Wellness programmes for the employee are being common in companies considering the millions of employees spend the best part of their waking hours at work, the office becomes a good place to address health and wellness issues of a large section of society. Organisations have a responsibility for ensuring employees’ wellness. Studies worldwide have shown that workplace well-being goes well beyond good physical health. A combination of physical, mental, and spiritual health is perhaps a better combination to address.
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Due to technology and the ability to access information from anywhere, the boundaries between work and life have rapidly blurred. This offers one the flexibility to work from places outside the traditional office and to balance one’s priorities. It also means that work is never far away. This sometimes leads to an increase in employees’ stress and fatigue levels, which if not managed effectively, may even lead to mental and physical health disorders.
The modern workforce is ever-changing, and culture and engagement are key drivers in keeping and retaining top performers. Does an employer know how satisfied and engaged their employees truly are at any given time? If so, what do they do about it?
For those who seek an economic logic, it may be relevant that in the US alone $500 billion is lost in annual productivity due to employee mental well-being issues, according to an estimate by Gallup. A report by Mental Health America (MHA), found that unsupportive and unstable workplaces fostered psychological distress and contributed to a decline in employee engagement. Among employees with lower levels of engagement, a majority (65%) reported that they spent between 31 and 50 hours a week distracted in their workplace, and 70% were thinking about or actively looking for a new job.
The first step in changing workplace engagement is understanding what leads to indifference. Burnout and culture are high-level indicators, but diving deeper into key measurements such as work expectations, growth opportunities, and work environment help get to the root cause of disengagement, help predict turnover rate, and indicate related health risks. These factors are continuously changing, so checking in with employees on a regular basis allows for real-time feedback and intervention before an employee becomes complacent or leaves an organization, or before a catastrophic health event occurs.
Low levels of employee engagement have a correlation with overall workplace health, and this is gaining attention. In India, businesses have begun to take the issue seriously because a workforce that isn’t physically and mentally healthy results in poor engagement and motivation levels. Creative campaigns by HR teams to pump prime engagement usually hit a hurdle in such circumstances. Lack of wellness manifests itself not just in the form of lack of productivity but also in higher attrition rates and long-term damage to organisational reputation. Wellness initiatives work only if there are a supporting physical infrastructure and a widespread culture that prioritises health.
Employers are capitalizing on this trend, and many are offering their employees’ a mobile, or at least a robust online version of their online health and well-being tools. According to experts who study these trends, “Mobile-first solutions with native apps are growing in popularity and in-demand by the workforce. These solutions act as a consolidated location for members – providing convenient access and facilitating personalization.”
Physical infrastructure for wellness includes in-house gyms, sports arenas, on-campus doctors, pharmacies and basic nursing care. Smaller organisations and startups that do not operate out of large campuses have now begun offering health and activity club memberships to employees.
With the workforce becoming younger, emotional wellness and gender sensitivity become important organisational priorities. The reasons for stress, fatigue, and burnout can vary with age and gender. While support through counselling groups, processes and policies can help, a more effective way is to have point-in-time interventions for employees at their various life stages. For instance, among new parents, especially young mothers, workplace flexibility goes a long way in reducing anxiety. Progressive employers can facilitate location transfers to accommodate couples living together, extended maternity and adoption leave and structured connect with colleagues and reporting managers even when they are away on leave. Day care and crèche support, and stress management workshops have proved to be immensely beneficial to the mental and physical well-being of parents with young children.
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Because workplace and the world outside are interconnected, problems related to family and finances tend to be big stress inducers, even if all is seemingly well on the work front. Organisational support shouldn’t end when the employee walks out of the gate. The more effective Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP) ensure that employees have 24/7 access to trained counselors and external experts who may offer psychological, and even specialist legal and financial advice.