In order to inculcate a healthy lifestyle, and a successful wellness program for your employees first of all we need to define a few basic points. Based on our extensive experience in the field of corporate wellness in India, I have written this article mainly to explain in a simple and concise manner what a successful employee wellness program entails and also outline a program, that encompasses all health benefits under some fundamental topics. If you are an HR manager befuddled about how and where to start an employee wellness program for your employees, thoroughly read this article and bookmark it!
Determining Who Your Wellness Program Is For
One of the first things to consider is, who your target audience is I within your employee population. By determining this, you can work out both cost and effort which is effective for you. Some employees may be absolutely fit and health freaks, while someone else could be obese or a chain smoker. You need to evaluate the needs of different workers, and help develop a fitness program for them, that would be beneficial in the future for all and help your company save money in the years ahead. As you go ahead and nip the health problem of your employees in the bud, watch absenteeism decline and productivity rise in your company!
Deciding What Health Issues Your Program Will Address
Closely linked to the issue of who will gain from your program, is what health risks and behaviours your employee wellness program will address. To simplify this, let us divide it into two parts:
- Program elements that promote a healthy lifestyle
- Targeted program responses to actual health risks and conditions
Both are equally crucial to a complete wellness program, since living a healthy life style will keep most health hazards at bay, yet certain chronic ailments will require more attention than others.
Generating a Program for Total Health
How will you bind these health services together? You need active participation in this program, so that all employees and staff are inspired by it. There is a simple way to put it all together, like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Your corporate wellness program will structurally benefit from six main ingredients.
What are these ingredients?
Ingredient # 1: Health Screenings
In order to kick start your program you need to have basic knowledge about your employees’ current state of health and their health-related behaviours. There are tools designed you help you with this.
HRAs: These are confidential forms, in which an employee reveals health related details about himself. It includes details such as age, weight, exercise routines and eating habits. When potential problems are revealed, preventive health services can be offered.
Another method is through biometric testing, wherein professional healthcare and medical professionals are brought in to conduct tests. Cholesterol levels, blood pressure, body fat percentage, bone density as well as heart rates are noted. This information immediately gives you information about which worker is in dire need of medical attention, and can immediately be given access to it. Definitely biometric testing would work out to be more expensive, but it is also advantageous as it immediately highlights any chronic disease.
Ingredient # 2: Health Education, Information and Self-Help tools
Health education is an important aspect of every corporate wellness program. You have to spread the benefits of fitness among your workers. Information should be provided in various ways. You will be surprised to learn that sometimes people are quite naïve. They even consider eating a potato chip as consuming a vegetable! So how does an employer pass on such informative uses? Basically, through emails, pamphlets, newsletters and speakers. Remember, people absorb knowledge at different times so it would be beneficial to keep providing it.
Another important aspect, is to make optimal use of your office space towards healthy living. It doesn’t matter if you work out of a small, cramped space! Just provide a bookshelf with books regarding health and fitness there. If you have ample space, you could provide a room, which could be put to good use. Here you could have yoga & fitness classes, activities and seminars as well. Also keep your workspace interactive. You could ask employees for their feedback and information too. For example, the staff could give their input about outlets and inhouse cafeterias could start offering healthy food. This kind of health education would be extremely helpful to the entire workforce.
Ingredient # 3: Organized Activities
A wholesome corporate wellness program has to include organized activities, that the employees can do together. Group activities develops a sense of kinship and solidarity among all participants as well as impart substantial health benefits. You could start a walking group, or join a relevant sports team; be it cricket or soccer. This way your employees get together, to stay fit as well as unified.
