Forget what you thought you knew about workplace wellness—look instead for holistic approaches from employers that take all aspects of employees’ health and well-being into consideration.
Work used to be more of a social contract— “I go to work, you pay me for work done well”—that provided both employee and employer with a sense of continuity and safety. However, today’s workers are seeking out a new and improved employee value proposition, one that includes a focus on all aspects of their health and well-being. They increasingly look to their employers to foster a culture of health, optimize the built environment and provide wellness-enhancing amenities, programs and policies. As the boundaries between work and life continue to blur, employees expect their workplace not to be a source of stress, but rather a wellness “destination” designed to enhance their quality of life.
Also contributing to this shift in expectations is the fact that the most common approach to workplace wellness—often a compartmentalized set of benefits packaged together—is not working. Among U.S. workers with access to a wellness program, only 40 percent say these programs actually improve their health/wellness, nearly one-third don’t use them, and 10 percent don’t even know if one is available. As the chronic disease burden continues to grow, the way that businesses address the health and well-being of their workforces is also shifting out of necessity. While disease-management programs are effective at saving employers money on health care, it is a wellness-enhancing approach that more workers are coming to expect. The new approach will benefit not only workers but also employers who are beginning to see more clearly how well-being is tied to business results.
CULTURE IS KEY
A shift in corporate culture that comes from the top is key in the new world of workplace well-being, as it is a company’s core culture that will define its health and well-being strategy. Employers seeking to establish themselves as wellness destinations know that amenities, policies and programs also contribute to a culture of well-being. Some other organizations to look at include Google, whose menu of workplace amenities includes onsite doctors, physical therapists, chiropractors and massage therapists; Facebook, which builds expansive parental leave policies into its benefits package; and Patagonia, which offers company bikes, volleyball courts and onsite yoga.
While many organizations are striving to move toward the wellness destination concept to employee health and well-being, globally, the conversation is a little different. There is a long tradition in Europe, particularly in Scandinavia, of considering the impact of work on worker health outcomes. Sweden has been experimenting with a mandated six-hour workday.
However, developing countries are in a different place in terms of workplace well-being” (and in fact only about 9 percent of workers across the planet even have access to workplace wellness programs). In other words, what works in one country may not necessarily work in another.
Given that we spend about 30 percent of our lifetime working, it makes sense that integrating well-being into the workplace will positively impact overall health. However, many organizations are going a step further by striving to make their workplaces healthy “destinations” for employees. This means adapting both work and the workplace so that both are truly wellness-enhancing and improve all dimensions of quality of life. It is these types of environments that are increasingly being sought out and even demanded by employees who understand that work can and should contribute to their health, not detract from it.