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Health and Wellness as a Boardroom Strategy

How to implement a corporate health and wellness program in five easy steps.
As corporations aim to attract the next generation of employees, retain their veterans, and fend off competition, they are finding the need to focus on employee quality of life and happiness. Gone are the days when an extra $10,000 in salary or an extra week of vacation were enough to attract a new employee or placate a restless workforce. Attracting today’s top talent — or keeping your current workforce productive and engaged — requires companies to think beyond the traditional pay and benefits package. It requires investments in programs that promote employee engagement and satisfaction. And one of the most popular areas is health and wellness. Health and wellness programs offer numerous benefits to both the employer and employee. For the employee, they help build a foundation of healthy behaviors that can become more permanent lifestyle changes. They reduce elevated health risks that lead to severe issues like cardiovascular disease and stroke. And they improve the overall happiness and welfare of employees. For the employer, a healthy workforce means higher productivity, lower health costs, and higher return on investment per employee. Recent research from Population Health Management found that workers with unhealthy lifestyle habits are up to 66 percent more likely to exhibit high presenteeism, when mental and physical conditions prevent full productivity while at work. Additionally, according to a recent Optum study, health and wellness programs also lead to higher retention, even if employees don’t use them. But what constitutes a successful health and wellness program, and how do you implement one in your company? Typical wellness programs address lifestyle changes and disease management and prevention. Unfortunately, many of the programs focus only on diet and exercise and exclude other critical dimensions beyond the physical, like emotional and social well-being.

A successful health and wellness program must include components that support all the dimensions of health and wellness if it’s to create sustainable, healthy habits that ultimately help employees in the company maximize their quality of life and improve their workplace productivity.

Implementing a successful health and wellness program in your company is easier than you might think. And it doesn’t have to break the bank. It requires a little time for planning and communications. Here are five easy steps to follow that can take a company on a healthy path.

01

OBTAIN EXECUTIVE-LEVEL BUY-IN

Traditionally, HR had limited budgets with few shared corporate-wide goals on health and wellness, so they had to rely on their benefits insurance companies to drive wellness. This caused a sporadic approach depending on which employees were enrolled in which plans and, in many cases, resulted exclusively in a focus on wellness visits. As a result, many employees found that they were talking about their health and wellness only once a year during their annual physicals. Fast forward to 2020, and the conversation has shifted dramatically. Many C-level leaders now realize the implicit and explicit benefits of driving a more holistic wellness program. That said, not all C-level executives are on board with the investment … but they need to be. Executive alignment is critical at the boardroom level to successfully fund and sponsor health and wellness programs and ensure they are sustainable over an employee’s entire career. The business case here is not complex; however, sharing the long-term benefits toward employee healthiness with execs may also inspire the C-level team to not only sponsor health and wellness programs but also actively participate in them themselves.

02

FORM YOUR HEALTH AND WELLNESS TEAM

Once the board has blessed the inception of a program, identify a team of three to five people, either within HR or from across the corporate divisions. These could be elected positions, volunteers, or a mix of both. Empowering employees with ownership increases accountability and offers a safe space to grow and learn in leadership positions. Once the team is formed, it should develop an overall health and wellness strategy and execution plan that starts with setting goals. A robust communication plan should also be developed that includes company-wide messaging as well as executive status reporting on progress. As the team is formed, a mini governance structure can also be developed to outline goals and the ways of working. Teams can also set up a structure to rotate team members after a fixed period of time to allow for more participation across the organization and to reduce unplanned dropouts.

03

DEFINE THE MISSION AND SET MEASURABLE GOALS

Goal setting can be tied to the annual budgeting cycle but should not be deterred by a limited budget or lack of funds. Many great employee wellness programs can be run with no budget — it simply takes a little creativity and the ability to leverage free resources and activities. Goal setting should begin by defining the mission and vision of the health and wellness team. It should end by setting three to four specific measurable goals that the team wants to drive and track within the year. The result should be an overall health and wellness calendar that defines specific education activities, group programs, and competitions. And it should include the employees’ overall goals, interests, and fitness/wellness plans. Without these employee insights, it will be harder for the health and wellness team to develop a holistic program that offers multiple ways for employees to participate. As a result, the program may suffer from low employee engagement. One useful tool to use when setting goals is a survey, which can help the team understand what aspects of health and wellness most interest the company’s employees. Surveys also allow employees to feel more engaged in the health and wellness plans, as they feel they are being listened to. Health and wellness teams can also include benchmarking metrics in the survey so the team can gauge where employees may feel they are in their health and wellness journey and then compare results annually. In summary, the strategy and planning of the health and wellness program should be developed with the employees in mind and leverage wellness areas that employees feel most vested in. To encourage support and adoption from both leadership and employees, try aligning the mission, vision, and goals of the health and wellness team to those of the firm.