However, it would be imperative to point out, that people can get injured while performing such activities. Its not only the overzealous or the enthusiastic ones. Sometimes even in the simplest exercise, someone might strain a muscle. Now even if an employer has taken all safety measures it is still a possibility that an employee may get hurt. So, in order to be prepared, an employer should get the employees to sign a waiver, before getting into such organized activities. Whilst a waiver doesn’t offer complete indemnity to the employer, it still works as a safety net. Make all the participants sign a waiver of liability against you – against injuries, stating that they understand the wellness program is for non-diagnostic purposes. This is just in case an injured worker decides to pursue a lawsuit against your firm. Avoid all legal troubles, after all ‘Prevention is better than cure!’
Ingredient # 4: Individual Follow-Up and Treatment
Up until now, we have been focusing on all the employees of your organization in general. We are considering health awareness and fitness of your entire work force in general. Though it is imperative for every employer to consider all the employees, sometimes you have to give specific attention to those who are ailing from maybe some chronic disease or who have recurring ailments.
For example – if you have a chain smoker on your team. This is only one, single individual. Definitely the company wouldn’t want to bring in a speaker, or hold a seminar to explain to him the benefits of quitting this addiction to nicotine. This would work out highly expensive to the company’s balance sheet. Its not practical from a financial point of view. However, on a more personal level that employee may be offered financial help to join a smoking cessation program, or have access to counselors, thus benefiting him as well as the company.
Ingredient # 5: Incentives and Rewards
A critically important aspect of an effective employee wellness program is to offer incentives. Years of experience, have shown that offering extrinsic benefits such as rewards, and cash prizes work wonders in goading employees to achieve their health targets. There should be goals and certain health targets set, on the achievement of which, the employee gets a reward.
Now though this results in positive and healthier behaviour, we advise a bit of caution here. There should be no discrimination on the basis of health factors. You should also make rules for more complex awards. For example, you could ask your employees to stop smoking, in order to get discounts on their insurance plans.
There should be utilization of practical methods to offer incentives. You could offer cash, movie tickets, discounts on medical care or gifts – but remember not all incentives work equally well. Start with something small and then build up the excitement of working to attain a higher incentive. Please note that anything you gift of value to your employee, will have tax implications on your company.
You could exercise some control on spending on incentives as well. How? Well, you could make employees pitch in, and the fund goes to the most deserving candidate. Mix up the cash gifts with less expensive variations, like an extra day off or free access to a company owned property. Giving a recognition or award are cheap but effective as research has shown that they do tend to boost an employee’s morale and confidence. Another strategy could be to levy penalties, and make the disinterested or non-participating employees pay.
Ingredient # 6: Supportive Workplace Environment
A key aspect of your wellness program, is having a supportive work environment. In order for your corporate wellness program to really work, the company has to be true to the effort behind the wellness program. Only then will it be effective. For instance, if the company has made it mandatory for the employees to go to the gym before coming to the office, the boss should not give the employees disapproving looks, if they reach slightly behind their scheduled arrival time! This behaviour would dilute the entire idea of being supportive to an employee’s health or lack of it. Because, however many pamphlets you give out, or emails you send out on health and fitness it would all be in vain if all stakeholders in the company management are not on the same page. Another simple example b ut something that is often not followed – If the company decides to encourage people to cycle to work, then keep racks in place for people to park their cycles and have shower cubicles for them to shower before settling down at their workstation. The last point being very important in a hot, dusty and humid country like India!
On the other hand think about this – if the boss himself sets an example, by quitting smoking, or cycling to work it would motivate workers more than any email or pamphlet ever would! The respect and attention to detail for the company’s wellness program must always stem from the top management. One must maintain employee confidentiality and privacy, keep things voluntary and be consistent and fair. You could also include the employee’s family in wellness events. It brings about kinship and a feeling of solidarity.
I hope this article has illustrated clearly the main elements that you as an HR manager would need to keep in mind when you launch your employee wellness program. The above points should give you fodder for creating a customized result-oriented strategy when you whether in isolation or in partnership with a wellness company draft a wellness strategy for your company. Needless to say including these six main INGREDIENTS in your wellness program can decrease absenteeism, reduce elevated health risks among employees and can improve employee retention which are always the main goals of any corporate employee wellness program!
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