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Make Your Employee Wellness Program Effective

How can you make your employee wellness program effective?

Last week we talked about ways to measure the effectiveness, but we need to know the components of effectiveness as well.

Understanding Employee Needs & Goals

First and foremost, you must understand your employees’ needs and goals in order to create a program that caters to them. Regardless of whether your goals are to reduce healthcare costs, decrease absenteeism, or something else, the program must result in changes in employee behaviors and health to achieve those other goals. Understanding employee needs provides direction for your program design. What health issues do your employees struggle with? What obstacles prevent them from reaching their health goals? Where is there room for improvement in daily habits? Gather this information and build your program around it.

Participation

If your employees can’t or don’t want to participate in your wellness program, it can’t be effective. You can’t reap the benefits without participating.

You’ve taken care of step 1 if you’ve designed a program around employee needs because Step 1 is to get employees to want to participate. The programming must appeal to them.

But wanting to participate is very different from being able to participate. If workloads are out of control, employees feel pressured to skip their breaks, or are generally overwhelmed and burned out, they will not participate. Part of planning your program is to make sure employees can actually participate in it.

Another component of the ability to participate is the inclusivity of the program. Not all employees may be able to participate or feel comfortable participating in certain activities. Take those needs into account so you can offer alternatives.

Follow Through

Just as you need to make participation in the program feasible, you need to make follow through on program action items as feasible as you can as well. This could mean the provision of tangibles, such a fitness trackers or food journals. It could also mean encouraging breaks or better managing workloads. Or it could mean new initiatives, like an employee walking group. Remember, because of the tremendous impact work has on our lives (we easily spend up to 30% of our time at work), the onus cannot fall solely on employees to make healthful changes.

Assess and Reassess Regularly to Make Your Employee Wellness Program Effective

Waiting until the conclusion of an employee wellness initiative to find out that it wasn’t helpful is useless. Instead, check in regularly on the effectiveness of your program so you can course correct before it’s too late.

There are many components that contribute to your ability to make your employee wellness program effective. But if you are organized, methodical, and take these factors into account, you will be able to create a more effective program.

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Make an Effective Employee Wellness Program with Data

You can ensure you have an effective employee wellness program through careful planning and data tracking. As every manager knows (or should know) data collection is critical to gauging the success of an initiative.

When it comes to collecting and analyzing data on the success of your employee wellness program, however, things get tricky. Privacy and discrimination concerns make it challenging to collect certain information from employees. It can also create a very toxic and unhealthy workplace to collect certain information, such as employee weight for a weight loss challenge (which I never recommend doing to begin with).

So how can you measure the success of your program?

Determining What Metrics to Use

Before you start data collecting, you must get clear on the goals of your program and which metrics measure progress towards those goals. This means you need to have a good understanding of your workforce – their pain points, what they need support with. You also must understand your overall organizational goals – cost savings, employee retention, productivity, etc. To be effective, your program must be structured around those targets on both the employer and employee sides. From there the question is which data will indicate progress towards those targets.

As an example, say you want to implement an effective employee wellness program focused on stress management to decrease employee burnout. We know that symptoms of burnout include decreased productivity, increased interpersonal conflict, absenteeism, and presenteeism. Knowing that, after several months of the program, you could check your production numbers and check in with your HR department to see what their data looks like for absences, employee conflicts, etc.

Of note, when it comes to wellness programs, many of the measures are less tangible. For example, employee morale could be an indicator of the success of a program but it’s difficult to measure. I recommend taking these less tangible measures into account; but keep in mind that your perception of them may be influenced by outside factors.

It is always a good idea to consult with legal counsel whenever it’s possible that data collection could breach privacy.

Once you select your metrics, you must establish realistic goals and establish a schedule to assess those metrics.

From here, the question is, how to collect the data you need.

How to Collect Your Data

One way is to just allow your employees to track their own progress. This means they also have to set their own goals as well. It is great if the company offers a way for employees to track, but technological solutions often entail privacy concerns. In that case, offering something such as my Empowered Eating Journal to employees could be a simple solution. This journal allows users to set goals, track their daily habits and progress, and continually reassess and re-strategize. I would consider this a hands-off approach.

Another way to track is to look for trends in your company’s health insurance costs. I would consider this a lagging indicator, however, so you will want to review it over the course of a longer span of time. It’s also not necessarily reflective of actual changes employees have made. But if one of the goals of your program is to decrease those costs, then this is definitely a metric to look at.

A third way to assess the success of your wellness program is to poll your employees. I strongly recommend keeping responses anonymous and avoid asking for specifics. (Again, consult with the proper counsel for privacy concerns). This could look like polls conducted at the close of each session to gauge interest, usefulness, etc. This could also be a quarterly poll assessing whether the program has been impactful thus far. Or it could be just a once a year assessment.

Ideally, you can work collaboratively with your provider to determine program goals, metrics, data collection, and assessment strategies.

Is this approach for everyone?

Creating a structured program around your goals which allows employees to set their own goals can be more effective than piecemeal style programs. However, that is not to say that there is no benefit to be derived from these more freestyle programs – they absolutely can offer some benefits to employees. In fact, if you have a wide range of employee needs, a more varied program may offer benefits to more employees than a narrowly targeted and structured program. However, if you have specific organizational goals for your program, then it’s worth dedicating the time for structuring and assessing.

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How to help employees manage workplace stress

Since April is Stress Awareness Month, I think it’s worth looking at how managers can help their employees manage workplace stress.

Prior to the pandemic, a Metlife survey found that 60% of employees believed supporting mental well-being should NOT be an employer’s responsibility. However, their most recent survey found that now 62% DO believe it should be an employer’s responsibility. And I agree!

Think about it:  Let’s say you work 40 hours per week. Multiply that by 50 (assuming 2 weeks vacation), that’s 2000 hours per year which is about 23% of your year. But, realistically, many of us, perhaps most of us, are working more in the range of 50-60 hours per week (or we don’t have or use our PTO). So that is about 1/3 of your year spent at work! That translates to tremendous potential for work to impact your mental well-being.

Furthermore, we know that employee burnout is not only a massive problem but also that it’s a systemic issue, not an individual employee issue. This further underscores the need for employer support for mental well-being.

How to Manage Workplace Stress

I think of stress management as a 2-part process:

  1. Minimizing the stressors within your control
  2. Mitigating the effects of the stressors outside of your control

As you can see, part 1 is proactive and part 2 is reactive. Very often we only think about the reactive part because the proactive part has a lot to do with saying “no” and having boundaries, which can be uncomfortable.

It can be extremely challenging for employees in particular to take action on part 1. But it’s essential because reactive stress management can only get you so far. Once the waters get too deep, you can’t get your head above them. And we know that unrelenting and unmitigated stress is a major contributor to burnout.

Employees must be able to advocate for themselves when it comes to their workload and managers must make that doable. This comes from open communication, workplace culture, modeling balancing behaviors, among other strategies.

So, as part of Stress Awareness Month, I encourage all managers reading this to ask yourself these questions:

  • Do your employees feel empowered and comfortable to turn down tasks they don’t have to take on immediately?
  • Do they feel like they are able to approach you and ask for help prioritizing their workload?
  • Are they able to ask for support with their workload without fear of adverse consequences?

If you answered no to any of those, how can you make the workplace more amenable to help employees proactively manage workplace stress?

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