While workplace safety has become a critical component to worker well-being, integrating worker wellness into a company’s core values is becoming just as essential, according to a new Campbell Institute study.
The link to a healthy workforce and a safe workplace is too hard to ignore, with economic (workers’ compensation, turnover rate), work environment (incident rate, hazard recognition) and social factors (prevalence of health conditions and risk, DART due to health conditions) directly affecting safety and productivity.
Marissa Vicario, an integrative health and nutrition coach, echoes the recently-released study, citing three main reasons why more companies are integrating health and wellness into the workplace:
- Wellness is becoming more mainstream and accessible. It’s much more front-and-center in our culture than it was even a few years ago.
- Several of the corporate giants have led by example. Google started a mindfulness program as early as 2007.
- Insurance companies are encouraging it. For example, Aetna’s health-minded CEO backed its own wellness program which delivered such impressive results that they now offer it to the businesses that contract with them.
In a Q&A with EHS Today, Vicario explains how workplace wellness works hand-in-hand with a safer workplace.
EHS Today: What is the value of a workplace wellness program?
Marissa Vicario: They are crucial for employee retention and can also lower insurance premiums for the business. More employers who have extensive wellness programs are using them as part of their recruitments efforts as a way to attract employees.
If you take care of your employees and foster a supportive environment, employees will stay and do good work because they feel important and want to be a part of the culture. Workplace wellness is one way to invest in your people.
EHS Today: How important is workplace health to a proper work-life balance?
Vicario: Considering we spend a third of our lives at work, it’s a non-negotiable. The healthy habits practiced in the workplace carry over to our daily lives and vice versa. If a business can promote a healthy work-life balance, they will see better employee retention rates and more productivity from their employees. Some employers are building their own wellness values into the fabric of their culture by offering mental health days or flexible hours for employees to promote work life balance.
EHS Today: Who should implement these programs – HR, EHS or a combination of the two?
Vicario: Whichever department can allocate the resources, but a combination of the two is best. In my opinion, the more departments an organization can have on board, the better.
EHS Today: What programs or initiatives can employers implement in terms to improve workplace wellness in terms of: mental health, physical health, stress and nutrition?
Vicario: There are endless possibilities. Many organizations are expanding beyond traditional smoking cessation programming and delving into personal development. Some examples of wellness initiatives are yoga classes, meditation classes or rooms, healthy snacks, nutrition workshops and cooking classes, ergonomics. I would like to see more companies offering health coaching for their employees – for groups and individuals.
EHS Today: How can employers address the individual needs of an employee?
Vicario: Ask people what they want. Often, individual needs are similar so you can address them with group programming. Have an open-door policy to allow employees to express their individual needs and use the resources provided as part of the wellness program to address them. This is where technology such as a digital platform can be an integral part of wellness programming both for collecting data and addressing individual needs.
EHS Today: What can employers do to increase worker participation in programs?
Vicario: Incentivize employee participation by hosting challenges, bringing in lunch or other value-adds that will enhance the employees’ experience and encourage them to take time out of their busy day to attend programming. Some organizations are making wellness programming mandatory for all employees.
EHS Today: When should an employer expect to see ROI based on how complex a program can be?
Vicario: It depends on the business and how extensive the programming is. Give it at least a year and be sure to measure the results so you can scale the program and make adjustments as needed.
EHS Today: Where should an EHS professional, HR manager or company start if they want to implement a program?
Vicario: The first step for getting a workplace wellness program up and going is allocating budget. If wellness is a priority, make it a line item. It’s a smart investment that pays dividends. It’s misguided to expect to offer wellness programming without a budget for it. Next, decide how you want to deliver your program which should be aligned with your corporate culture and values. Does a software-based program make the most sense or would you rather bring in live practitioners to interact face-to-face with your employees? What time of day is best - morning, afternoon lunch-and-learns or evening? What aspects of wellness will you include (fitness, mindfulness/meditation, nutrition, etc)? It’s important to be strategic about it like you would any other program or investment in the organization.
Four Essentials for Worker Health and Wellness
By Thomas Wiggins
Wellness plans have become an important aspect of any employee benefits package, and they’re more directly connected to employee financials than one might think. There are many financial factors that impact an individual’s health that employers should consider and properly address.
• Mental Health: Restful time off plays an instrumental role in improving mental health, but many employees don’t end up using their allotted annual vacation time. According to Washington-based coalition Project Time Off, American employees forfeited 206 million vacation days in 2016. While a variety of factors contribute, unused paid time off days are often a result of individuals not having money set aside. Employers should work hand-in-hand with their employees to plan for all aspects of their financial future—including how to set aside money to spend during their hard-earned time off.
• Physical Health: A healthy workforce is a strong workforce, and health savings accounts are one way employers can help employees set money aside to attend to their physical health and medical needs. We’re also seeing many employers move toward allotting funds for employees to use toward physical activities such as gym or yoga memberships, which can have a direct impact on employee health.
• Stress: Access to health care—or lack thereof—can be an enormous source of stress for employees. Ensure employees have adequate amounts of health and disability income insurance, as well as life insurance, and you’ll reduce the burden employees feel to care of themselves and their loved ones.
• Nutrition: Eating healthy is important, but can often seem unattainable due to the cost of highly-nutritious items. Employers should help their team to budget accordingly for a nutritious diet. This includes reviewing past expenses to determine how much they are spending on food and talking about nutritious options in their price range.
Thomas Wiggins, MSM, CFP, is principal and financial advisor at Rehmann.