Why your workplace wellness programme is failing

Bringing in health gurus into your workplace is a nice thing to do. You feel like you’re playing your part making these services accessible to your employees, but how do you know if it’s working?

Many organisations are initiating wellness programmes to reduce healthcare costs and retain talent, but few are delivering results. Do they even know whether it’s having any benefits at all?

Employers who reach out to me often complain that participation rates are low, health costs keep rising and productivity levels continue to drop.

Wellness programmes make good sense when you consider that 75% of healthcare costs are spent on chronic conditions that can be managed or even reversed by lifestyle changes. Employees should be less costly, more engaged and collaborative, contributing to a healthy workforce and an even healthier business.

So why are so many workplace wellness programmes struggling?

From my experience there are several key problems that arise when your approach to wellness programmes are generic. Each wellness program must be designed strategically and collaboratively and most importantly, results must be measured.

Here are some of the top reason’s wellness and well-being programmes are failing to meet business objectives.

Taking a one size fits all approach

Common entry level approaches include implementing physical (exercise and nutrition) and mental well-being initiatives; cooking demos, healthy eating seminars, fitness classes, discounted memberships and mindfulness sessions. While this is a great start and ticks the proverbial box, participation rates tend to be low.

The Aviva Health Index (2013) identified that employees are interested in learning more about what they can do to improve their health. While distributing Fitbits might say we care a combined approach of seminars, discounts, onsite therapists and toolkits may be better received.

Relying on technology alone

Technology is fast becoming the new wellness approach with may apps and platforms including gamification and leader boards. This is great in theory however the problem many businesses have  is lack of engagement, why?

Daniel McCaffrey, a behavioural scientist says that “Research suggests that technology-based wellness programmes can help convert the employees in the getting-ready stage of behaviour change into the preparation stage, but they won’t help those in the not-ready phase. In addition, they also don’t usually inspire participation among those who are already active and motivated to exercise regularly.”

This is but another reason why a good wellness programme needs to include many services and events. All the while ensuring there is something for everyone no matter where you are on your health and wellness journey.

Struggling to promote a culture of wellness

Traditionally, HR is seen as the champion behind health and wellness at work but to achieve a culture of health business leaders across the organisation need to support culture-wide well-being. According to OPTUM 6th Annual Workplace Study, only 32% of employers report that health and wellness is “very important” to their business strategy.

When health and wellness isn’t embraced by leaders they will never achieve their full outcome potential. Businesses must engage more areas of the organisation to make health and wellness programmes work effectively, connecting outcomes back to business goals and including it in the overall business strategy.

This can be done in many ways, through marrying your wellness strategy with your overall business goals and by including employees in the development of the programme. A simple way of doing so might be setting up a Wellness Committee.

Not measuring the outcome

One of businesses most valuable assets are their employees. Yet many businesses do not ask for their input when creating their wellness initiatives.

Many surveys are designed to ask how many fruit and veg you eat and how often you exercise in order to understand what they feel the employee “needs.” However, this may not necessarily be what the employee “wants”. These surveys can be limiting, and many wellness providers can take a biased approach asking questions that only their services can answer.

I recommend taking surveying one step further. Embed it into the business goals and ask employees what they “want” as opposed to assuming what they need. Secondly, it’s important to survey both during and post-delivery. Only then can you fully understand whether your programme has been successful.

Return on investment was popular over the last years. Naturally businesses want to understand whether they have saved costs on absenteeism and sick pay. More recently, businesses are starting to look at measuring return on value asking whether they have:

  • Improved engagement scores
  • Decreased attrition rates
  • Increased productivity

Generic is boring, and it won’t work in the long run. Employees won’t engage in a wellness programme that mimics another business, especially if their culture is different to yours.

Step away from the generic programmes that are rolled out in hundreds of businesses and focus on developing one that works for your employees and of course, your business. The best way to understand this is to measure it, ask your employees and involve them.

Elysia Hegarty is a Workplace Wellness Consultant with the Future of Work Institute, a Cpl company. She offers support to businesses in understanding, designing, implementing and measuring their wellness programme as well as embedding it in their culture.

For a confidential conversation please email elysia.hegarty@cpl.ie to understand how an effective workplace wellness programme can benefit both your business and employees.