04

DEVELOP ENGAGING PROGRAMS AND ACTIVITIES

Wellness journeys are never one-size-fits-all. It’s important for the team to provide flexible, diverse, and inclusive programs when developing engaging health and wellness programs. Better still, empower employees to create and lead communities aligned to their own interests. It could be as formal as a running club that meets every morning or a simple message board for those interested in recipes for people with specific dietary restrictions. Adding competitive and team elements to gamify the experience is also an effective way to encourage accountability and a sense of responsibility that ultimately drives inclusion and team commitment to reaching set goals. Every employee should have an opportunity to design their own personal wellness journey based on their personal goals and interests. One type of gamified activity that has seen great success as part of a larger health and wellness offering is the daily tracking and scoring of a Drink, Eat, Move, and Sleep competition. Essentially, each employee self-reports their daily tracking of points across each of these four categories for a fixed period of time. This program is lightweight and easy to both implement and maintain. It is also scalable, easy to tailor to individual goals, and builds camaraderie through competition. Participants can compete individually or divide into teams if they need accountability partners.

A “Know Your Numbers” session to kick off the competition is a great way to stimulate interest and give the Health and Wellness team the baseline data they need to reward both overall improvement and participation.

During the competition, the health and wellness team can introduce new challenges and reward participants for addressing other areas of wellness, like meditating daily, disconnecting from devices and screens, or spending time outdoors. An added bonus is that the categories and format lend themselves to other spinoff competitions that can be self-organized, such as a daily step-tracking group or a healthy recipe exchange.

Know Your Numbers Competition

The four categories can be loosely defined as Drink, Eat, Move, and Sleep.

Introducing additional challenges and ad hoc prizes like company swag also helps generate interest and build momentum, although prizes are just one form of incentive. When brainstorming incentives, it’s important to align them to company values and competition goals in order to encourage the highest level of participation. For example, in a community-centric organization, you might consider a financial donation to a nonprofit of the winner’s choice. A competitive organization can set up cross-company or intracompany competitions.

Or, if the budget permits, financial incentives such as monthly gym membership offsets or company subsidies for in-home fitness equipment work well to motivate people to participate in specific tasks. Consider rewarding winners with reoccurring local fresh produce delivery or a paid subscription to a meditation app like Headspace. That said, if budgets are limited, genuine praise and recognition from peers and leadership is incentive enough.

Finally, all successful programs that drive engagement need to have leadership support and an occasional refresh. Programs that get overhauled regularly with new added components keep employees excited, energized, active, and engaged. Health and wellness leadership teams should also be refreshed, similar to how board positions rotate every two years, to empower others and inject new ideas.

05

COMMUNICATE PROGRAMS, EDUCATION, AND RESOURCES

All of your work creating and implementing innovative H&W programs is for naught, however, if your employees don’t know about them. It’s important that health and wellness teams communicate with employees — through a combination of committees, events, and technologies — to keep them connected and share information. Providing employees with access to articles and how-to guides is beneficial, as is hosting lunch-and-learn sessions to cover different subjects of employee wellness. By inviting local health and wellness professionals to lead the lunch-and-learns, the company can also connect with the local community and support small businesses. The health and wellness team can also publish specific wellness-oriented quarterly or monthly newsletters showcasing various health trends, articles, and upcoming company and public fitness events and competitions. Even better, giving employees the ability to share goals, wins, and success stories in a company newsletter, website, or email blasts can have the dual benefit of recognizing champions and motivating other employees. Common barriers to participating in a corporate-wide health and wellness programs include lack of time, lack of awareness, and lack of access. Increase awareness by communicating regularly across multiple mediums. In addition to newsletters and lunch-and-learns, post information in hallways, break rooms, or near elevators. And ask leaders to promote health and wellness initiatives at corporate-wide events like quarterly readouts. Finally, show that you are committed to the programs — and help employees make healthy choices — by enacting small changes around the workplace. For example, serve healthier foods at meetings, and stock vending machines and break rooms with healthy snacks and beverages. Carve out a quiet space in the office that employees can use to de-stress. Build in time for mental breaks by scheduling 45-minute instead of hourlong meetings. Or simply encourage employees to take phone calls while walking around the neighborhood. Do whatever you can to make the healthy option the first (and easiest) option for your employees. As you can see, implementing robust health and wellness programs that appeal to the interests, goals, and demographics of the organization is not as difficult as some in management might think. Nor do they require a large line item in the budget. All it takes is a leader to start assembling a team and developing a plan. Companies will realize that even a small investment in the well-being of employees through holistic health and wellness programs can yield big results both for the employees and the company. In the end, the benefits are clear: A healthier and more engaged workforce leads to lower health care costs, happier employees, higher retention, and higher productivity.
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