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Prioritizing Employee Wellness

How to foster employee health and well-being at work.

Key points

  • Employee wellness and productivity are integrated.
  • Acknowledging this relationship, organizations often invest in workplace wellness programs.
  • The effectiveness of employer-sponsored wellness initiatives depends on a number of factors, including participation and leadership support.

This post is co-written by Marley Leslie and Dr. Duygu Biricik Gulseren.

Leslie graduated from York University. She is currently working as an Office Support Clerk in a Human Resources and Executive Office. Her research interests are employee health and well-being.

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that health and well-being should be at the forefront of our personal and working lives. Researchers define well-being as a positive state in life where an individual experiences physical, mental, and social zeal (Roscoe, 2009). This definition includes not only the absence of illness but also a positive state in work and life. As researchers working on employee health and wellness, we advocate that wellness is a necessity in life, not a luxury.

 Antoni Shkraba/Pexels
Many employees invest in organizational wellness initiatives.
Source: Antoni Shkraba/Pexels

Wellness may seem like an individual concern at first glance; however, researchers argue for the connection between well-being and work outcomes. Poor well-being affects individuals at work, resulting in lower productivity, more time off from work, and making more errors than normal in the workplace. It can also show itself in the form of having employees quit their jobs or needing to leave work because of poor mental health (Montano et al., 2017; Wright & Cropanzano, 2000). Moreover, it can cost employees to have poor relationships with colleagues and superiors, experience work-family conflict, and not have enough resources or support to achieve work-related expectations.

Recognizing the importance of well-being, many organizations invest in organizational wellness programs such as stress management and lifestyle programs. Common wellness programs offered by organizations include exercise and nutrition classes (Parks & Steelman, 2008), vaccination clinics (e.g., Verelst et al., 2021), health screenings (e.g., Haughtigan et al., 2021), and chronic disease and stress management support (e.g., Holman et al., 2018). These programs can be viewed in two broad categories: stress management programs and lifestyle programs (Kelloway et al., 2021).

Stress management programs strive to educate employees about the damages of stress and teach them coping strategies and self-care. A few examples of such programs are workplace yoga sessions, mindfulness-based interventions, and wellness retreats. Lifestyle programs reach many employees by educating workers on healthy living. These initiatives aim to change the behaviours of the employee to live healthier and more adaptive lifestyles. Examples of these programs include workplace fitness and nutrition classes.

Research findings on the effectiveness of stress management and lifestyle programming offered by employers are mixed. While research that collectively analyzes past studies on this topic finds that employer-sponsored wellness initiatives add value to employees and employers (e.g., Estevez Cores et al., 2021; Kocakulah et al., 2013), some individual studies show the opposite (e.g., Song & Baicker, 2021). When contradictory findings exist, as researchers, we usually ask what facilitates positive outcomes (vs. what hinders them). Studies that examine the barriers and facilitators usually see that participation, motivation, and support from senior leadership can make or break organizational wellness initiatives (e.g., Kocakulah et al., 2013; Passey et al., 2018). Additionally, programs that are not built on scientific evidence and theory are more likely to fail (Burgess et al., 2020).

How do you enhance employee well-being?

Here are four recommendations for organizations looking to enhance the well-being of their employees.

1. Align your wellness initiatives with the overall health and well-being strategy of your organization

Wellness initiatives are not miracle solutions on their own. However, they can add value to your organization when workplace wellness is approached holistically: they can minimize stress, and increase employee awareness of and improvement in health and wellness. Prioritizing employee well-being can create the medium for wellness initiatives to be effective; merely adding it to the list will not suffice.

2. Help employees use wellness programs

Merely offering wellness programs in the workplace is not enough to see positive results. To see the desired results, employees also need motivation and bandwidth to participate in those programs. Organizations should encourage their employees to participate, yes, but they must also manage work and scheduling demands so that employees can make use of those programs. Ensuring that the programs align with the needs of the employees and their desire to change is crucial.

3. Educate leaders about the importance of workplace wellness

Leaders are key resources in organizations and their commitment to health and wellness can influence the effectiveness of organizations’ wellness investments. Leaders should understand why these programs are being implemented and how they can benefit all those who are involved. Leaders need to know why well-being in the workplace is beneficial, and necessary, for their organization and those who work in it, to thrive.

4. Offer multiple wellness initiatives because there is no one-size-fits-all

Well-being is subjective to the individual, and each person will benefit from a different type of program. Organizations could offer multiple programs to their employees, such as yoga, team stretching throughout the day, nutrition classes after hours, discounts to gym facilities, and fitness classes on-site, if applicable. Offering paid mental health days in addition to sick days could also be beneficial for those employees who need them. This way, employees can choose what benefits them the most.

Ensuring that leaders of an organization are aware of the different requirements of implementing an effective wellness program that will benefit the largest number of employees is crucial. Well-being at work and at home has shown its importance time and time again. If you strive to have happy and healthy employees that feel a commitment to their job and your organization, wellness programs are a powerful resource.

References

1. Burgess, M. G., Brough, P., Biggs, A., & Hawkes, A. J. (2020). Why interventions fail: A systematic review of occupational health psychology interventions. International Journal of Stress Management, 27(2), 195–207.

2. Estevez Cores, S., Sayed, A. A., Tracy, D. K., & Kempton, M. J. (2021). Individual-focused occupational health interventions: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 26(3), 189–203.

3. Haughtigan, K. S., Link, K. A., Sturgeon, L. P., Garrett-Wright, D., Lartey, G. K., & Jones, M. S. (2021). Beyond Biometrics: Including Mental Health Screenings in Annual Wellness Programs. Journal of Psychosocial Nursing and Mental Health Services, 59(10), 19-25.

4. Montano, D., Reeske, A., Franke, F., & Hüffmeier, J. (2017). Leadership, followers' mental health and job performance in organizations: A comprehensive meta‐analysis from an occupational health perspective. Journal of organizational behavior, 38(3), 327-350.

5. Parks, K. M., & Steelman, L. A. (2008). Organizational wellness programs: A meta-analysis. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 13(1), 58–68.

6. Passey, D. G., Brown, M. C., Hammerback, K., Harris, J. R., & Hannon, P. A. (2018). Managers’ support for employee wellness programs: An integrative review. American Journal of Health Promotion, 32(8), 1789-1799.

7. Roscoe, L. J. (2009). Wellness: A review of theory and measurement for counselors. Journal of Counseling & Development, 87(2), 216-226.

8. Song, Z., & Baicker, K. (2021). Health And Economic Outcomes Up To Three Years After A Workplace Wellness Program: A Randomized Controlled Trial: Study examines the health and economic outcomes of a workplace wellness program. Health Affairs, 40(6), 951-960.

9. Verelst, F., Beutels, P., Hens, N., & Willem, L. (2021). Workplace influenza vaccination to reduce employee absenteeism: An economic analysis from the employers’ perspective. Vaccine, 39(14), 2005-2015.

10. Wright, T. A., & Cropanzano, R. (2000). Psychological well-being and job satisfaction as predictors of job performance. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 5, 84–94.

11. Holman, D., Johnson, S., & O'Connor, E. (2018). Stress management interventions: Improving subjective psychological well-being in the workplace. In E. Diener, S. Oishi, & L. Tay (Eds), E-handbook of well-being. NobaScholar.

12. Kelloway, E. K., Francis, L., & Gatien, B. (2021). Management of occupational health and safety. Nelson.

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