Why employers keep getting wellbeing wrong – and how they can get it right

A new report from the Campbell Institute indicates that many employers are still getting their staff wellbeing strategies wrong – and the bad news is, it’s bad for business.

It seems that organisations are implementing individual incentives and initiatives to tackle issues like stopping smoking and encouraging weight loss and/or healthy eating.  Whilst these initiatives are better than nothing, the lack of cohesion and a unified strategy means they often have minimal impact on the problems which matter to employers, such as sickness absence, employee motivation and improved employee health.  Engagement is also an issue with many of the schemes – it’s often the case that employers have the very best of intentions, but an inability to deliver initiatives that deliver results.

The good news from the Campbell Institute report is that viewing staff wellbeing as a whole, and implementing initiatives as part of an overall, responsive strategy will deliver not only happier workers but sustainable, and in some cases improved employee health.

So what strategies should employers consider?

According to the report, wellbeing should encompass health protection (such as safety training, line manager training, adequate PSE and safe patterns of work) as well as health initiatives (such as free flu shots, exercise classes or sleep improvement).  Throwing in a yoga class to tackle stress, for example, is pointless if the source of the stress is inadequate equipment, poor staffing levels, an unsafe working environment, poor management and unreasonable overtime levels.

Employers seeking to improve wellbeing should also consider whether they can utilise add-on wellbeing benefits already included but hidden away in the small print of their policy.  For example, a useful benefit provided by RedArc Nurses offers employees telephone support manned by qualified nurses, and the service often included in EAPs as an add on for all employees even if the general EAP provisions are restricted to more senior employees.  The same often applies to telephone counselling services, or certain occupational health services.  These services often go unused because ‘nobody reads the small print’.  Understanding and communicating your benefits packages better, and getting value from the services you pay for already, is an essential part of any wellbeing strategy.

The Campbell Institute proposes a systematic approach to assessing and addressing total worker wellbeing, such as implementing the “Plan Do Check Act” model.  With many employers now having access to powerful data from HR software, it’s time employers used that data to drive health and safety and wellbeing.  A truly responsive plan will deliver results that in turn deliver on the bottom line.

“There is not a one-size-fits-all solution to worker wellbeing,” said John Dony, director of the Campbell Institute, the center of excellence for environmental, health and safety management at the National Safety Council. “Organizations are unique and so are their employees. If the biggest risk to an organization is employees being overweight, it might want to focus efforts on physical fitness. Or, if the highest risk for an organization is deemed to be worker stress, it might want to look at implementing a worker assistance program.”

The PDCA model is intended to not only discover and implement improvements in worker wellbeing, but also ensure those improvements are maintained. The system is well known in the safety industry and is repeated continuously for ongoing progress. Steps in the model are as follows:

  • Plan – analyze information, solicit ideas and select best plan for improvement
  • Do – implement the plan (either as a pilot program or fully deployed plan)
  • Check – gather information to verify the desired effects of change are seen
  • Act – sustain gains made and make course corrections as needed

Rather than choosing an initiative first, employers should identify top problem areas and then develop intervention strategies at an organizational level to address those risks.

To view the full Campbell Institute report, titled “A Systems Approach to Worker Health and Wellbeing,” click here. The report includes a 35-item questionnaire that addresses six primary stress areas on the job.

In addition, the Campbell Institute will host a webinar related to its report from 11 a.m. to noon Central Standard Time on March 21. To register for the webinar, visit www.thecampbellinstitute.org/webinars.