A no-nonsense guide to rolling out a workplace wellness scheme that works

It’s well known that promoting the well-being of employees is good for business.

By Brian Crooke Office Worker Health

THERE IS A lot of interest in health promotion in the workplace in Ireland at the moment, which is fantastic to see.

Companies of all sizes are waking up to the fact that healthy and happy staff have a positive impact on productivity, engagement, morale and culture.

Promoting the well-being of employees can reduce absenteeism, increase attraction and retention rates, reduce healthcare costs and improve camaraderie and team spirit.

Why then are so many Irish businesses reluctant to start a wellness programme? And for those that have started something, how come so many have been unsuccessful?

Developing and implementing a wellness programme can be straightforward if a structured process is followed.

I’ve found in Ireland that wellness is not prioritised and therefore many programmes are at a disadvantage even before they have begun.

Usually a member of the HR team is tasked with organising the healthy activities in companies and often this is on top of their day job.

I regularly hear from HR professionals that they don’t have enough time, if any, to dedicate to wellness and many have received no formal training in this area.

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If you are considering a wellness programme at your workplace, my first piece of advice is to formally allocate time to the person or team tasked with this activity.

When I’m working with clients to develop a wellness programme or to update an existing scheme, I follow a seven-step process.

Rather than reinvent the wheel, my process has been inspired by a tried and trusted formula that the Wellness Council of America has developed and improved over the last 30 years.

I’ve adapted the steps based on my own research and on my experiences in the Irish marketplace. Here are the steps:

1. Senior management buy-in

If you don’t have senior leaders driving the idea and supporting your initiatives with their communication, participation and financial backing, then it’s highly likely that your initiatives will not be successful.

In an ideal world, the CEO is already a wellness advocate and needs little convincing as to the benefits of supporting employee health.

It’s more likely that you’ll need to research and prepare a business case to get the management team on board. Senior management leading by example in this area is crucial so do not skip this step.

2. Create a team of wellness champions

Depending on the size of the organisation, it can be difficult for the wellness coordinator to do everything on their own.

Establishing a network of champions spread throughout the business in different functions, floors or locations (similar to fire marshals) can support the coordinator with the preparation, promotion, communication, engagement, participation and evaluation of wellness activities and more.

Formal time should be allocated to these roles which should be voluntary and include a range of seniority levels if possible.

3. Listen to the population

One of the most important steps is to listen to your employees. It stands to reason that activities you create and organise will have a greater chance of engagement and success if they are based on the wants and needs of employees.

A wellness survey can provide the baseline from which all of your workplace wellness activities and programmes can be developed.

4. Develop an operating plan

Align your wellness programme with organisational objectives. This will serve to focus the energy and investment in your wellness programme.

The wellness operating plan should reflect the values, vision and purpose of an organisation.

5. Choose the initiatives

Based on the accumulated data in the four previous steps, you can now choose the activities based off this information that will form the basis of your wellness programme and schedule these activities across the duration of your programme.

Every initiative you choose should be as inclusive as possible. The target is always the majority, not the minority.

6. Cultivate a supportive environment

Do the company policies, procedures and practices support a healthy work environment? Everything from flexible working policies to the built environment to unwritten norms play a role in shaping the company culture.

What foundations can you put in place to foster a supportive work environment for employee wellness?

7. Evaluate, celebrate and iterate

A workplace wellness programme is a living, breathing entity. As your organisation changes over time so too must your wellness offering.

Measure as much as you can, track your progress over time, celebrate your successes – that’s very important – and iterate and improve your programme by incorporating the lessons learned from all of your failures and successes.

8. Don’t skip the early steps

The biggest issue I see with workplace wellness in Ireland is that those tasked with creating programmes – who are very well intentioned, I might add – bypass the earlier stages and jump straight in at step number five.

Jumping straight in and choosing the initiatives at the outset without going through the initial steps is a pure shot in the dark and it does not give your wellness programme the best chance of engaging with employees and succeeding. In fact, it may already be set up to fail.

Every organisation is different and will encounter challenges along the way, but if you follow the above steps you will significantly increase the likelihood of your wellness programme being successful.

The best companies in the world look after their people because they know that they will, over time, look after their business. Don’t get left behind.

Brian Crooke is a wellness consultant, speaker and trainer at Office Worker Health.

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