Wellbeing specialist Dr Bridget Juniper outlines 10 steps that organisations should follow in order to devise and execute an effective employee wellbeing programme.
1. What do you want your employee wellbeing programme to achieve?
I never cease to be surprised by the number of organisations that embark on employee wellbeing programmes and have very little idea of why. According to a study by Buck Consultants (2009), the primary reason for an employee wellbeing programme is to enhance productivity and performance. This might be to cut sickness absence or to improve people’s efforts. Either way, the objectives for most wellbeing initiatives are, at best, poorly articulated and, at worst, conspicuous by their absence. Confirm why you at looking at employee wellbeing and what you want it to accomplish. All decisions regarding approach and choice will then flow from this.
2. Define what you mean by wellbeing
Employee wellbeing can mean many different things to different people and that is why it is important at the outset to define exactly what this term covers. Is it only about the physical health of employees? Is it about encouraging people to adopt healthier lifestyles? Is it about stress management? Or is it something that describes a much broader construct taking into account all ways in which employees perceive their work to have an impact on their overall health and wellness. Pin down what you mean by employee wellbeing (or some similar term, such as wellness) and you will be better placed to shape a programme that delivers on its promise.
3. Audit existing activity
Once you have addressed steps one and two, look at what you already have in place that you can build on. This might be in the form of existing management information, such as absence and attrition data, previous employee survey findings and occupational health and safety records. If your primary aim is to boost performance, perhaps there is available data on performance appraisals and productivity levels that can feed into this exercise. Additionally, it is important to consider what capability is available. Is there a training team or an occupational health team for example? If you offer private medical insurance and flexible benefits, what other capabilities can your providers offer?
4. Identify the gaps
The next step is to critically evaluate whether or not there are large holes in your knowledge. Common gaps are to do with employees’ own views of their wellbeing and the kind of programmes that they would find most beneficial and relevant. You may have decent quality data from occupational health, but what about the other 95% of your workforce who have never been referred? Beware the senior manager who presumes to know the answers by virtue of their own position; or the health enthusiast who believes that their own predilection for fitness is replicated throughout the workforce.
5. Develop your wellbeing programme
Based on the previous steps, you should be in a position to develop a strategic approach to your programme and begin to shape its content. If you are looking to procure support from external providers, ask them to provide evidence for the claims that they make. Speak to existing clients and compare notes. Most importantly, test out ideas with employees. Which particular elements of the programme do they like the sound of? What do they think might be missing? What ideas do they have for wellbeing?
6. Secure support for business case and budget
You now need to make the business case and secure support from senior stakeholders, both internally and externally, for your plans and budget. Senior teams are easily persuaded when there are hard facts and figures that paint a compelling picture. Employee wellbeing ideas founded on intuition, gut-feel and muddled thinking are more difficult to sell.
7. Execute your wellbeing programme
As its name suggests, this step is about the operational side of your employee wellbeing programme. If it is appropriate in your corporate culture, apply a theme to your programme. Give it a brand that brings together the different elements that you have selected so that your employees understand what this is about and how it fits into the wider employee proposition. Make sure that managers who may be involved with the programme understand its aims, value and the role they are required to play. Research by Towers Perrin-ISR (2006) shows that a genuine interest in people’s wellbeing by senior management is the number one driver of engagement. Do not throw away a key opportunity to enhance engagement by failing to bring managers with you on the employee wellbeing journey.
8. Regular updates
Regularly appraise your employee wellbeing programme. Establish what is going well and where there are challenges. It is an iterative process that will need to be adapted over time. Share successes with stakeholders.
Evaluate your success against predetermined indicators. This can take many forms and will depend on your overall objectives and programme content. Evaluation may be utilisation rates, absence data or other performance indicators you have specified as part of your primary objectives. Be methodical and rigorous. This will provide essential feedback that will allow you to sharpen your approach and secure further funding.
Finally, share your experiences with others who are active in this area. There is a dearth of good case studies that demonstrate the value of employee wellbeing programmes. If you have learnt lessons others could benefit from, then contribute to the debate. Employee wellbeing is a relatively new practice area and all contributions to the knowledge base are welcome.
Dr Bridget Juniper is head of Work and Well-Being Ltd, which specialises in the measurement of employee wellbeing. She has conducted award-winning research on employee wellbeing at Cranfield University and publishes regularly in scholarly journals and frequently presents to academic and corporate audiences.
Buck Consultants (2009). “Working well: a global survey of health promotion and workplace wellness strategies – special report”. London, UK.