Going Beyond Physical Health to Create a Sustainable Culture of Health


By Philip Swayze On October 14, 2016 @ The SHRM Blog

If your organization still views employee wellness through the lens of physical health, you are only seeing part of the big picture.  A more comprehensive approach to improving well-being will benefit your workers and your business.


Employee wellness programs traditionally focus on moving more, eliminating tobacco and eating better.  Data from the CDC, NIH and private industry have long shown these factors drive medical cost and as such are excellent lifestyle changes to adopt.  But we shouldn’t ignore the impact of stress, financial wellness and poor health on productivity. It’s easy to focus on claims so some readers may be surprised to learn that you lose $2 to $3 in productivity for every $1 spent in healthcare costs. (Loeppke, R., et al., JOEM.2009)


As you go beyond simple “wellness” to fostering a culture of health that also supports the worker’s emotional and fiscal health, and ultimately, performance, consider the following:

•      Offer exercise classes but also enact policies that support a healthy environment,like comprehensive return-to-work programs after workplace injuries.

•      Bring employees together around a shared purpose by supporting philanthropic activities as part of your company’s mission so everyone reaps the psychic income of helping others.

•      Integrate stress management, financial wellness and sleep hygiene programs in with your traditional walking programs and healthy eating classes to address other key components of well-being.

•      Consider integrating a robust menu of voluntary benefits into your overall program. The options can range from offering identity theft and pet insurance to retirement plan counseling services that can address a more urgent need and create peace of mind for an employee.

The future of workplace wellness initiatives must go beyond the standard definitions of “wellness” to the creation of a more holistic culture geared toward health and performance. Done right, everyone wins.

Put simply, healthier employees experience fewer workplace injuries and outperform less healthy employees. By creating a bridge between healthy workers and better performance, you gain competitive advantage.

Here’s how to cross that bridge.

First, you need to adopt a longer term view. This culture change takes combining a long-term, multi-year benefits strategy with a long-term business strategy to meet the dual purposes of supporting employees’ needs and improving their (and your organization’s) performance.

The next challenge is assessment of actual risk.  This evaluation requires a good look at these business-relevant metrics – workers’ comp claims, disability, paid and unpaid leave.  It’s not just what they cost and how well they’re utilized; it’s whether your policies and procedures around them are designed optimally.  Through this assessment, you can identify and prioritize critical employee resources, and then drive appropriate utilization.

Finally, use data in combination with more traditional wellness approaches such as employee satisfaction surveys and a health assessments to determine the aggregate risk and measure the impact the initiative is having.

With ever-changing regulations, a mix of three generations in the workforce and pressures from new forms of competition, running a business and offering creative, meaningful benefits is more complex today than ever before.

So… Take a deep breath and remember that creating a great health and performance program isn’t brain surgery but it does require thoughtfulness and the consideration of what will work best for your population.  It’s also important to consider how every program you introduce and communication you send delivers a message to your workforce about how you value them and the role they can play in your company’s success.


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