An employee wellness program is no longer a luxury but a necessary business strategy to gain a competitive edge on multiple levels. As a corporate wellness consultant and executive wellness coach, I have identified four essential trends that will advance critical measures of success in the following areas:
- Improved employee engagement and performance
- Attracting and retaining top talent
- Job satisfaction
- Healthy and thriving culture and morale
- Reduced costs
A high-performance organization begins with the well-being of your employees. Your employees’ engagement, energy, and vitality are the lifeblood of your organization.
Corporate wellness has progressed in recent years. Business leaders now understand that employee well-being involves much more than physical health. Wellness programs have evolved from being an extra perk in HR to become the cornerstone of a company’s business strategy. Here are four research-backed trends I see emerging in companies I work with and in other successful businesses.
A holistic approach to employee well-being
Organizations who only want to check a box to say they have a wellness program will not care about a holistic approach. They will make do with minimal efforts such as a steps program, discounted gym membership, and an annual health fair. However, companies who want to make a difference and improve the overall well-being of their employees and business will adopt a more comprehensive approach.
The most important emerging trend is employer recognition of the need to incorporate all aspects of health and wellness into an employee wellness program—instead of a silo program focused on physical fitness or nutrition.
Research has found that to achieve the highest level of total well-being, wellness must encompass eight mutually interdependent dimensions of wellness:
Forward-thinking companies are moving beyond a silo approach and addressing the full range of employee needs in a holistic wellness program. Smart leaders know that happy, healthy employees mean better business—in the form of improved engagement, increased productivity, and a greater sense of purpose and job satisfaction.
Customized, not cookie-cutter
A one-size-fits-all approach does not work. Period.
When you go to the doctor does the doctor diagnose you and prescribe the same medication as a previous patient without taking into account your medical history? Of course not. One person’s prescription may be another person’s poison.
Every company’s culture, vision, goals, and demographics are different. Multiple locations within the same organization often have distinct cultures. Therefore, the definition of wellness and their needs will vary substantially. Uncovering and understanding what wellness means for each organization is the first step to creating a relevant and tailored program to best support your employees.
A wellness program cannot serve the whole employee unless it is specifically tailored to the unique needs of a particular organization. For example, due to the physical demands and risks of oil extraction, a company like Chevron places a great deal of emphasis on fitness and safety. For a tech company whose success depends on knowledge work and innovation, emotional intelligence—the key to effective teamwork—would be a higher priority.
Before you implement or redesign your wellness program, hire a corporate wellness consultant to assess your organization’s specific needs to ensure the greatest impact.
Stress management and resilience workshops
My wellness company was founded on the premise of uncovering the wellness gap in corporate America. In a decade of working at Fortune 500 companies—in high-stress environments with limited time and resources to support my well-being—I experienced workplace stress and burnout firsthand. Eventually, I became disengaged and unhappy. I realized I was not alone. Two-thirds of full-time employees experience burnout on the job, according to a recent study by Gallup. My experience proved to me the critical importance of investing holistically in employee wellness.
Despite widespread awareness of stress as a health risk, it stubbornly continues to weigh down organizational performance. The expectation that we must be always on and available wears on people. Through our mobile devices, work follows people home and beyond the work week into the weekend. Moreover, while employee engagement has been hailed as the holy grail of management, recent research reveals that a significant number of employees can be engaged but exhausted at the same time.
When stress is not managed, it can lead to chronic stress which can take a toll on your health and mental well-being. Research suggests that chronic stress can lead to or exacerbate symptoms of mental illness such as depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder.
Occupational stress costs U.S. employers more than $300 billion a year in absenteeism, turnover, diminished productivity, and medical, legal and insurance costs. Furthermore, new research finds that productivity lost due to presenteeism—when an employee shows up but underperforms because of illness or stress—can cost companies more than twice as much as medical expenses and absenteeism combined.
Stress is like a parasite, sucking energy and productivity out of your organization. Learning how to be resilient and effectively deal with stress can help employees be more productive, happy, healthy, and in control of difficult situations.
Emotional intelligence leadership training
Emotional intelligence, also known as EI or EQ(emotional quotient), is increasingly recognized as an essential attribute of successful leaders. I coach my clients to mindfully identify and manage their own emotions and the emotions of others in order to become more self-aware and socially aware. EI is about knowing yourself as much as it is about understanding and connecting with other people. Leaders who prioritize and improve their EI level will benefit by becoming a:
- Better leader—compassion is at the core of EI and is necessary to inspire, motivate, connect, and lead your team.
- Better communicator—internally with yourself and your colleagues and employees, as well as externally with other people outside of your company such as your board members, investors, and customers.
- Better decision-maker—greater clarity and awareness enables better choices and stronger decision-making.
What does this have to do with corporate wellness? Leaders cannot address the eight components of well-being without the skillset of emotional intelligence. If we want employees to bring their best selves to work every day, our wellness programs must treat them as whole selves, and that starts with leadership. Leaders with high emotional intelligence will also thrive as individuals and model that mindset for the rest of the organization. Developing and refining emotional intelligence is an integral part of my executive coaching practice and leadership training.
Corporate wellness and emotional intelligence at the leadership level are inseparable. According to a recent survey, only 37% of employees identify their company as genuinely caring about their health and wellness. Employees at companies seen as caring report much higher rates of job satisfaction and engagement, and lower levels of stress.
Caring companies are those where leadership deliberately promotes an open and honest culture, offers employees autonomy and a chance to exercise initiative, and fosters the personal and professional growth of employees on multiple levels. All of this requires leaders who are adept at emotional intelligence—which, like any skillset, must be taught and consciously developed.
Wellness can no longer be seen as an employee benefit, or as a cost-saving measure. A more expansive vision of wellness—one that involves caring for and investing in your employees on a holistic level—must be a core element of organizational culture. Healthy and compassionate companies will attract and retain top talent, and get the most out of their employees. They will outperform and outlive the competition.
Wellness or the lack thereof translates directly into performance and the bottom line. Evolved companies understand that well-being and performance are inseparable from one another—and treat their corporate wellness program as an integral part of their business strategy.
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Published on Forbes on Dec. 27, 2018.