How to Create a Sustainable Employee Wellbeing Strategy

Many workplace health and wellbeing programmes fail because they don’t get the basics right. Here is my take on the key mistakes organisations make which set their programmes up to fail.

Eight Expensive Errors

  1. Not getting buy in from the very top

You infinitely improve your odds of creating a sustainable well-being strategy if you can gather buy-in from senior management. HR professionals often overlook the fact that CEOs and boards are willing to grant them funding for a well-being program that actually works.

The people sitting in the big leather chairs at the boardroom table understand the importance of walking the talk – and doing it in front of an audience. They see well-being as a demonstrable way to show employees that the organisation cares and has a genuine interest in their health, happiness and well-being.

Take a look at the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies and world leaders these days, the  vast majority of them are fit, healthy and active; they have to be in order to perform at the top of their game and balance the pressure and demands of their careers, travel commitments and health.

  1. Not presenting the business case

I suppose this goes hand in hand with the first error. Lots of time, money and effort is wasted on poorly executed workplace wellbeing initiatives. Many of which don’t conclusively answer the question of why?

Demonstrating how much your programme can improve your organisations bottom line is likely to be met more favourably by those that control the purse strings. Benchmark your key business metrics such as sickness absence, staff turnover and accident and injury rates. Focus on showing how targeted programmes can help your organisation to reduce costs related to those key metrics. Don’t forget to then measure the impact and outcome of your programme. This will make it far easier to build a case for further investment if your programme has been a success.

  1. Failing to invest

Many organisations try to create a well-being strategy without allocating sufficient resources. I think it’s a myth that wellbeing programmes have to be extremely well funded in order to deliver meaningful returns. That said businesses must be prepared to invest something, whether it be time or a small budget In order for an initiative to succeed and deliver results. Your workforce is your most valuable asset and its somewhat bizarre that businesses will spend thousands of pounds maintaining and servicing machines and tools throughout the year to prevent breakdowns, yet not give the same consideration to maintaining the health of its staff?

There are plenty of free or very low cost tools and resources out there to help smaller businesses introduce wellbeing in the workplace. You could also get creative with your budget allocation. Encourage each department to contribute small amounts from other sources to create a wellbeing budget. Some companies have also had success with salary sacrifice schemes and employee match funding.

  1. Telling and not empowering

Too many workplace wellbeing programmes fail because they do not engage with the audience effectively enough. Usually creating a feeling like it is being done to them rather than with and for them. In order for programmes to be a success they need to be pitched at a level that engages your most sedentary, dis-engaged employees that would appreciate your support. A good place to start is identifying and prioritising the health and wellbeing needs of your staff and then empowering them to take ownership of their health and create a targeted and meaningful ‘show not tell’ programme in the workplace.

  1. Thinking its all about free fruit and gym memberships

Dame Carol Black, expert adviser on health and work for the Department of Health has been saying for many years “If you aren’t happy and well at work, you won’t eat the fresh fruit, you will buy the Mars Bar,”. “There’s no point just putting fruit out and providing a bicycle scheme. That’s not wellbeing at work. “The sequence is good work and good workplaces first. Get that right and it will lead to employee wellbeing and engagement. That leads to increased productivity and improvement of your product.”

Being ‘strategic’ is not about having an eye-catching list of initiatives…..It is about: – Aligning your HWB strategy with your business strategy – Prioritising prevention & early intervention – A focus on causes not just symptoms – Co-producing healthy work with line managers & staff – Measuring & monitoring what you do – Including a public health & community dimension to what you do.

  1. Too much, too soon

Don’t make the mistake of putting all your eggs in one basket. Well designed and structured workplace wellbeing programmes are usually drip fed throughout the year to maintain engagement so that over time people start to anticipate them. Launching all your interventions in the first month is counterproductive. People may feel overwhelmed by too much choice and end up not participating in anything. Consider creating a calendar of events that targets the health priorities of you workforce and link them in to wider local and national health awareness and promotion days, weeks and months. Good examples include no smoking day, mental health awareness week, and dry January. Its far better to deliver 1 or 2 well thought out and executed initiatives each year than 7-8 average ones.

  1. Failure to train and educate line managers

Line managers are the squeezed middle or filling in the sandwich. Contrary to what a lot of them may think, they do have a duty of care to protect and support the health and wellbeing of those they manage. We know far too many line managers inherit managerial positions through internal promotions , however that doesn’t make them effective nor adequately trained to manage people.

Dame Carol Black’s ‘Working for a healthier tomorrow’ review of the health of Britain’s working age population identified line managers as a key agent of change and recommended that ‘line managers should be supported to understand that the health and wellbeing of employees is their responsibility, and should be willing to take action when health and well-being are at risk‘

More recently in June of this year NICE Guidance [NG13] entitled Workplace policy and management practices to improve the health and wellbeing of employees highlights the importance of providing adequate and appropriate training for line mangers.

These include training in how to have difficult conversations with employees, how to recognise when someone needs support and how to use risk assessments to identify and deal with causes of stress. It also makes reference to the importance of 2 way communication, regularly seeking feedback on staff morale, ensuring staff are involved in decision making and that managers adequate time, training and resources to ensure they balance the aims of the organisation with concern for the health and wellbeing of their employees.

  1. Reinventing the wheel

Many organisations try to roll out an initiative with just their own internal staff and the assistance of their health insurance carrier and neglect to use outside experts and vendors. The reality is that designing a well-being program usually requires expertise and experience

beyond the traditional HR function.

It takes sense to select dedicated outside resources and support that can ensure your program succeeds. This also ensures you reap the benefit of your vendor’s experience across multiple industry sectors, demographics, psychographics and geographies. It affords you the opportunity to enjoy economies of scale and access to content, expertise, talent and experience that will be beyond your budget.

……and here’s bonus error number 9.

  1. Not using Workplace Health Champions

Workplace health champions are pivotal to the success and long term sustainability of any workplace health and wellbeing programme. These individuals act as motivators to encourage and support others to participate in your programme. They are often very organised, persuasive and they practice what they preach so set a good example to the wider workforce. Some of the best champions are those who have been through a significant lifestyle change themselves. Maybe they’ve just quit smoking after 30 years or lost 3 stones. It is these individuals who can relate and empathise to the barriers their co-workers potential face but more importantly they can share some of their solutions and provide valuable peer support.

If you’re thinking about implementing or refining your current workplace health and wellbeing programme, use the mistakes listed above as a checklist to avoid your programme failing.

Andrew Harris

Andrew Harris works for The Fit for Work Team as a Workplace Health and Wellbeing Specialist. Andrew has over 15 years experience working in this field. Andrew is currently managing a successful Healthy Workplaces Programme supporting small businesses in Leicestershire.