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Corporate wellness programs can be defined as programs that are designed to improve health and wellbeing at an organizational scale. The term “corporate wellness” sounds fun and may create mental imageries of corporate retreats in fancy resorts and spas, but the reality involves much more than the fun outdoor activities that are often branded under this term.

On an organizational scale, corporate wellness programs fall under the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) principles regarding the corporate social responsibilities (GRI 403: Occupational Health and Safety). The GRI principles mention the right to a healthy and safe workplace, practices that respect the human capacities and tolerances as described by the science of ergonomics, and the active promotion of health and safety that can include mental and physical wellbeing programs. More importantly, the GRI principles stress on the notion that health and safety at work involve both the prevention of harm, and the promotion of health and well-being.
Moreover, the ISO standard 45001:2018 enforces a culture of corporate wellness through ergonomic practices that aim to optimize the work system, processes, and environment so that it fits the workers’ potentials and capabilities and improves their performance.
In Dubai, corporate wellness is also governed by the Ministry of Happiness through its National Program for Happiness and Wellbeing and the Wellbeing Academy. The ministry has been founded to set “government policies, programmes and services that can promote virtues of positive lifestyle in the community and a plan for the development of a happiness index to measure people’s satisfaction”. The ministry’s Guide to Happiness and Wellbeing at Workplace encourages promoting health as one of the key pillars for positive institutions and engaged, loyal, and productive employees.

In light of this information, it would be fair to assume that corporate wellness projects are a cornerstone of every organization’s human resource or health and safety approach, but obviously it’s not. In reality, corporate wellness programs are sometimes considered as elective programs that companies, especially SMEs, usually abandon whenever budget constraints are required. The current pandemic made this very clear as numerous organizations currently don’t even have plans for their employee welfare programs. The harsh truth is that this underestimation by decision makers toward corporate wellness initiatives is justified and understandable. Corporate wellness programs can easily fail on the long run, and if you work in HR or run a SME, you may have invested once or twice in an employee welfare program only to realize that there wasn’t much added value on the long term.

What Makes a Corporate Wellness Program Successful?

As mentioned earlier, corporate wellness programs are much more than a hiking trip or an activity day where employees take out all their passive aggressiveness on their bosses in a volleyball match. A successful wellness program is a journey that starts with adopting the right mindset of investing in employees’ health and partnering with the right providers, and continues with consistency, follow up, and proper management. In this article, we highlighted five key points that ensure the success of a wellness program:

  1. Encouraging ROIs
  2. Top management commitment
  3. Relatable programs
  4. Sustainable outcomes
  5. Smart planning and execution

1- Encouraging Returns on investment (ROI)

As corporate wellness providers, one of the most commonly asked question we face after pitching in our services to decision makers is “what’s in it for the company?” This is a legitimate question that cannot be undermined or labelled under selfish management, since any business owner or director has to put the benefit of the organization as a priority when making financial decisions. Therefore, there needs to exist solid returns on investment that justify spending any amount of money on wellness programs.
The good news is that a successful and well-studied wellness program can deliver both financial and behavioral ROIs. According to the Harvard Business Review and Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, a successful corporate wellness project can yield a ROI of 1.4-2.73$ for each dollar spent. This relatively high ROI is due to five main factors:

  1. Reduced healthcare and insurance costs: due to reduced number of injuries and disorders resulting from physical inactivity and poor work habits and ergonomics.
  2. Reduced absenteeism: results from improved overall health and wellbeing which serve as preventive care against noncommunicable diseases.
  3. Reduced presenteeism (time spent at work not working): presenteeism was found highest in workers with neck and back pain whose pain affected their ability to concentrate and perform their required tasks efficiently.
  4. Improved productivity: due to reduced pain and discomfort, improved work habits and ergonomics represented mostly by the workstation design and work environment, and increased loyalty toward the organization.
  5. Improved employee satisfaction and morale: employees feel that they belong to the organization when they are shown that the latter cares for their physical and mental wellbeing.

For a wellness program to be successful, it should address the factors mentioned above in its approach. One challenge in claiming the ROIs is that the reward from undergoing a wellness program is not instant. An increase of 3% in productivity among workers may cover the expenses of an end-to-end ergonomic program in six months, whereas a reduced healthcare and insurance cost may take a year to be applied depending on the insurance contract and insuring organization. Ideally, the duration for a wellness program to claim its ROIs should not be a limitation, but many decision makers are not as patient with their investments, which brings us to the second key factor of a successful wellness program.

