Responsible employers know the importance of promoting employee wellness. Rather than being driven purely by a sense of benevolence, the truth is employee wellness is actually good for business.
Aimed at improving the health of staff members, workplace wellness programmes can help reduce health-related absenteeism and increase productivity.
In the United States alone the annual cost of employee sickness and injury is as much as $225.8 billion or $1,685 per employee. And with depressed employees losing on average 27 work days per year due to the condition, it’s clear that promoting the physical and mental wellbeing of employees can impact the bottom line of any business.
However, with budgets already under pressure and plenty of competing demands for corporate resources, is it possible to have a meaningful employee wellness programme without breaking the bank? Well, the short answer is yes, it is possible to positively impact the health and wellbeing of employees without spending significant amounts of money.
And with so much at stake in terms of reduced absenteeism and increased productivity, the question every business needs to be asking is can we afford not to?
So, if you’re looking to introduce a cost-effective employee wellness programme then this post offers practical tips and ideas as we explore some no- or low-cost employee wellness initiatives. We also suggest ways to measure the programme’s effectiveness.
Disseminate information and resources
There’s no point reinventing the wheel and so the starting point for any wellness programme has to be exploiting the many existing interactive tools and resources already out there.
From health risk assessments, ergonomics checklists and office safety worksheets, it’s possible to put together a comprehensive set of online self-service resources that employees can refer to and learn from.
These resources can be tailored so that they are relevant to your industry. Construction companies, for example, will want to have lots of information on site safety and avoiding workplace accidents. In comparison, landscape gardening companies will want to highlight sun smart practices as well as perhaps diagnostic tools for identifying skin cancer.
Disseminating relevant wellness information and resources to employees is a fundamental aspect of any wellness initiative.
Facilitate and connect
Another low-cost way to promote employee wellness is to facilitate and connect employees with each other and with initiatives already in the local area.
Use the business intranet, staff noticeboards or newsletters to connect employees looking for lunchtime running or walking buddies or wanting to share healthy recipes. Use the same media to highlight the latest yoga class in town, smoking cessation clinic or mobile breast screening programme.
There’s no doubt that there will be a wealth of existing initiatives, both internal and external, that you can draw on. It’s a case of facilitating and connecting with what’s already available but which staff members may not be aware of.
Promote mindfulness at work
Mindfulness is the practice of awareness or being in the moment. Far from being about incense burning and mantra chanting, many companies including big names like Nike and Deloitte have introduced mindfulness techniques as a way of improving employees’ attention spans and energy levels.
With so many potential distractions in the modern workplace, let alone the sheer information overload, the ability to stay focused is increasingly becoming a coveted skill. A simple mindfulness technique that you can easily introduce are breathing exercises.
Encourage employees to take just 10 minutes, perhaps at the start of the day or when they need to refocus, and concentrate on their breathing by closing their eyes, sitting upright and relaxing. Be conscious of every breath as it comes in and goes out.
There’s a reason why women in labour are taught breathing techniques at antenatal classes and that’s because it promotes a sense of calmness and minimises the effects of stress and anxiety.
Some companies have taken mindfulness further by introducing a quiet space that employees can use to meditate. If that’s a step too far for your business, then a quiet space where staff can go to recharge their batteries or complete a task without the usual office distractions of the ping of an email notification, phones ringing or general office chatter certainly has some merit.
See our previous article on meditation for leaders and managers.
Mandatory lunch breaks
Making it compulsory for employees to take lunch breaks sends a clear signal about the importance you attach to workplace wellness.
Grabbing a sandwich at your desk or worse still skipping lunch altogether because of pressure of work is detrimental to our health in the long run.
There’s a plethora of evidence out there suggesting that far from being a time waster, taking a proper lunch break equips us with the ability to cope with the afternoon’s challenges as we’re more refreshed and energised.
Taking it to the next level
Once you’ve implemented the suggestions we’ve already identified and you’re really serious about employee wellness, then you may want to take things to the next level.
Try introducing some of the following initiatives although some of these will undoubtedly have cost implications:
- subsidised gym membership;
- workplace flu jabs and health clinics;
- health and lifestyle coaching;
- chronic disease management and prevention;
- flexible working programmes;
- health insurance, and;
- shower and changing facilities to encourage employees to run or bike to work.
The possibilities are almost endless and are only limited by the organisation’s willingness to effect change and the budget available.
Employee wellness: assessing the impact
Having invested in a programme of workplace wellness – even if it’s a low-cost one – you will of course want to assess what impact it’s had on your bottom line. But how do you go about doing that?
Well, the starting point has to be your rates of sickness and absenteeism. Healthier employees over time will take less time off work due to sickness or simply needing a mental health day. Keep a watchful eye on your rates to spot any underlying trends especially in the reasons for absence.
It may be that your industry or operating environment predisposes staff members to suffering certain conditions or ailments and your wellness programme should be tweaked to address that.
A well-executed workplace wellness initiative should also have an impact on your staff retention rates. Employees that are healthy and happy at work are more likely to stay longer with an employer and so over time there should be an improvement in your stats.
Finally, it’s important to check in with staff from time to time about the effectiveness of the programme. Conduct regular surveys, questionnaires or focus groups to assess whether workplace wellness is meeting the needs of employees and positively impacting on their health.
A well-executed workplace wellness initiative should also have an impact on your staff retention rates.
A programme of employee wellness can potentially make a difference to health-related absenteeism and overall productivity, but it doesn’t have to cost the earth.
It’s possible to introduce a no- or low-cost programme that will still have a positive impact on your bottom line as well as a happier and healthier workforce.
Helen Borich is a member of the editorial staff of MyHub Intranet Solutions. MyHub is a cloud-based intranet software solution that provides businesses with a range of powerful business tools via their own secure customizable intranet site.