For an employee wellness program to be successful, employers need to make sure that employees are aware of the program and are using it. Factors that determine success include promoting awareness, strong support by leaders and soliciting input from employees.
“While all components of a wellness program are important, the reality is that if well-being efforts aren’t holistic in nature, they’re going to fail,” said Tanner Bergman, MS, LPC, NCC, in the Paycom webinar Wellness in the Workplace: A Chat with Steve Boese. “So we have to focus holistically on all the categories, and build and operate with an emphasis on mental and emotional health and support in the workplace.”
The best thing leaders can do, however, to show their support of their wellness programs is to walk the talk.
They must get beyond the point of having quotes and motivational phrases along the hallways. They’re nice to have, but they don’t make the message resonate with employees. The message must be deeper and more meaningful to get through to employees.
“If you’re not walking the talk, it can actually work against you to have those things,” said Bergman, Supervisor of Well-being Advisement Programs at Paycom, and a licensed professional counselor in Oklahoma, who’s board certified nationally. “Participating personally and driving your teams to utilize the programs, that makes the ROI from the program investment that much sweeter.”
What does building a successful wellness program entail?
1. Evaluate what employees want – and what they need
The first step, evaluate your situation. Do you need to take a big macro approach, or do you need to take a smaller more tailored approach?
Once you’ve determined that, you need to align it at the leadership level. No program will go anywhere without leadership alignment. And part of that is figuring out what kind of budget you’ll need, and negotiating for it. While these programs don’t have to be expensive, there’s often some budget involved.
“I think ownership is important,” said Steve Boese, Co-founder of H3 HR Advisors, Co-chair of Human Resource Executive Magazine’s HR Technology Conference and Co-host of At Work in America podcast. “Figuring out who the right person or persons to own your organization’s well-being strategies is important. An owner will help drive this further and more effectively.”
But you also must engage employees. Find out what elements are important to them right now and set some goals/targets.
2. Get buy-in from executives
Bringing in senior stakeholders early in the planning stages usually can make the rest of the process easier and more fluid, advised Boese. “But you can’t assume everyone in leadership or senior stakeholders understand the importance of a well-being program. There’s likely room to educate them on just how important it is not only for employee wellness but for business performance, too. You want leaders to be openly championing your employee wellness initiatives, not just checking off the boxes and moving on to something they consider more important.”
Again communication is vital so they’ll buy-in to the concept that improving access to mental health and wellness offerings isn’t just good business, but it’s the right thing to do.
Remember to emphasize that wellness programs help increase profitability, reduce turnover, increase employee engagement and encourage better work performance. Plus, all the other benefits that come from happier and healthier employees. Then add the financial ROI as a bonus. “It’s important, but the real driver behind creating wellness programs and supporting employees mentally is really the health and happiness of your people,” added Boese.
3. Set metrics that tie wellness to ROI
Benefits pros have to prove return on these programs to get the executive support needed. So Boese says the best way to know what employees are feeling is to simply ask them. Some metrics have been tracked for a long time, like sick days. “This metric can signal too many overworked employees or overall dissatisfaction. It can be a precursor to a retention problem,” he explained. “Most companies track overtime because it costs more, but let’s also think about what’s the effect overtime has on employees if teams are spending too much time working. It could mean too much work, misaligned priorities, tight deadlines, poor time management, etc. It’s not just a cost problem. It could be a much bigger problem.”
Metrics that research has shown to correlate strongly to employee wellness provide ideas for quantitative indicators that HR leaders can track. We can expect a Wellness Program that meets employee needs, is holistic & inclusive, and includes a mental health component will likely nudge:
- Program participation rates
- How much PTO employees take
- How many FMLA requests are made, and length of FMLA (especially intermittent FMLA hours)
- Employee productivity metrics such as turnaround time and wait times
- Workers’ compensation claims, and
- Voluntary turnover.
Every business tracks retention rate, but Boese says organizations also need to think about wellness qualitatively. Listening closely to the story is important: general dissatisfaction with the company and burnout often lead to higher turnover. Surveys will help HR stay ahead of the pain- Steve suggests asking questions like:
- On a scale of 1 to 10 how stressed do you feel?
- How do you currently rate your workload
- Do you get a chance to relax out of work, how so?
- What worries you most about work right now?
“These are simple questions we can start asking our employees to get behind what might be happening,” he said. “And there are great technologies out there that can help employers ask these kinds of questions.”
4. Build Strong Feedback Loops
How do administrators complete the feedback loop to see if the program is having the desired effect?
Ask for it. But remember it’s important to look at verbal and nonverbal feedback. So, asking for feedback in real-time surveys, collaborating with ERGs, group discussions, pre- and post-measurements for services and programs you’re offering, and tracking program and benefit utilization is key in being able to compare and cross-reference data. It helps employers find the gaps and gives them the opportunity to creatively close them.
“It’s not always about adding more,” said Bergman. “It’s about driving toward what you have from a benefits or a programmatic standpoint, and letting that determine what you need.”
5. Don’t Forget: A program is only as good as its communication
Some of the most successful communication strategies for wellness programs involve cross-departmental leadership and executive leadership collaborations. Highlighting the programs in company-wide communications, departmental meetings or town hall meetings is vital, as is leadership clearly communicating the value of these programs and encouraging participation. Employees often feel like well-being programs are something they don’t have time for because their working hard. So, the best communication strategies are personal and authentic.
“Communication is so important in wellness and many other aspects of HR programs,” said Boese. “You have to communicate effectively about what available benefits you have because they have to be utilized in order for them to be effective at all.”