Wellness 3.0: Employee engagement

Shift the focus from physical health to employee well-being

More than two-thirds of U.S. employers currently offer wellness programs, which generally focus on physical health.1 But with an improved economy and increased competition for top talent, progressive companies are taking new look at what wellness really means and are shifting towards a more holistic view focused on employee well-being.

Well-being — the ability to cope with normal stresses, work fruitfully, and realize one’s potential — is associated with lower risk of disease, illness, and injury, as well as increased productivity at work and a greater likelihood to contribute to their communities.2 Beyond helping workers maintain a work-life balance and manage stress, companies are increasingly offering non-traditional benefits such as paid time-off, leadership training and community volunteer projects that improve not only well-being but also engagement.

Employee well-being and the bottom line

Well-being initiatives consider factors related to maintaining satisfaction and engagement. Employee access to programs that aim to balance personal and professional aspects of their lives can lead to higher job satisfaction levels, and help drive their companies to outperform the competition.

One example is New York-based Next Jump. This e-commerce company with 200 employees provides flexible schedules, a nap room, a summer camping retreat and a holiday dance party competition. The company credits its well-being initiatives with a lower turnover rate, intense competition to fill the rare job opening, and soaring sales rates for the past five years. Its employee turnover, once above 40 percent, has dropped to single-digits, which the company attributes to initiatives including its well-being efforts.3

The link between well-being and engagement

Dr. Randy Martin, director of the Employee Assistance Program for Humana Wellness, says that people who feel better at work perform better. It’s a circular philosophy: When a company focuses on workers’ well-being, serving their needs beyond a doctor’s office, the return on the investment is a more engaged, focused employees.

Netflix, for example, provides paid parental leave for all employees for up to one year. This benefit stems from experience: an employee who isn’t worrying about things at home performs better. 4 Policies like these also boost loyalty, helping Netflix hold on to its top talent.

Well-being that works

Next Jump and Netflix are not alone in recognizing value of a broader spectrum of non-traditional benefits. A recent report from the International Foundation of Employee Benefits Plans reveals that 66 percent of employers cited vacation as the top nontraditional initiative to promote wellness and reduce stress, followed by mental health coverage (63 percent), tuition reimbursement (63 percent) and community charity drives (57 percent).5

Humana, for example, provides its associates with paid time away from work to volunteer for activities—creating a win for employees as well as their communities.

Tom’s Shoes also understands the importance of employee engagement and its relationship to the company’s success. Tom’s motivates employees through purpose: the company donates a pair of shoes for every pair it sells. Employees and interns are inspired by the prospect of flying to a far-flung locale for a “Shoe Drop” in which they personally deliver shoes to those in need. This effort has also served as a rallying point for employees to become powerful evangelists for the company — providing a greater reputational benefit than any paid advertising can.

Management Matters

Engaged managers, who are excited about their work and find ways to support their employees through a variety of well-being programs, have more engaged employees. Data bears this out: Research shows that a manager’s engagement — or lack thereof — affects his or her employees’ engagement, creating a cascade effect.6 “Leaders, managers, and supervisors should continually remind employees of programs, or even better, ‘walk the walk’ and use them themselves, and tell their employees about these experiences,” Martin says.

International travel opportunities like Tom’s Shoes offers are not likely to find their way onto many companies’ benefit lists any time soon. But there are plenty of easy-to-implement options that can be big wins for employee well-being:

  • Implement a digital detox. Allowing employees to unplug on weekends and after hours encourages them to step away from work, Martin says. Not only do after-hours requests or inquiries from work intrude into family time, but working longer hours doesn’t make employees more productive. In fact, employee output starts to sink at the 50-hours-a-week mark.7
  • Dodge distraction. Personal concerns can distract employees from their work, creating a drag on productivity. Employee Assistance/Work-Life programs provide valuable resources and referrals for dozens of needs, from childcare and financial planning, to a leaky roof.
  • Dog days. Pets can decrease our blood pressure, cholesterol, and even stress.8 Companies are eager to see these perks extend to the workplace, and 2015 marked the 17th annual “Take Your Pet to Work Day”.
  • Recognize great work. Recognition shows employees they’re appreciated and helps motivate them to continue doing great work. This can be as simple as promoting an employee-of-the-month or top sales performer in a company newsletter, or awarding an extra vacation day for meeting key project deadlines and milestones.

It’s one thing to promote well-being initiatives on paper, but making cultural changes that encourage and enable not just participation, but engagement, can drive a company’s success. As Kristine Mullen, Segment Vice President of Humana Wellness explains, wellness is a culture, not a set of programs. “When employers institute a wellness strategy, align it with their business goals, and get all levels of the organization involved in the effort, wellness becomes more than an assortment of programs—it becomes one of the core values of the organization.”

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