Taking the Woo Out of Workplace Wellness

Workplace wellness

This workplace wellness article was written in conjunction with Carolina Miranda, CEO of Cultivating Capital, and Derek Hydon, President at MaCher.

As workplace wellness becomes more normalized, leaders ask, “What’s the ROI on employee wellness? How do we quantify health and happiness?” The mystery of measuring success in well-being may make some employers hesitant to adopt a wellness program.

The influence of workplace well-being extends across multiple facets of an organization, impacting physical health and work productivity. A positive work environment, characterized by supportive leadership, a balanced work-life dynamic, and low-stress levels, significantly enhances physical well-being. This benefits a company’s bottom line. Oxford research shows a strong positive relationship between employee well-being and firm performance.

Employees experiencing a sense of well-being at work are likelier to adopt healthy lifestyle practices, lowering the risk of stress-related health issues and promoting overall vitality. Johnson & Johnson’s leaders estimate that wellness programs have saved the company $250 million in healthcare costsThe return was $2.71 for every dollar spent. This complementary relationship between workplace well-being and physical health highlights the advantages of investing in employee well-being.

Workplace well-being is intricately linked to productivity, forming another reciprocal connection. Research shows that employees who strongly agree that their employer cares about their overall well-being are 67% less likely to search for a new job, 71% less likely to report experiencing burnout in their jobs, and 5x more likely to advocate for their company as a place to work and to strongly agree they trust the leadership of their organization. High levels of well-being, encompassing job satisfaction, engagement, and a sense of purpose, positively influence productivity. A content and mentally well-adjusted workforce tends to exhibit heightened motivation, focus, and creativity, increasing efficiency in professional tasks.

On the contrary, poor workplace well-being, marked by stress or dissatisfaction, can impede productivity and contribute to absenteeism, highlighting the crucial role of well-being in optimizing individual and collective work performance. Burnout is not just an inconvenience. Poor well-being affects your organization’s bottom line through lower productivity, higher turnover, higher absenteeism, and higher medical costs (due to preventable conditions). On average, burnout costs organizations 15–20% of total payroll through voluntary turnover.

What is a Workplace Wellness Program?

An organization’s workplace wellness program is responsible for employee health, productivity, and interpersonal relationships. It controls well-being services, such as fitness classes and wellness workshops, and sets policies that ensure employee’s health is taken into account. When it comes to workplace well-being, there is no one-size-fits-all strategy. A wellness program should be a natural extension of a firm’s identity and aspirations.

Companies starting a wellness program may wonder about the difference between wellness and well-being. Wellness is often used to refer to the pursuit of overall physical health. Well-being is also used in reference to the pursuit of overall physical health, but it goes beyond the typical idea of physical fitness to include mental, emotional, spiritual, financial, and social health.

What Factors Need to Be in Place for a Wellness Program to Work?

workplace wellness

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Workplace wellness programs must have support and infrastructure to benefit employees. First, executive leaders and middle management must approve and champion them. If a company offers wellness services, but employees don’t have time to utilize the resources, no one benefits.

I recently taught an in-person class for a client, and David Durden, the CEO of the Association, showed up. David has tried yoga once or twice but wouldn’t call himself a regular practitioner. About halfway through the class, I had everyone balance on one foot in a tree pose and joked, “Stay focused, y’all. The boss is here!” David quickly commented, “I can barely hold the pose myself!” as he toppled over. The whole room burst into laughter.

By joining a yoga class, David made himself a human and demonstrated to everyone at the company that wellness is essential. David isn’t immune to stress or tight hamstrings. When we momentarily strip away our job titles and salaries, we connect on a deeper level. His presence speaks volumes and embodies the support for wellness we need to see in leadership.

Second, wellness is not a bandage for toxic workplace culture. A workplace wellness program won’t fix basic needs if basic needs are not met. I had another client whose employees were unhappy because their salaries weren’t matching inflation. Instead of adjusting salaries to meet economic demands, they considered offering a meditation series to help reduce stress. Mindfulness practices have powerful stress-reducing benefits and have proven to increase quality of life, but employees can’t meditate their mortgage payments down.

To avoid a toxic work culture, a company must meet employees’ basic needs, which include a livable wage, sufficient PTO, and healthy interpersonal relationships. Once these basic needs are met, a wellness program can transform a company from existing to thriving.

What Are Examples of Practices that Support Workplace Wellness?

workplace wellness

Wellness programs are not a one-size-fits-all solution. There are many pathways to formulating a successful wellness program, starting with a custom wellness strategy. A wellness program should be a natural extension of a company’s identity and aspirations. One of my clients works with animals in the environmental sector, so part of their wellness strategy is having vegan snacks around the office. Another client works in the legal sector, so they offer physical and mental stress reduction classes and workshops.

A traditional well-being program includes physical and mental health. Leaders in workplace well-being have expanded these categories to include Financial, Environmental, Social, Community, and Career Health. This expansion of categories is no surprise, given our well-being connects to every facet of our lives.

Physical Health gives employees the energy to get things done. One of our clients has offices in San Francisco and Los Angeles. I helped them create a Fitness Challenge where employees could walk or run “545 miles from San Francisco to LA” within the year. This came out to an average of 1.5 miles per day, which they tracked on an internal company spreadsheet.

Starting practices:

  • Offering an ergonomic assessment
  • Implementing a fitness challenge

Advanced practices:

  • Creating a wellness strategy
  • Offering a health and wellness program

B Corp Resources:

Mental Health prevents employees from burnout and leads to greater productivity. Gallup has studied the relationship between workplace and life factors that predict states of future mental health. They found that a high-engagement culture is associated with fewer new occurrences of depression and anxiety.

Starting Practices:

  • Sufficient PTO
  • Providing meditation, mindfulness practices, and counseling

Advanced Practices:

  • Providing leadership or management training for healthy interpersonal work relationships
  • Implementing 32-hour or 4-day work weeks

B Corp Resources:

Financial Health is an employee’s ability to manage expenses, prepare for and recover from financial shocks, have minimal debt, and build wealth.

Starting practices:

  • Paying living wages
  • Offering a 401k

Advanced practices:

  • Providing financial coaching
  • Offering a short-term employee loan program

B Corp Resources:

Social Health is defined by the ability to interact and form meaningful relationships with others. Recent data show that having a “best friend” at work has become more important since the start of the pandemic, even considering the dramatic increase in remote and hybrid work.

Starting practices:

  • Create a wellness channel within the organization to share tips and inspiration
  • Group volunteering opportunities

Advanced practices:

  • Maintaining healthy interpersonal relationships
  • Management or leadership training

B Corp Resources:

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