How can an employer encourage healthy behaviour in employees without overstepping the mark?
Health and wellness programs are an ever-growing element of any HR professional’s workload – but this can sometimes raise a potentially awkward question.
How can an employer encourage healthy behaviour in employees without overstepping the mark and seeming too ‘personal’?
“It’s important not to target any one group,” explains Linda Lewis-Daly, Workplace Wellness Program Consultant at GoodLife Fitness. “When you’re offering wellness programs the idea is to be as inclusive as possible, and as positive as possible.”
“I always bristle a bit when I hear organisations talk about The Biggest Loser [wellness plan based on a reality TV of the same name] because that sounds negative and restrictive as opposed to a healthy eating program. A healthy eating challenge is much more embracing of everyone’s desire. I think we all want to eat better or learn more techniques to incorporate physical activity into our workday.”
But what if particularly stubborn or reluctant employees don’t want to take part? Is there ever scope for making these programs mandatory?
“I strongly believe they should be voluntary,” Lewis-Daly insists. “People want choices. If we look at health and wellness as a continuum, on one side it’s optimum health and on the other side it is illness and disease. People will move through that continuum at different times and stages of their lives. They’ll need different forms of support. So, you can’t mandate health. For example, a doctor can’t mandate that you actually pick up a prescription or take the medication that they have prescribed. All they can do is invite you to do so by educating you on the benefits and the implications of acting otherwise.”
And this voluntary, more encouraging approach has reaped great results in the past, Lewis-Daly tells us.
“I remember one place had an engineer who dismissed taking part at first,” Lewis-Daly recalls. “Eventually he did. Several years later he got in touch and thanked the wellness program for saving his life. It was so impactful. Nobody forced him but he took a journey back towards health. You never know how you’re going to impact people.”
Interestingly, such reluctance seems to be a problem that is vanishing with the introduction of a new generation into the workforce.
“The younger generation actually look for employers who have their personal interests in mind,” says Lewis-Daly. “Workplace health and wellness programing has become a real attraction and retention tool because younger generations are savvy. They will go online and research things more readily than previous generations. They are looking for balance, so HR programs that allow flexibility are very attractive.”
And – perhaps the question that HR professionals will encounter most from senior management – what is the ROI on such programs?
“ROI is very elusive in many ways,” Lewis-Daly muses. “It’s hard to pinpoint specifically that a wellness program has a specific impact on hard data. They will contribute to reducing things like absence and illness if that’s your goal, but companies are also looking at value-based metrics. Those are things like culture, engagement, employee satisfaction, and productivity.”
“There’s also the cost of doing nothing to consider. If you don’t have wellness or fitness programs, are certain costs going to escalate? If you have a high smoking demographic for instance, studies show that a smoker can cost an organisation over $4000 per year in health-related costs. There are similar stats for obesity and cardiovascular disease.”
“There’s a new phrase called the ‘ROI of One’. Say your program resulted in an employee discovering they had hypertension, they had a consultation with a nurse on the spot, they went to the doctor, they got on medication and they were prevented from having a heart attack. You just paid for your programs with that one person!”
To hear more about how wellness programs can enhance your business, download GoodLife’s free whitepaper here.