Employee Wellness Programs
**This blog was originally published in HR TechOutlook Magazine, March 2017**
The hard truth is that the typical worker is overwhelmed and rounding closely on the edge of burnout. We also known that productivity, the average output of work per hour by an employee, is stalling. To top this off just 13 percent of employees worldwide report that they are engaged, while 24 percent report being actively disengaged, and “employee engagement has barely budged in well over a decade” according to Gallup.
What is going on? What can be done? Perhaps the answer is found within.
Wellness and employee care must become a top of mind issue. A focus on personal wellness is not just a feel good HR issue, this is a business issue. This may well even be a crisis. But, instilling a culture of health and employee caring is no easy task. Rethinking the way we measure value and align wellness to organizational culture and business priorities is critical.
Wellness programs have often been an after-thought. They have not been viewed as strategic imperatives and historically have been plagued with issues of under-utilization and limited return. At times they have even had the unintentional effect of creating mistrust within organizations, especially those tackling issues like weight loss and kicking smoking habits. The fact is that times are changing and so are the ways in which organizations can, do and should commit to employees wellness in terms of employee care. We will see a sharp focus return here, and Bersins 2017 prediction report places the topic of human performance and wellness at number 5 in their list of the top 11 predictions we will see affecting HR and talent in 2017.
Wellness has ebbed and flowed as a key topic in HR for years and value was often sold by showing hard dollar returns on lower healthcare costs. Certainly this goal remains critical but there are more pieces to the puzzle to help measure the success of a well-executed and thoughtful wellness program. From the impact on engagement, employer brand and loyalty, harmony and happiness, productive and potential, there are so many value levers. As HR professionals we know that the pathway to success in adoption and utilization of these programs can be found in integrating wellness into our overall people strategies, and more critically to tie the ‘intangible and squishy’, solidly to business results.
Employee wellness should take into account the entire employee experience not just the physical and mental but also the social, financial and community factors. This is how we demonstrate employee care.
An effective work-life balance is the best prevention that employers can offer its employees in terms of health and wellness. A demanding job and a fulfilling private life are by no means a contradiction in terms. Companies who get this right put an emphasis on helping employees find a balance, so pressure, speed, or exhausting routines do not begin to endanger our health. With the right life management, employees can strengthen not only their resources, but also defend themselves against the stress that creeps into our lives. The key to success is integrating multiple approaches for employees to balance work with their personal lives. Companies who lead in this effort ensure that a clear philosophy is applied through flexible working, time off, generous health and wellness programs, employee on-site and other services, and sustainable work environments.
We are seeing a clear shift over time to a much more comprehensive list of options and experiences that can meet the employee across all the factors of wellness. Here are just a few ways companies can meet the growing demand for high quality and relevant wellness interventions, it is often about innovating on existing concepts.
Flexible working hours gives employees the benefit of flexible working hours, which means arranging their working time around personal circumstances. Well-implemented flexible work guidelines can lead to increased employee commitment, engagement, productivity, and therefore profitability. Within my organization we ensure our employees can achieve a work-life integration that enables them to perform at their best. We have also seen benefits to flex working show up in our ability to attract and retain talent, support the success of global teams, and strengthen employee and manager trust.
Social Good Opportunities give employees the opportunity to find meaning and balance by doing work they love and for a much greater good. One example at SAP, there is “social sabbatical” a unique, four-week assignment for key talents who work in highly diverse, international teams to solve business challenges for the entrepreneurial sector in emerging markets, while strengthening their leadership competencies, cross industry sector know-how and intercultural sensitivity.
Maternity and paternity benefits that go above and beyond the standard to take care of employees who are raising a family. Many employers are supporting employees with a paid leave benefit, but additional employee care can be found in expanding benefits to provide unique and needed support in the areas of adoption assistance, return to work transition programs, and support for fertility treatments to name a few.
Employee Focused Health and Wellness Programs to meet the challenges of today’s employee. Beyond group health, dental benefits plans, and vision care benefits, employers can up level and add more specific options. For example, we know that unfortunately many of us will be affected by cancer at some point in our lives. At SAP employees who have been diagnosed with a solid tumor cancer can access a special oncology program that provides access to innovative testing and information that translates the language of genes into actionable data. This information is helping physicians make better, safer cancer treatment decisions. Another example can be found in companies, like SAP, who are now offering transgender benefits that cover gender reassignment surgery. These benefits also include employee access to medically necessary, gender-confirming health care. SAP provides services such as behavioral health and counseling, non-surgical gender affirmation treatment, and surgical gender conforming treatment.
Financial wellness is continuing to get tractions, we know that financial stress can have a negative effect on peoples’ attitudes and health. Instituting events that can increase education and awards such as a Financial Wellness Weeks where organizations can promote sound financial well-being, highlight the available tools, services and educational resources to nourish financial wellness can be quick wins to create a more compelling and holistic approach to employee care and wellbeing. Other examples here include a growing number of organizations offer support for student loan repayment, this is especially popular as a benefit for recruiting talent.
Mindfulness programs to help employees stay focused on the essentials even when they’re stressed. By supporting employees in their emotional intelligence organizations are building healthy mental habits for sustained high performance and wellbeing. Companies are using scientific evidence and mindfulness training from programs like Search Inside Yourself that build the core emotional intelligence skills needed for effective leadership. At SAP our program focuses on five key areas of emotional intelligence: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and leadership skills
Personal Development is a rising focus area, supporting employees in the development of their skills will improve performance and support sense of purpose. Many organizations have tuition reimbursement programs today, but may not be seeing this as an opportunity for wellness. By creating tuition programs that are more broad and flexible than traditional approaches we can help employees with the financial burden of continuing professional development when education needs go beyond the formal and informal learning and development courses. Supporting employees in their personal development goals inside and outside the walls of the office.
The opportunity to harness employee wellness as a competitive advantage is within reach. There are so many options today that can go into a compelling wellness program, and it’s important to remember:
think quality not quantity to deliver with excellent, the things that matter to the employee so you can secure adoption and gain credibility
think broadly , outside of the box thinking about the multiple factors of wellness will provide a strong base to embed wellness throughout the organization and across HR priorities
think innovatively, focus on bringing offerings that matter to today’s workforce, and use technology to help them see the impact of their participation, while also supporting your business case for wellness.
Bianca E. McCann, MHRIR