Workplace Wellbeing Programs

How do you ensure success and what does the future hold? TONY BRADFORD, Managing Director of Centre for Corporate Health and Resilia, provides an update.


It is suffice to say that most organisations are now well aware that employee wellbeing programs are not just something to put in place simply to check a box. Many organisations are moving beyond the “compliance mentality” when it comes to employee wellbeing and are implementing proactive and innovative programs and services to sustain their initial efforts in improving health and wellbeing. And for good reason. The inherent positive outcomes for investing time, energy and valuable resources into the implementation and management of a comprehensive employee wellbeing program have been well publicised and established. In fact, in a recent Comcare review, unequivocal evidence of positive health related benefits as a result of employee health and wellbeing programs were found in spite of challenges in program evaluation. But it’s more than just creating positive good health. It is simply good business!

Commenting on their review, Comcare recently released their report “Benefits to Business: The Evidence for Investing in Worker Health and Wellbeing” where they covered key findings including:

  • Workplace health and wellbeing programs can significantly improve the health of employees
  • Unhealthy workers are less productive
  • Chronic disease is on the rise and impacting on the health of Australia’s workers
  • Protecting the health of workers is becoming more critical as the workforce ages 
  • Health and wellbeing programs make staff feel valued and positively impact on workplace culture
  • Health and wellbeing programs are associated with increased employee engagement, creativity and innovation
  • Health and wellbeing programs save employers money 
  • Successful health and wellbeing programs are likely to improve productivity
  • The costs of ill health to businesses include staff turnover, absenteeism, presenteeism, disability and workers’ compensation
  • Health and wellbeing programs make organisations look and feel good
  • Competition for skilled employees is increasing

Wellbeing programs are great when implemented well, yet without a targeted and well thought out approach, employee wellbeing programs usually end up in the growing pile of failed initiatives. I hear the cries from hundreds of frustrated HR/WHS personnel all across the country “oh yeah, we did that”. And therein lies the main problem. A lot of employee wellbeing programs were never “programs”… they were merely “events”, or a series of one-off events thrown together in a calendar that looked like a program. But it wasn’t.

In 2014, a report by Buck Consultants, found that approximately 47% of organisations in Australia had a health or wellbeing program or promotion for their employees, however only about half of these organisations had measured specific outcomes. So how do you prevent your organisation’s wellbeing program from failing? There are several key factors to take into account: 

1. It has to be engaging for all employees

For any initiative to be successful it has to be engaging, and have something for everyone. All too often it is always the same people that turn up for the various events… the lunch time yoga session, the fun run, the cooking class, the lecture about skin cancer, etc. usually organisations are preaching to the converted and unfortunately the people who could really benefit from that information or activity rarely come along. So organisations need to do things different, and make it fun. One easy way to do this is to get some healthy competition going between teams and have targets with rewards such as a “counting steps” goal. You can measure progress through wearable fitness devices that link to a health and fitness apps. Then if you link goals and achievements to great rewards and acknowledgements you increase extrinsic motivation. But you also need to have employees intrinsically motivated to participate. Build into the internal communication strategy some articles, blogs or videos by experts in psychological and physical fitness to get across the scientifically proven positive effects to be experienced by getting involved in wellbeing programs.

2. Take a holistic approach

Wellness is not just about physical fitness, employers also need to take the emotional and psychological wellbeing of their employees into consideration when devising their programs. Our physical and mental health are so entwined so focusing on one and not the other is a recipe for wellbeing program failure!

3. Build it into the workplace culture

You know you have a successful wellbeing program when it seems to just be “the way things are done around here” and not something special like a one-off event. Good employee wellbeing is another key indicator of how a business if going, much the same as other indicators, such as staff engagement, innovation, creativity, or excellent customer service. In fact, I would argue that looking after oneself is the foundation on which all these other factors are built and when workplaces place a great deal of value in looking after themselves, in all aspects, they simply flourish. It reminds me of the mantra that was drummed into us at initial officer training when I joined the Navy. Take pride in yourself, then pride in your ship, then pride in the fleet, then pride in our country, in that order. It all starts with taking pride in yourself and at its most basic form this meant looking after your health, your dress and bearing, and the way behave towards others with respect. It is hard to respect others when you don’t respect yourself.

So what are the expectations around wellbeing in your workplace? Is wellbeing a core value, something that is important, just like teamwork or being professional, or do people not really care? How would you know? Is wellbeing part of the organisational dialogue, the daily conversation or is it never spoken of? And most importantly, what messages are being sent by the leaders? Are they walking the talk, leading by example, or do you have a “do as I say, not as I do” culture?

4. Develop and promote program champions at various levels within the organisation

In order to get a wellbeing program off the ground and running you must have passionate people who drive it. This must start with leaders and people in positions of influence. We usually follow role models, people that we respect and admire. Give some thought to how you increase the status of these key people, make them feel special.

5. Review and measure your program regularly

The burning question asked at nearly every monthly Executive Committee meeting is what is the return on investment (ROI)? How do we know this will work? Show me the evidence! How are you going to measure its success? How do you know if we are actually improving wellbeing and whether it makes any difference or not, especially to the bottom line? These are very important and valid questions and if you can’t answer them with confidence and facts then you are wasting your time. A wellbeing program only makes a difference if it is targeted at the employee’s specific needs. If employees are not participating in the program ask them why and for their input into what changes to the program would see them get involved. At the outset of any wellbeing initiative, plan out how you are going to measure success and stick to it!

There have been lot of advancements when it comes to program evaluation and reporting of wellbeing programs over the years, and there are exciting developments with smart technology that make it easier to report and demonstrate results in real time. More on this below.

As a final word, the design and implementation of a wellbeing program and the methods used to create engagement and participation needs to be a fluid process that moves with the latest evidence and technology in this area. While not all organisations have the budget to be the next Google, there are still some great cost effective and manageable programs that workplaces can implement. 

Here are the top two current trends that are making a positive impact on employee wellbeing as reported by organisations all around the globe:

1. Make it easy for people by using smart technology

Workplaces will continue to invest in smart technology such as wearable devices that link to health and wellbeing apps to track, set goals and create healthy competition for their employees to improve their wellbeing. Our app of choice for 2016/2017 is the Dacadoo platform, which measures both physical and mental wellbeing with great ways for organisations to measure success and see aggregated data to assess their wellbeing initiatives.

2. Make it meaningful for people by appealing to altruistic values

Linking wellbeing programs to giving back to charitable organisations is a great way for organisations to tap into that innate motivating factor of wanting to do something good for others. This is not only a motivating factor that can improve engagement, it in fact boosts employee wellbeing in its own right. Doing something good for others has time and time again been proven to boost our emotional resilience and wellbeing.

Contact us for more information on how to implement a great wellbeing program and what the latest trends are in the industry.