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How to ensure wellbeing programmes are impactful and cost-effective

Employee wellbeing initiatives will fall flat if they don’t address the root causes of stress and burnout. Rūta Bakanaitė examines how HR and occupational health can work together to ensure programmes deliver good value.

It’s clear why experts are suggesting burnout is the health epidemic of the 21st century. Work-related stress is increasing, with a staggering 52% of employees suffering from burnout, according to a recent survey by Indeed. Demand for Employee Assistance Programmes  (EAPs) has skyrocketed as employers look to support staff mental health and wellbeing.

Mental health issues can have a devastating impact on employees, hindering their focus, draining their motivation, and making it difficult for them to perform their duties effectively. While mental ill health is often seen as a personal battle to be fought through individual coping strategies such as therapy, relaxation, physical activity, and resilience training, a large meta-analysis revealed that job demands play a much greater role in our mental health than personal coping mechanisms.

The top five reasons for work-related mental ill health include:

  • unfair treatment at work
  • unmanageable workload
  • lack of role clarity
  • lack of communication and support from managers
  • unreasonable time pressure.

Given that most of these factors are out of the employee’s control, it’s no wonder that individual-based interventions like mindfulness are seen as hypocritical when it comes to addressing stress and burnout in the workplace.

Unfortunately, a large number of employees feel that their employers don’t truly care about their wellbeing, and only one in three believe that their company wellbeing strategy is actually effective, according to WTW research.

There is an urgent need for organisations to reassess and revitalise their approach to employee wellbeing, making it a genuine priority rather than just a performative initiative.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to mental health promotion. Offering a yoga app may be helpful to some, but it’s very unlikely to benefit all.

Getting return on investment

HR and occupational health professionals face a challenge with companies blindly investing in various employee wellbeing programmes without consideration of their effectiveness or what employees need.

Low usage rates, often only 2-8%, raise questions about the true impact of these initiatives and their return on investment (ROI), according to studies in Canada and Australia. Further research by the Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston shows that the ROI of wellbeing initiatives vary dramatically among different organisations.

To ensure that wellbeing initiatives truly benefit both employees and the organisation, HR professionals must assess and plan the provision of different elements based on the specific needs and values of their employees.

When employee wellness is not supported by the employer, the effects ripple through the workplace. Absences rise, and even when employees are present, they may not be fully invested, leading to a drop in productivity. This can be particularly damaging, resulting in a loss of valuable talent and additional cost associated with the recruitment and training of new hires.

If an employer doesn’t know the effectiveness of its strategies, the initiative could be competent at best and harmful at worst.”

A wellbeing initiative must have some sort of impact. If an employer doesn’t know the effectiveness of its strategies, the initiative could be competent at best and harmful at worst. Essentially, it could be a waste of money.

A paper from Dr Rick Csiernik proposes that to maximise the impact of wellness programmes, they should be data-driven rather than relying on personal opinions. HR managers should gather data and implement changes when stress levels persist in certain teams or departments.

Solely relying on individual-based interventions may not address the root causes of burnout, as job demands play a significant role. In some situations, the solution may require restructuring work processes or job redesign to effectively reduce workplace stress.

Steps for an impactful wellbeing programme

To ensure the successful implementation of a wellbeing programme, here are seven key steps to follow:

1. Start with a baseline assessment to set a reference point for comparison

Conducting a baseline assessment is key to measuring progress and determining the success of a wellbeing strategy. OH and HR can gather data on stress, burnout, job satisfaction, absenteeism, employee turnover, and overall employee health to have a clear starting point. With this information, HR professionals can set achievable goals and tailor a plan to address the specific needs of their organisation and employees.

2. Establish clear goals and tracking methods

To assess the effectiveness of wellness initiatives, HR should establish clear objectives and set metrics for tracking progress. Goals could include increased utilisation, reduced stress, higher employee satisfaction, and improved productivity. Metrics could consist of biometric data, performance metrics, pulse surveys, qualitative feedback, and online/mobile assessments. Our organisation, 87 Percent, can provide more assistance around how to measure and track employee wellbeing data.

3. Implement the initiatives

Once the objectives and metrics have been defined and the baseline assessment conducted, it’s time to implement employee wellbeing initiatives. It’s better to use previously collected people data rather than relying on guesswork.

4. Monitor progress

Tailoring initiatives to meet employee preferences and regular tracking helps in maximising impact. Utilise people data to conduct health and wellbeing strategies, and avoid guesswork by assessing employee preferences. Regular monitoring ensures that initiatives meet employee needs and goals.

5. Track attendance rates where possible

HR and OH professionals should monitor participation in wellness initiatives to measure their success and make necessary improvements. To do this, they can gather data on attendance through sign-in sheets or online tracking systems. Pulse surveys can provide qualitative feedback from employees on the impact of the activities. The utilisation of wellness programmes, such as gym memberships or app subscriptions, can also be tracked through usage data to gauge their effectiveness.

6. Evaluate the results

After a sufficient amount of time has passed, evaluate the results of the initiatives by comparing the data from the baseline assessment to the data collected during the implementation period. This will help determine if the objectives have been achieved and if the initiatives have delivered good ROI.

7. Share the results

Share the results of the evaluations with relevant stakeholders, including employees, to increase transparency and accountability. This can also help identify any additional initiatives that may be necessary.

By following these steps, HR and OH teams can ensure the wellbeing initiatives their companies invest in deliver good returns and help improve employees’ mental health.

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