Article: Workplace and wellness - WorldHRDiary

July 27, 2016

Article: Workplace and wellness

By Kanchan Naikawadi, Joint Managing Director, Indus Health Plus
Kanchan Naikawadi
The employee wellness initiative at every front of work place strives to promote a healthy lifestyle for employees, maintain or improve health and well-being, and prevent or delay the onset of disease. The wellness programs assess the health risks and deliver tailored educational and lifestyle management interventions designed to lower risks and improve outcomes. As the programs evolve, they offer disease management for employees with chronic conditions, and may also include employee assistance programs, nurse-based decision support for patients, workplace safety and injury prevention initiatives, and efforts to manage employee absences due to illness and disability.
Adoption of these programs has taken off in India off late. A growing body of research indicates that these programs can change employees’ behavior, improve their biometric risk profile and work productivity, reduce spending for health care services, and achieve a positive return on investment. While there has also been considerable progress in understanding the “best practices” to maximize program effectiveness, more work remains to be done on this front.
It’s important to discuss and propagate the ways to strengthen the evidence base for employee wellness programs.
Key Findings:

Employee health (69%) and engagement and morale (68%) are the key wellness objectives: Organizations are focusing on the fundamental change drivers and taking the ‘bigger picture’ approach in order to achieve sustainable success. objectives such as reduced healthcare costs, increased productivity and reduced absenteeism are secondary drivers, with many seemingly perceived as a by-product of addressing these two primary success factors.

Organizations need to prioritize levels of fun and engagement in initiative design:
Whilst 99% of organizations report having fun as of medium to high importance for wellness initiatives, only 10% actually report their initiatives achieving very high levels of fun. The ability to create an initiative that is viewed as enjoyable is critical for both increasing participation rates and also supporting completion rates: two prerequisites for achieving long-term behavioral change amongst employees.

86% of respondents reported lack of time is the main reason employees are not taking part in wellness initiatives:
There is an ever-increasing need to integrate health and wellness initiatives into the daily lives of employees. Creating a strategy that breaks down this barrier (or ‘excuse’ as some may say) is critical to ensuring high uptake of wellness initiatives.

Physical inactivity is the number one focus of wellness strategies. An increasing spotlight on mental health sees stress as the secondary focus; poor nutrition remains the other key health behavior that wellness initiatives are focused on modifying.

Less than a quarter of organizations have a fully implemented health and wellness strategy:
95% of organizations stated that they have or plan to have a fully implemented health and wellness strategy, however only 22% of organizations report having one fully implemented.

Know More
The importance of environment in which the program is implemented.
A supportive corporate culture is one of the most critical factors affecting program success. This supportive environment should be entwined in all aspects of the organization, from its business goals and strategies to its corporate policies and physical plant. Given the importance of these foundational elements, more research is needed to understand: (1) how various aspects of the corporate environment affect program success and (2) what program components work best in different types of environments.
A supportive corporate culture includes not only a commitment to the wellness program from senior management, but also extends to the mid-level and frontline managers best positioned to affect program success due to their day-to-day contact with employees. It is, thus, important to align their management and performance goals with the health and wellbeing of the people who report to them. More investigation of practices that work well on this front is warranted.
The environmental context also includes influences external to the workplace, such as the home setting, friends and social networks, and the policies and resources of the local and national community. Although workers spend a significant amount of their time in the employment setting, these other factors can also affect their need for and success in a wellness program. Research is needed to understand the relationship between these external influences and an individual’s experience in a wellness program.
Engaging employees is key to program success.

Even state-of-the-art programming will fail if workers do not engage with the program. Depending on the stage of implementation and program objectives, different types of engagement may be relevant, ranging from simple compliance with the health risk assessment to intensive participation in multiple interventions. Significant additional research is needed to understand how to use financial or other incentives and communication/ motivational techniques to engage participants at these various levels. A “comparative effectiveness” approach designed to determine the relative effectiveness of different types of incentive structures (including premium discounts and less traditional approaches suggested by behavioral economics) would be particularly valuable.

More information on program design and implementation process is needed.
Interest in wellness programs is strong, but many employers struggle with the “what” and “how” questions of getting a meaningful program off the ground. These challenges are particularly acute for smaller employers. Research, technical assistance, and other resources to identify best practice components for particular situations and lay out the steps to effective program implementation would be helpful.

Other factors which are a must

·    Employee Assistance Programs that can help to address social and emotional factors that impact well-being.

·    Preventive services, including screenings and immunizations and a personalized prevention plan.

·    Leadership engagement and supportive organizational culture and work environment, including corporate values that promote employee well-being, a healthy physical environment, and an emphasis on wellness from senior, mid-level, and even frontline management.

·  Injury prevention. Programs could include initiatives to enhance workplace safety and ergonomics as well as more general injury prevention efforts targeted to time spent outside the workplace.

·       Return to work/absence and disability management efforts to restore sick or injured workers to full functional status and productivity.

·        Consumer medical decision support, such as through nurse hotlines.

·        Involvement of participants’ health care providers, designed to make the providers partners in improving employees’ health.

·      Program integration. The best programs combine the diverse wellness program components into a unified and coherent program that is also integrated with other benefits and related programs offered by the employer as well as incorporated into the organization’s structure.

·   Ongoing program assessment and improvement. Good programs will monitor program performance regularly (ideally in relation to realistic goals for what could be expected at a given time) and use the interim results to modify programming as needed to achieve long-term goals.

It does not logically follow that by paying people, you can get them to change their lifestyles and therefore fix the problem. If you actually look at the spending on chronic disease, it’s not as easy as just ‘We have to do prevention,’ because in fact the large majority of money in chronic disease is already being spent on some level of prevention. 
Asthma is the clearest example: A health plan already spends 10 or more times as much on asthma medications and other asthma prevention as it spends on emergency room visits, and it’s the same structure across the board. Take the heart attack rate, which is 1 in 500 in the working-age population. If you look at what is spent on cardiac drugs and procedures and tests to prevent heart attacks, it’s already vastly more than is spent on the events themselves.

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