Designing a sustainable employee-wellness programme


Employee-wellness programmes have been embraced across companies to improve worker health and productivity, and also lower costs. However, for many, desirable change may not come about. Employers can overlook certain factors, which are essential to make any wellness programme run smoothly and remain effective.

In conversation with a few HR leaders, we identified some areas which may be overlooked and can result in the programme losing effect.

1. One size does not fit all

This may seem like a point already made. However, it needs reiteration for the reason that it is vital for the smooth functioning of the company’s strategies. The ideal wellness initiative will look at not only financial status, age and health, but at a whole range of factors. The work of the company can be a hint as to how the programme should be tailored. Needs and benefits can differ according to the gender. A disabled person may need specific health and support benefits. A married couple working in the same company may want more flexibility in terms of work hours along with other benefits. The social lives of people, the nature of work environment and whether or not they have families are important aspects to consider.

Ravi Mishra, senior VP-HR and admin, Birla Carbon, had an interesting insight— “Personalisation can be made easy. If we have 500 people, we cannot make 500 changes to the programme, but we can divide the people into clusters according to their needs. This way tailoring programmes becomes easier.”

Kishore GR, senior vice president and head-HR, Mphasis, agrees, “Wellness programmes should be tailor made based on needs, gender and category of employees. A person in a leadership role will need more pro-active initiatives around psychological health, conflict management and overall mental health.”

2. Wellness vendors

Companies often hire a select group of people to carry out wellness initiatives. There are specific companies, which focus on wellness and selling their services to organisations. The first mistake organisations tend to commit while hiring wellness vendors is neglecting a thorough needs assessment based on the points made above and more. An internal needs assessment is necessary to clarify the kind of benefits the employees need and how best to give it to them.

Second, wellness vendors will have zero knowledge of the company’s interests and needs, just as the company may not have full knowledge of the market. Vendors and HR can co-create the programme design to ensure that it fits well with the Company’s image, suits the workers and is sustainable at the end of the day.

3. Incentives can go both ways

Companies can use incentives as an effective system to get people to start living healthy. Workers can get a monetary benefit if they succeed in achieving a certain target deemed necessary to improve health and wellbeing.

However, giving an incentive to ensure participation may just seem like extra work to those who are not interested. It is best to not make health goals mandatory. Incentives can be further personalised depending on the department or the person, which may ensure larger participation in the programme.

4. Follow up and RoI

This is the critical step after a programme is designed and implemented. Failure to check results can be the undoing of a company’s efforts. Following up can help identify areas to improve upon and plan the next step of action. The goals of increased productivity and return on investment can be achieved with regular follow ups.

Employee feedback can also be a valuable form of gathering information on what is going right for them and what is not. Feedback can be from survey forms or quarterly meetings. Regular positive feedback will mean the programme is working.

5. Culture of wellness

Building a culture of wellness should be the goal for a company. This will foster more such beneficial practices. If the employees practise healthy habits, such as walking around more, eating more healthy food, being social and amiable with other colleagues and fostering a warm and supportive environment, then the company has a culture of wellness. Employers should look out for these details. As Krish Shankar, group head-HR, Infosys, says, “The focus has broadened to include lifestyle and mental wellbeing. This will help build a culture of wellness, which is ultimately important.”

Employee awareness of healthy practices is equally important. Workers should be made aware of healthy habits, self-care and how to take care of their mental health. Workers may not always participate in the programme because they may be unaware of how they can benefit.

Research can be another way to ensure that programmes do not crumble under inefficiency and remain relevant and sustainable. Research into the effectiveness of the programme can focus on whether or not productivity has increased and improvement has come about in terms of employee habits, health-care costs and the workers’ attitude towards the company’s programme. The research can be outsourced to a third party to decrease pressure.

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