2- Top Management Commitment

Wellness programs are not only intended to the employees working within an organization, but for the organization as a whole. Employees view their managers and directors as leaders, and if leaders cannot apply a change in habits affecting health and productivity, it may be significantly harder for employees to apply even the most basic guidelines. Another limitation in the success of a wellness program lies in the sense of initiative, or lack thereof, of HR managers and directors of bigger organizations. Given the current work environment and challenges, this is an understandable limitation where HR directors are overwhelmed by routine tasks and feel unmotivated to undertake more responsibilities. The solution in this case is to collaborate with a corporate wellness organization that can reduce the work needed from the HR department by facilitating the project process and integrate smart tools to communicate the key messages to employees. These smart tools cost money, so make sure to look for wellness companies that put their clients ahead of their financial reports.

3- Relatable Programs

Wellness programs are diverse and can tackle any system or group of systems of the human body, or even target mental health and wellbeing. For example, at WellFit Consultancy we focus on the musculoskeletal health and ergonomics in our approach in light of the statistics that show that they are the leading source of disability and presenteeism at the workplace. Other organizations may focus on cardiovascular, metabolic, or mental health. Some organizations approach corporate wellness from a behavioral approach and tackles subjects of diversity, inclusiveness, and cultural issues. Decision makers need to be certain that the program(s) that they are implementing are relevant and relatable to their employees and organizations, otherwise such programs would be a waste of financial and time investments.

4- Sustainable Outcomes

Besides the ROIs resulting from incorporating a wellness program, decision makers usually challenge the sustainability of the outcomes of such programs. In the introduction we mentioned that many organization, especially SMEs, may have already incorporated a wellness program in the past that failed to stand the test of time, which made them hesitant against incorporating future programs. Taking a workshop about the dangers of smoking or the importance of exercise won’t do the trick if done alone. Convincing and making the employees lose weight is not a project with a deadline but an ongoing journey. Sustainable outcomes require collaboration between the wellness organization, the stakeholders, and the targeted employees.
We mentioned earlier the importance of commitment from decision makers as well as the need of the wellness companies to relieve HR staff from excessive tasks related to their projects. Another key element for the long term success of a wellness project lies in the smart planning and execution described below.

5- Smart Planning and Execution

For a wellness project to succeed, it needs to be customized for the organization implementing it, such that it can tackle the actual problems and issues faced by the employees. The best way to identify these issues is through a thorough and detailed assessment process that considers subjective feedback from the stakeholders and employees, as well as objective feedback from the subject matter experts overviewing and guiding the program. Any assessment related to health and the human body should be scientifically tested and approved to be considered a valid and reliable tool in generating a gap analysis report which in itself would dictate the needed measurements and actions to be taken by the organization.
For the execution to be successful, it should be based on evidence-based and scientific recommendations that have been proven to be effective. This scientific approach should be aligned with the stakeholders’ budget, therefore the more affordable interventions and recommendations are usually the ones that turn out to be the most sustainable. Realistic commitment and tasks needed from the top management are also key in the success of the program’s execution, and need to be considered by the corporate wellness organization proactively.

For example, WellFit Consultancy’s core services rotates around ergonomics, which is the science of work and the people’s efficiency in their working environment. Our methodology relies on a detailed assessment phase, an individualized intervention plan, and a post-intervention evaluation. In our assessment, we acquire subjective input from the company workers related to their work habits and musculoskeletal health through online questionnaires, as well as objective data about the work environment, the workspace design and its organization. Both subjective and objective assessments rely on scientific questionnaires and tools. This reduces the possibility of bias by the employees in their reporting, and eliminates reason of concern from decision makers of the credibility of the reporting by WellFit Consultancy.
Our intervention phase is bifold, consisting of a group interactive workshop that educates and empowers employees to improve their work habits related to ergonomics and musculoskeletal health, as well as providing onsite support that fine-tunes the guidelines and recommendations communicated in the group workshop, while implementing changes in the work environment and workstation design. This approach solidifies the sustainability of the wellness program, given that employees are provided with the necessary tools to work smart regardless of their work environment.
To consolidate the entire project, we evaluate the intervention phase by implementing a similar data gathering as the assessment phase which can measure the progress done by the implementing organization and employees, as well as provides future recommendations that can maximize the benefits from our programs. We also perform routine visits to the worksite to make sure that our guidelines and recommendations are kept in check and followed by the employees.
Our entire approach relies minimally on the HR department which relieves them from additional and unwanted tasks by relying in our assessments on surveying platforms that don’t require constant and needless communication with the HR department.

Conclusion

The five key factors of a successful wellness program are not inclusive, but provide our input based on the evidence we compiled and experience in the wellness field. We believe that they are crucial factors when deciding to implement any wellness program, and we make sure to address them in our projects. Corporate wellness programs are an asset and not a liability, but they are also an asset that requires action and initiative. If you are a business owner, director, or decision maker, investing in your employees’ health can yield unmeasurable rewards, as they are your biggest assets.

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