The benefits of promoting healthy lifestyles in the workplace have been proven; good employee health boosts productivity, stimulates creativity and reduces company insurance costs. Creating a structured wellness program prepares businesses and their employees to meet the demands of the new economy, which requires high levels of creativity, immediate responsiveness and ever-shorter turnaround times.
Studies have shown that businesses that implement health and wellness programs see improvements in productivity, recruiting efforts and workplace morale, as well as decreases in absenteeism, insurance costs and internal conflicts. Studies typically demonstrate a $4 to $5 saving for every one dollar invested in health promotion. With a well-structured program, employees will perform at their maximum potential because they are more invested in their work and more loyal to the company.
However, every workforce has a different profile when it comes to the health of employees and the health of the business as a whole. Therefore, before implementing a wellness program and making costly investments (such as installing a fitness centre, for example), it is essential to identify the specific issues that are affecting the workforce and the company’s bottom line. Simply put, employers must conduct a diagnostic to assess the wellness of their employees and their organizations. However, not all diagnostics are created equal.
Objectives of a wellness diagnostic
A wellness diagnostic must provide an organization-wide measurement of the health and wellness of employees and determine those employees’ needs. A practical diagnostic will identify the specific health and wellness issues that have the biggest impact on the company. The diagnostic should also generate an accurate picture of the general health—and any health risks—of the company as a whole. In other words, simply analyzing the physical health and lifestyle choices of employees won’t cut it; employers must assess the wellness of the organization itself, by analyzing communication efforts, job satisfaction, workload balance and the causes of stress in the workplace.
If a diagnostic achieves these objectives, it will provide a foundation upon which employers can build a structured wellness program. A corporate wellness diagnostic will allow managers to identify problems, set goals, and measure the results and the impact to the organization. It should also provide a comparison to past initiatives and to the competition.
After understanding the objectives of a diagnostic and the reasons for conducting one, managers must determine what different types of diagnostics are out there, and which particular diagnostic is right for their business.
Elements of a successful diagnostic
Most large companies rely on a health risk assessment (HRA) to diagnose the health of their employees. While this type of diagnostic has advantages, HRAs do have some shortcomings. For instance, employees cannot participate anonymously, because they each take part in a one-on-one health assessment. The upside of this is that each employee is provided with an individualized health report, but their responses are likely to be censored if they know their employer can review them. What’s more, it can be difficult to incite healthy habits among employees when they are each working off of an individual report. For a wellness program to truly be successful, it must focus on the bigger picture, so an HRA needs to be complemented with a more thorough diagnostic.
A good corporate wellness diagnostic must be easily accessible and not overly long or complicated, in order to ensure strong employee participation. Participation should be voluntary and employees must feel comfortable taking part; ideally, they would do so in a calm, non-stressful place, and they shouldn’t find the survey too tedious or too personal. To obtain honest answers about sensitive subject matter such as drug and alcohol use, employer approval and job satisfaction, employees should be assured their responses will remain anonymous. To facilitate maximum participation and honesty, the diagnostic should be conducted by an objective source and the importance of answering honestly must be well communicated to the workforce. This last point cannot be stressed enough.
The diagnostic should provide a global perspective on the health of a business, while also providing detailed statistical analyses of each individual issue addressed. It should be made up of at least three different sections that correspond to the three essential components of health and wellness: lifestyle choices, physical health and psychological health.
Any diagnostic must include a focus on lifestyle aspects that strongly correlate with wellness, such as nutrition, exercise, sleep and tobacco, alcohol and drug use. Lifestyle choices have a huge impact on health costs; in fact, preventable illness makes up approximately 70% of the burden of illness and the associated costs. Unfortunately, most people do not prevent these illnesses simply because they are making the wrong lifestyle choices.
Separate from issues related to lifestyle, but equally important, is the assessment of physical health. This section should cover medical problems and physical disorders that may affect employees; it should take into account chronic diseases and other health problems that affect insurance claims. (If you have operations in the U.S., bear in mind that questions related to family medical history are not permitted by U.S. law if employees are given an incentive to take part in an HRA.)
A smart diagnostic will include an evaluation of what is sometimes known as organizational health—that is, all the factors that affect employee productivity and morale in a given workplace.
The next critical section of a good corporate wellness diagnostic is an assessment of the psychological wellbeing of employees. It is not necessary to test employees for mental instability or psychological issues, but rather for their ability to handle stress at home and work, and their ability to maintain healthy relationships with their colleagues. Stress has a huge impact on productivity and insurance claims, and the current trends of layoffs and increased workload are only serving to further increase stress levels.
I should point out that health-related costs and weak productivity are not caused solely by employees and their behaviors. As mentioned earlier, many employers rely on an HRA to diagnose the health of their business, but neglect to analyze workplace issues that are affecting employee health. This can create an environment where employees feel they are under the magnifying glass, and even a sense that they are being blamed. It also leaves employers with an incomplete understanding of health and wellness in their company.
This is a common problem with unsuccessful wellness programs: there is a narrow focus on individuals’ health-related attitudes and behavior, often to the exclusion of job, organization and management factors that affect employee health and wellbeing. A smart diagnostic will include an evaluation of what is sometimes known as organizational health—that is, all the factors that affect employee productivity and morale in a given workplace. These factors could include job satisfaction, workload, stress and co-worker relations, including relations between managers and employees.
A thorough employee wellness diagnostic is an essential tool; every successful wellness program is based around the results of a diagnostic. By analyzing potential problems in the workplace, the lifestyle choices of employees and their physical and emotional wellness, employers can determine which problems are directly impacting the organization. Building their program to focus on these problems maximizes the potential return on investment.
In essence, a comprehensive diagnostic provides employers with a clear and detailed understanding of the health of their business as a whole, so they know what goals their wellness program needs to achieve.
Fabien Loszach is a visionary sociologist and co-owner of Loszach Report. www.loszach.com