Employee Wellness Program Challenges
Recently Eliz keynoted the Biz Times Wellness Summit and facilitated roundtable discussions about “What’s Missing In Your Wellness Program” with HR professionals, CEOs, and wellness providers. These discussions resulted in insights on challenges facing employers and best practices beneficial to anyone managing an employee wellness program.
Employer Challenge: Overcome Stigma To Supply Mental Health Resources
One of the themes of the Summit was mental health and addiction. This theme carried through to the roundtable discussion as we addressed how to overcome stigma to supply mental health resources. Two insights in this area include:
- Managers need a way to start supportive conversations about mental health and addiction. Managers are often provided with training and even scripts to have supervisory conversations about attendance, performance, and discipline. Most, however, receive no training in starting a conversation about mental health. The stigma of mental health is often a barrier to discovering when employees would benefit from assistance. Develop scripts and training to start supportive conversations about mental health and addiction is essential.
- Employee Assistance Programs must be highly visible. Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) often seem like a well-kept secret. Employees need regular reminders of the benefits available to them. Whether it is a visit to a lawyer or the opportunity to talk with a mental health professional, these services need to be communicated regularly. Having a physical presence of the EAP is important. Providing education programs on mental health, addiction, and other EAP services is essential to visibility as well.
Employer Challenge: Low participation or engagement in wellness programs
Many of the companies attending the summit struggle with engaging more than 30 to 40 percent of their employees in their wellness programs. Three insights from the roundtables include:
- Wellness programs must be led from the top down. Eliz shared in the keynote stories of wellness programs defeated by inconsistent communication from leadership. For example, a “leave work at work” theme encouraging employees not to answer emails between 7 pm and 7 am is easily defeated by a boss emailing at 11 pm. Also, leaders have to share personal experiences to place importance on wellness efforts.
- Wellness programs must be flexible enough to serve different locations, job categories, fitness levels, and environments.
Managing a wellness program to serve employees in multiple states or vastly different job workspace is challenging. For example, the needs of warehouse employees are different than the needs of business office employees. Using an evaluation tool, such as Eliz’s stress study, to discover needs across the organization is essential to providing programs to serve different populations.
- Wellness programs must be assessed regularly. Surveys are often the best tool to examine the success of wellness programs. Best practices involved allowing employees to sample wellness offering and then choose programs to fit their needs and goals. Incentives to encourage participation were also suggested as a best practice. One organization rewarded participation in programs throughout the year with a playing card. At the end of the year, the employee with the best poker hand won a prize.
Employer Challenge: Negative work environment is overshadowing wellness efforts.
As Eliz’s keynote demonstrated, often the largest source of stress is the work environment. Offering yoga at lunch or access to cooking classes can’t address this problem. Best practices from the group for addressing negative work environments include:
- Employers must shift communication, interaction, and even location to address negative environments.
- Using an improvisation game such as “Yes and…” can be useful to shift negative attitudes at the beginning of a meeting. If everyone speaks and is encouraged to be collaborative before any work discussion begins, people are more likely to contribute to the conversation, and the outcome is more likely to be positive.
- Changing the way interaction happen can also have a positive effect. Having a meeting while standing can speed up communication, avoid one person monopolizing the discussion, and keep the group on topic. Having a conversation while walking side-by-side can add emotional cover during more uncomfortable situations as eye contact is diminished.
- Shifting locations changes interactions as well. Holding meetings outside of the regular workspace can reset communication patterns.
- Employers must recognize employees with rewards of real value.
Employee recognition efforts only work if the employ values the reward. A trinket might hold value for one employee and be an annoyance to another. Some suggestions of “real value” included extra vacation days, early release Fridays, and late start days. One organization uses a program which encourages employees to nominate team members who are then rewarded with things which benefit the entire team. For example, an outstanding employee can earn a catered lunch for the whole team.
Employer Challenge: Change in the workplace is overshadowing wellness efforts.
Undergoing change often creates stress in a work environment. Addressing the change head-on is often essential before progress on wellness initiatives can be made. Insights from the roundtables include:
- Employers must clearly communicate the end goal of the change consistently and often. Without the end goal, the frustration of change, especially technology changes, can overwhelm employees. One announcement will not be enough, regular reminders of the reason for the change will keep the focus on the big picture rather than the daily frustration. During times of change employees often fragment their focus onto small details and lose sight of the goal. Conversations about “why we do what we do” on personal and organizational levels reset the focus as well.
- Employers must allow employees to grieve what is lost. Loss of comfort in familiar routines, technology, or people often results in anger. Adjusting to something new naturally requires letting go of what is known. Acknowledging and allowing time to process this loss speeds adoption and lowers stress.
- Employers must celebrate incremental progress towards goals. Any large change consists of smaller steps. By celebrating short-term milestones, the change seems more achievable and success more possible. These celebrations also offer a reprieve from constant stress.
Employer Challenge: Starting or reenergizing a wellness program:
Many of the attendees came from smaller organizations searching for ways to integrate a wellness program. Best practices included:
- Employers must assess the unique needs of their organization. Wellness programs should be tailored to address the causes of job stress in the organization. Using a tool such as Eliz’s job stress study or internal surveys allow employers to create opportunities for impact.
- Small employers should take advantage of grant opportunities. The State of Wisconsin offers grants for companies with 50 or fewer employees to start wellness programs. Contact your local American Heart Association for assistance in finding your state’s opportunites.
- Download AHA’s resources:
The Biz Times Wellness Summit Roundtables were a wealth of wisdom and lively conversation. For more information on Eliz Greene’s Employee Wellness programs and Job Stress Research visit Eliz’s Employee Wellness Page