The number one reason employee wellbeing programs fail is that they are comprised of bolt-on programs or ad-hoc perks. When workplace wellness programs are stand-alone initiatives and are not integrated into a company’s culture or operations, they’re bound to fall short. This is why we created Your guide to a successful employee wellbeing strategy: Practical tips for the modern workplace. This comprehensive guide gives you the tools you need to take workplace wellness from a one-off program into a successful strategy.
A successful employee wellbeing strategy is proactive, holistic for the individual and company, and is integrated into the companies cultural norms. Here we cover the four challenges that stand in the way of creating a successful employee wellbeing strategy.
Reactive, not proactive
A reactive approach to workplace wellness is based on responding to events after they’ve happened. For example, you may have noticed many employees starting to show signs of stress, so you implement a flexible vacation policy. However, reactive approaches often fall short, since during the time it takes to implement a strategy employees may become burnt out and leave. Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) are incredibly important and still relevant for workplaces but also represent a reactive approach in that they are primarily set-up for employees to use once they have hit a major issue.
Solution: A proactive approach to wellbeing focuses on preventing problems from arising. For example, look at job design and workload to help prevent stress or offer developmental coaching. While no one can predict everything about the future, understanding the trajectory of your company and the drivers of wellbeing can help ensure you design an approach that builds strong physical, emotional, mental and social states in your people from the onset.
Some companies say, “We have gym memberships.” Or, “Workplace wellness happens on Tuesday at 5 pm when we offer a yoga class.” This is not a holistic approach to employee wellbeing. Having offerings such as gym memberships and in-office yoga classes are great, but in order to create a culture of wellbeing, all offerings and programs need to be baked into the company’s culture and the employee lifecycle.
Solution: Wellbeing should be part of how you make decisions, structure your team, and be felt meaningfully across the employee lifecycle from onboarding to exit. Many companies offer stand-alone initiatives such as yoga classes or fruit bowls and consider that their complete wellbeing strategy. Wellbeing researcher Dr. Peggy Kern refers to such approaches as the 3 Fs of wellbeing - Fruit, Fitness and Flu shots. These are all good things but are certainly not enough.
Making it all about productivity
Dishing out gym memberships again might seem like a good idea, but quick fixes to workplace wellness can create additional stress for employees. When initiatives like these are launched on their own, there’s a danger of creating fit workaholics - people who are physically in shape and focused on getting things done but in danger of burnout and resulting in high absenteeism and turnover and lowered customer service.
Solution: Balance productivity-based initiatives with genuine care for people’s emotional needs, addressing holistic benefits for both the company and individual.
Anti-wellbeing cultural norms
Some companies have holistic wellness programs that accommodate physical, emotional, mental, and social wellbeing, but they lack the cultural support to make them succeed. For example, during employee onboarding, a company shares that everyone enjoys a flexible schedule. As a new employee packs up at 5:30 pm, they get a judgemental look from their colleague. The employee sits down and conforms to the cultural norm of working late, even though they were supposedly empowered to have a flexible schedule.
Solution: Cultural norms need to support wellbeing strategies and be role modeled by all employees. Leadership plays a key role in demonstrating desired behaviors and new program adoption.