2016 Shifts in Wellness: From Workplace Wellness “Programs” to Total Cultures of Wellness at Work

Workplace wellness is at last approaching adulthood, and there is exciting, transformative change ahead for both organizations and employees.

87% of employers are actively committed to workplace wellness and 73% offer programs – 2015 Health and Well-being Touchstone Survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers

Wellness programs in the workplace are not new. For decades HR departments, to lower health insurance costs and worker’s compensation claims, have offered and Managing Employee Healthincentivized employees to participate in program based lifestyle changes, and encouraging participation in wellness activities outside of the workplace. The idea was that if a person improved their physical well-being, they will improve in all areas of their life.

Early corporate wellness programs were based on biometrics and specifically focused on physical health – through the education on blood pressure, cholesterol, heart health and weight management.Because of the multiple influences on an individual’s daily life, if real transformative change is going to be possible, employers and insurers will need to consider addressing the whole person – understanding how environmental and emotional factors affect wellness. It is not just about lowering numbers. It is about increasing value.  

So, with much research and digging into what truly drives transformative health and well-being, the focus is now on improving not just the statistical drivers of physical health, butDiagram of Employee Engagement in addressing the wellness in five strategic areas of life.  The missing link was that “wellness” had grown up into “wellbeing” and now requires strategies that
encompass all five aspects
of total wellbeing: Purpose, Social, Financial, Physical and Community..

Organizations are beginning to connect the dots between an employee’s total well-being and the value they represent to the company. In essence, the services that improve an employee’s well-being directly correlate to the wellness of an organization’s bottom line.

The future is meaningful, real “cultures” of health at work, tackling everything from physical, to emotional, to financial wellness: fair pay, healthy workspaces, inclusion of families and virtual workers, and tackling fast disappearing work/life balance, like mandating vacations and that workers unplug from always-on, wired work. – 2015 Global Wellness Summit

According to a study, Perceptions of Wellness at Work, conducted by Angele Farrell and Patricia Geist-Martin for San Diego State University, “An estimated 78% of U.S. employees say that work is their biggest source of stress. The effects of stress often result in employees taking sick days and rising workers compensation claims.”

Farrell and Geist-Martin’s research showed that in most corporate wellness programs, physical and mental health dominate the focus – while an employee’s social health has been under addressed. According to the study, “The results reveal three patterns or processes of social health: building camaraderie with peers, communing with superiors, and reconnecting with family.”

Another critical factor impacting an employee’s total well-being is the environment in which they live, work, the inactivity of their jobs – and even the commute to and from the office.  While employees work on improving their health on their time outside of the workplace, there has been little to no change in the actual work environment.

Health Work Career Friends Signpost Showing Life And Lifestyle Balance

It is a constant challenge to improve wellbeing when you spend over half of your waking hours either in the car getting to and from your job, or sitting stationary at your desk when on the job.

This year, there has been a focused trend toward transforming the workplace. More and more employers are rethinking workday hours, work at home opportunities, workspace design, healthy food offerings and integrating wellness programs seamlessly into the culture of the work environment. Insular, often dark cubicle environments have given way to open concept floor plans – with little to no barrier between employees and their management teams.Centralized meeting spaces have improved employee/peer/management engagement and collaboration.

In 2011, the corporate wellness services industry reportedly generated $1.8 Billion in revenue. Today, more than 5,600 vendors that include health insurance company, and non-insurer entities reported an overall annual income of $8 Billion. – The Henry L. Kaiser Family Foundation, May 2016 

Adding whole health services such as life coaches, stress management, holistic healing practitioners, professional career counseling  provides avenues of support for the individual in areas of life that can affect job performance and engagement. Another strategy that some companies, mostly in Silicon Valley, have taken up is addressing job commutes and the stress it places on the employee, along with its impact on productivity. These companies provide access to company sponsored buses that run routes through the city – picking up employees and then dropping them back off at the end of the day.

In many ways, wellness is the new green. Just as society embraced a cultural commitment to improving the sustainability of our external environment, a growing interest exists in improving our internal, personal environment as an emerging sustainability strategy – 2016 Winning with Wellness Report by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

This is a very exciting time as more and more organizations come to replace their ROI focus with a stronger focus on the measurement of ROV (return on value). There is traction around evidence that a happy, healthy workforce reduces healthcare costs, increases company recruitment and retention and increased revenue. The value, it turns out, is in achieving total wellbeing – not only by the numbers, but one valued employee at a time.


Leave a Comment