workplace (health checks, flu vaccinations, and health seminars are still a common fixture in many company calendars), organisations are now embracing wellness as a cultural and competitive point-of-difference for their employees and customers.
As a result, there is now an increasing body of research and evidence to highlight the benefit of wellness programmes on workplace culture, productivity and engagement. In particular, an influential 2016 global study by Xerox’s HR Consultants titled Working Well (2016), assessed trends in the workplace wellness strategies and practices of over 1,000 employers from 37 countries, and over 8 million employees globally.
The huge sample size from the research, and the strong wellness patterns identified mean that this is ground-breaking wellness information – so we have summarised the key results from the report below, and picked out the common themes from the organisations studied.
Why are companies choosing wellness?
From the 1,000 companies surveyed, the main reasons they chose to implement workplace wellness programmes were ranked as follows:
- Improving Performance & Productivity (59%)
- Improving Employee Engagement & Morale (56%)
- Attracting & Retaining Employees (54%)
- Improving Workplace Safety (49%)
- Reducing Healthcare & Insurance Costs (45%)
Reducing costs of healthcare and insurance was ranked higher in countries such as the US where the burden of health insurance is a high focus for employers. Nevertheless, the global results are highlighting the key strategic focus on wellness, and the value realised from healthy and engaged employees.
One of the most important points to note from these responses is that companies have moved beyond simply focusing on the health of employees (and the safety and cost issues), and are prioritising the idea that wellness extends to physical health, mental and emotional wellbeing, and financial wellbeing – all of which have an impact on productivity and performance.
What wellness initiatives?
Given the huge range of health initiatives seen globally, and different cultural considerations, we will focus on what our local organisations in Australia have implemented as part of their wellness programmes. Of these employers, the most common initiatives established to improve wellness were as follows:
- Employee Assistance Programmes
- HR Policies (flexi schedules, breaks)
- Flu Vaccinations & Immunisations
- Regular Health Communications
- Workplace Health Challenges
More specifically, the most common health issues that drove wellness strategy and the initiative themes were ranked in order of stress, exercise, nutrition, workplace safety, and work/life issues.
This is consistent with the common workplace focus of most Australian organisations which ranked in the same order – and the addition of sleep was seen as a key factor that linked to the health education and initiatives used in their organisation.
Wellness and culture?
The aspiration to create a strong culture of wellbeing was shown to be very strong, and increasing globally. While of the companies surveyed, just 33% report having a strong culture of wellbeing currently, 83% aspire to achieve a strong culture of wellbeing in the future. The key elements in an organisation to drive wellbeing culture were identified as:
- top-down leadership support of wellbeing
- establishing appropriate environment and infrastructure
- strong health promotion and communication channels.
A major factor behind improving the wellness culture of organisations was identified as the communications and health promotion strategy, that sat behind the wellness programmes to improve participation in such initiatives.
What barriers exist?
The top barriers highlighted by those multinational organisations without a global strategy for health and wellbeing were differing cultures, laws, and practices – as well as the lack of global oversight for health or financial strategy. With employee barriers to wellbeing, the top challenge was noted as insufficient time to anticipate and change health habits, and difficulty in finding personal motivation.
The data also recognised that many of the above barriers could be eliminated – and engagement of employees in wellbeing activities improved – with a strong cultural wellbeing theme, and the use of varied communication channels to promote wellbeing.
What is the benefit for companies?
Measurement was also limited across the surveyed group – with only 36% confirming that they have measured outcomes from wellness programmes, such as employee absenteeism, engagement and health metrics.
However, of the companies that measured outcomes from their wellness initiatives – 75% reported medium or high impact on employee wellbeing, ability to attract employees, employee productivity and morale.
The key points to note from the research highlight that workplaces are acknowledging the increasing challenge in the workplace of excessive stress, mental health issues, lack of morale, and lack of engagement – and particularly that employers recognise their social responsibility to provide healthy workplaces. The workplace is a key setting to fight chronic disease, but also improve the overall wellbeing and productivity of people, and the value of investing in employee health is growing exponentially.
The study has shown that wellness has become a business imperative for many organisations – and necessary to help reduce barriers to employee productivity, attraction and retention. The data also highlights that for many of the companies analysed, supporting individuals’ wellbeing is seen as a means to achieve superior organizational performance.
Josh Lambert is a Director of Pinnacle Health Group, who specialise in on-site Wellness Centres, Wellness Consulting and Wellness Programmes for Australia’s leading companies.
Reference: All data taken from the global survey WORKING WELL: A Global Survey of Health Promotion, Workplace Wellness and Productivity Strategies (2016) Survey Report, Seventh Edition — October 2016. Xerox & Buck Consulting.