Is it time to rethink your workplace wellness strategy?


More and more businesses are considering corporate wellness programmes and introducing initiatives to support the physical and mental health of their employees. However, these may fall short when it comes to embedding wellbeing into the DNA of your organisation. The most common approach that organisations take is to introduce health promotion programmes such as physical fitness or nutrition guidance that places the onus firmly on the employee to do the right thing. However, a recent study from the National Bureau of Economic Research in the US found that many of the return on investment claims of corporate wellness strategies cannot be supported. As reported in the British Psychological Society Research Digest this week[1], corporate wellness programmes that focus on healthy behaviours will generally only improve health outcomes for those employees who are likely to be doing well without the workplace intervention.

For a workplace wellbeing programme to really make a difference, you need to take a more strategic approach. In the words of Brigadier General Dr Rhonda Cornum, who developed the world’s first mass organisational resilience programme for the US military – the Comprensive Soldier Fitness Programme, it’s all about data driven decision making. I’ve had the absolute pleasure of meeting Dr Cornum on a number of occasions and her mental toughness, ability to bounce back from adversity and growth mindset have left me in awe. Having a data driven approach to workplace wellbeing means starting with evaluating the unique issues facing your business and its people. What do your workforce metrics tell you about your employees? Are there particular areas of the organisation with absenteeism or presenteeism concerns? Do you know why people are accessing your employee assistance programme? Are you seeing an increase in stress or mental health-related absences? Are your employee engagement scores lower in some teams than others? Do you know whether your workplace wellbeing programmes are producing the results that you want? And last, but by no means least, what are you wanting to achieve from a wellbeing programme in the first place? Using the data that you already collect on your workforce will help you to focus on what initiatives are most likely to be effective.

There is a growing amount of research that demonstrates, scientifically, what works to build the wellbeing and resilience of individuals, including in a work environment. Having a scatter gun approach and hoping that it’s going to improve the mental health, productivity or engagement of employees is too simplistic. By identifying the wellbeing issues that are impacting on your people, implementing interventions that have been rigorously tested through research and then evaluating their impact against your desired end state will go much further in realising positive outcomes for your workforce. Having a wellbeing lens takes time, energy and resources. But the long term benefits for your business and your people will be worth the investment.