Opinion: Introducing a workplace wellbeing culture

by External03 Mar 2016
Although launched with the best of intentions, too many wellbeing initiatives fail to take off, and don't make a meaningful impact on employee performance. Georgie Drury provides her tips for creating a culture where wellbeing initiatives are more than just a 'nice to have'.

When I sit down with HRDs they usually tell me their biggest issue is attracting and retaining top talent. As you might suspect, it’s not quite as simple as offering a big pay packet.

New research is telling us today’s top graduates prioritise work-life balance over money. A study by Universum of 50,000 Gen-Z high-school grads identified their top two career goals as 1) work-life balance, and 2) job security and stability[1]. Kelly Services reports that 63% of employees value flexible work arrangements, and 50% of millenials (that is, 18 – 25 year olds) value wellness programs[2].

So what does this mean in practice? HR strategy needs to consider wellbeing and work-life balance as an essential component of broader engagement strategy. Wellbeing is directly linked to engagement, and does not exist in isolation.

It’s worth noting that wellbeing programs aren’t always effective. An American study suggests that employee uptake of workplace wellbeing programs remains limited[3], and I can think of two obvious reasons:
  1. Programs are mandated in America, and you simply can’t force people to be healthy. In Australia, on the other hand, where programs are voluntary, anecdotal evidence shows far more positive results.
  2. Ineffective programs are failing to acknowledge and reward success. When a talented employee finishes a marathon or volunteers in their free time, they should be celebrated.
The crucial link is motivation. Workplace wellbeing programs are effective and more meaningful where employees are intrinsically motivated to join them. They work best in companies where management values employees and where everyone, from the CEO down, feels valued by the company and contributes to its clearly shared objectives.

This is the most important point. Unless your wellbeing programs align with your company’s culture and vision, and unless you communicate them properly, they’ll fail. You need to support wellbeing honestly and transparently, by doing the following:
  • Get buy-in from management: employees need to understand this isn’t a ‘do as I say, not as I do’ situation. It helps if the CEO and senior management lead by example and that the program aligns to the CEO’s HR strategy.
  • Get buy-in from staff: this no-brainer is often overlooked. Ask staff what they want, and then do it or explain clearly why you can’t. Remember, there must be a high percentage of staff yearning for someone to support their health goals – for example, Australians spend just shy of $10 billion on weight loss each year. Imagine the goodwill if your company helped fight the obesity epidemic by supporting staff to lose weight.
  • Make a business case: work out your objectives, articulate them, and – I cannot say this enough – work out how to measure them. For example, find out absentee rates, know the cost of workers’ compensation and your engagement scores. This’ll help you assess return on investment.
  • Link programs to strategy: show employees how wellbeing programs are linked to your company’s values and strategic direction. This is vital if innovation is on your company’s agenda. Try to get your ELT to understand that innovative companies think creatively and are ahead of the curve and that you want your employees to see this, and think this way, as well.
  • Get some quick wins: for example, target enthusiastic staff, or take part in global or national awareness initiatives like R U OK? Day or Movember.
  • Have fun: promoting and supporting wellbeing is not punishment! It’s a positive, proactive way to improve your company and the lives of your employees.
So that’s the foundation you need to lay for workplace wellbeing. The next step is to educate employees about wellbeing, inspire them to put what they learn into practice, and help them track their progress. I’ll go into that, and explain the importance of  technology, innovation and gamification, in the next two articles: Being a wellbeing innovator and Wellbeing and gamification.

About the author 
Georgie Drury is the CEO & Founder at Springday. Her background spans education, management consulting and technological innovation, particularly applied to consumer needs.Georgie applied her experience to create Springday, a company which integrates cutting edge technology, human resources and wellbeing. Springday develops, sources and collates wellness programs, material and expertise. Companies nationwide access these resources and improve employee wellbeing and engagement via Springday’s powerful, infinitely flexible, cloud-based platform.
[2] Kelly Global Workforce Index, Work-Life Design Global Report

[3] Workplace Wellness Study, sponsored by the US Department of Labor https://www.dol.gov/ebsa/pdf/workplacewellnessstudyfinal.pdf