Will your wellbeing programme only ever be as effective as your people strategy?

Blog by Stephen Haynes,

Stephen Haynes will be attending the Workplace Wellbeing & Stress Summit 2013 on the 28th Nov in London.

There is no escaping the fact that today, a healthy workforce translates into improved bottom line. Keeping staff healthy and well is not just the right thing to do – and therefore limited to the “employers of choice” or those industries with a clear duty of care – but it is today the very foundation of any productive business. That said, translating health and wellness into bottom-line performance is still not an exact science and no two companies are alike.

One of the many challenges employers face with their workplace health programmes is getting staff to engage in them. There are numerous discussions, ideas and methods around how to improve this, from simpler usability to optimal programme design, but how much emphasis is placed on business culture and people strategy? Arguably, if the workforce is not engaged in their role or in the business, how much impact do we expect a workplace health programme to have?

Historically, workplace health has fallen into three (largely operating in silo) camps: Occupational health & safety (and largely reactive/ safety focussed), health related benefits (from medical insurance to employee assistance services) and more recently the broadly interpreted “wellness” proposition (whether delivered by the former or through one of the growing number of specialist service providers). But in recent years we have seen a shift in thinking – today, workplace health & wellness is firmly aligned to people strategy. From effective training and engagement of line managers to creating the right team environment.

Just look at the numerous workplace health Charters that have emerged in recent years, from the Wellbeing Charter to Business in the Community’s Workwell model or the Investors in People Good Practice Award, all of them place as much emphasis on working environments, relationships and engagement as they do on providing the right support. We all know that the more engaged and happy we are in our work, the less impact short-term ill-health has on our attendance/ presenteeism (and ultimately productivity). It is also no surprise that the more successful and those with higher engagement and participation are those organisations that foster greater team environments.

An organisation could go back to the drawing board and re-select their entire workforce built around their current business strategy – creating a group of like-minded individuals that all share the same vision, but bring sufficient individualism to foster creativity and growth in the business. Obviously, this is not practical, but we should consider the cultural dimensions theory, which poses the questions why do people in some cultures tend to be more family orientated, or more polite, or more timely than in other cultures? The same can be applied in business cultures. Where for example on the individualism vs. collectivism spectrum does your workplace sit – to what extent do employees prioritise their needs over the needs of the organisation?

Yes, ensure the support mechanisms are readily available for when people need them, but make sure the work environment is right up front because no matter how good a workplace health and wellness strategy is, its success will always be limited by business culture.

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