Workplace wellness is no longer a luxury – here’s how to see to it

| March 24, 2020
Smiling executive talking on mobile phone

For many years, business leaders around the world have debated the relative merits of promoting employee wellness as a core business strategy. Some argued that the benefit packages needed to support such efforts were too expensive, and that employee participation rates in available programmes were too low. Others insisted that workplace wellness strategies require wholesale culture changes to be effective and that getting employee buy-in will happen in due course.

Now, as the worldwide coronavirus pandemic takes hold, and with those with preexisting health conditions turning out to be at the highest risk – the value of workplace wellness programmes may be about to become obvious.

For Australian business leaders, the time is now to plan for implementation or an expansion of a workplace wellness strategy once the current crisis passes. It’s good for employees, their families, and of course, the bottom line. Here are some best practices to help make their initiatives a success.

Create benefits, not perks

The first thing to keep in mind when developing a workplace wellness strategy is that the components should be offered as defined benefits. Doing this formalizes the wellness program and puts it on par with things like private health cover, extra superannuation contributions, and other valuable salary add-ons.

Believe it or not, that will condition employees to see wellness as an essential part of their compensation – and they’ll be more likely to take advantage of the programme’s features as a result.

Make wellness a daily priority

To make sure that all employees get the message that the business is serious about their health and well-being, it’s best to provide daily reminders to reinforce the point. That means setting aside time in each workday for employees to engage in wellness activities. That can come in the form of regular on-site health screenings for those that want them, or time set aside for each employee to take a brisk walk.

Larger organisations can opt to schedule on-site availability for a wellness coach or personal trainer. The Australian TAFE system has placed a renewed emphasis on providing support for new providers in those fields in recent years, so there are plenty of options for businesses to choose from. What matters most is to make it plain to employees that the business is willing to invest paid employee time into wellness – and then they’ll likely be willing to invest their own time into the process as well.

Rely on data for insight

One of the most common issues that businesses encounter in making employee wellness programmes successful is a lack of visibility into what’s working and what isn’t. Part of that is due to poor data collection practices and employee privacy hurdles that make gaining an accurate picture of results hard to accomplish.

Still, data analytics are arguably the most important part of a high-performance employee wellness initiative, so they cannot be ignored. For that reason, it’s critical for any business looking to create a successful programme to make sufficient investments into a data infrastructure to support it. For companies with existing business data analytics operations, expanding them to meet the need should pose no problem. For those without such operations, it’s often easiest to partner with outside data firms with experience tracking health and wellness data.

Iterate and adapt

No matter the size, scope, and composition of a business’s employee wellness plans, there’s one thing that they all share. It’s that there’s always room for improvement. Many businesses make the mistake of rolling out employee wellness initiatives and then sitting back and waiting for positive results to happen on their own. Instead, they should view their strategy as an ever-evolving effort to meet the wellness needs of their workforce. As new employees sign on, their needs may be different from existing workers, and wellness plans and offerings must be updated accordingly.

The pace and type of changes that become necessary will vary from business to business, and there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Businesses with high employee turnover, for example, might require near-constant fine-tuning of their wellness programmes. The same goes for businesses with older workforces, who may have to modify offerings to meet the needs of employees as they age. In every case, however, making sure to keep pace with the wellness needs of all employees is an essential ingredient for lasting success.

Health is an asset

Most of all, it’s critical for Australian businesses to realize that the health and wellbeing of their employees is an asset like no other. Without it, achieving all other major business goals becomes impossible. And if today’s health crisis seems to be proving anything, it’s that the old adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure may be even more accurate than anyone realized. For that reason, taking steps to ensure employee wellness should no longer be seen as a luxury, but a business imperative – and one whose completion is long overdue.