Do corporate wellness programs reduce workplace stress?
Building a culture of work-life balance
In 1986, the city of Palo Alto passed a city-wide ordinance that all new commercial office buildings would be required to include onsite shower facilities. The goal was to encourage employees to bike to work. More biking commuters means less cars on the San Francisco bay area roads.
Beyond reducing traffic, biking to work has also proven to reduce stress. Intended or not, the work-life balance movement may have started with biking to work initiatives like the one the city of Palo Alto supported. First came shower facilities, then on-site gyms, yoga rooms, volleyball courts, and free cafeteria food. HR driven initiatives that support employee well-being have evolved into the more robust corporate wellness era of today.
While perks are helpful, creating a flexible work environment is even more valuable to employees.
The key to engagement: Flexibility and autonomy
It’s important for hiring managers to understand what employees look for a new job. The data is pretty clear: employees want flexibility — autonomy and unplugged time.
According to a HBR study, aside from health insurance, “the next most-valued benefits were ones that offer flexibility and improve work-life balance. A majority of respondents reported that flexible hours, more vacation time, more work-from-home options, and unlimited vacation time could help give a lower-paying job an edge over a high-paying job with fewer benefits. Furthermore, flexibility and work-life balance are of utmost importance to a large segment of the workforce: parents. They value flexible hours and work-life balance above salary and health insurance in a potential job.”
It is a degree of autonomy that employees crave. Autonomy is the need to direct our own life and work.
Employees need to feel connected to their work to fully engage and focus on it. To connect and engage employees need autonomy, purpose, and mastery in their work. Intrinsic motivation is much more powerful than extrinsic motivation, ie financially incentivizing people to work hard.
The first key to building a successful wellness program is to start by building a flexible culture of trust and autonomy. A flexible work environment reduces stress because it allows employees adapt their work schedules to their personal lives.
The second step may be to implement a wellness program.
Corporate wellness resources could include meditation apps, wearable fitness tracker competitions, and yoga classes. Do these programs move the needle when it comes to employee stress levels? Do they boost employee performance?
BigTalker is a hosting a panel discussion to address this exact question. The panel will discuss the pros and cons of various wellness programs including yoga, mindfulness, and meditation.
Which wellness programs lead to the highest increase in focus?
Which programs best decrease employee stress levels?
How do you select the right wellness initiative for your company’s culture?
What are best practices for implementing wellness programs?
Shelley Osborne, Head of Learning & Development at Udemy
Yunha Kim, Founder and CEO, Simple Habit
Raghav Srinivasan, Founder of SciPhiWay
What are the goals of wellness programs?
A wellness program is designed to reduce healthcare costs, reduce workplace stress, teach employees to sharpen focus and increase attention.
A recharged employee is a focused employee.
As of 2015, 66% of US companies had a wellness program in place. Fast forward to 2018 and employee support and development programs are pervasive and demanded by job candidates. Perks at modern companies can include a subscription to Lynda’s video learning portal, Grokker’s self-care app, and a gym membership. Some employers have even experimented with sponsoring fitness tracking devices for employees so they can enter daily movement competitions and earn rewards.
Despite questions as to whether wellness programs actually work, companies are still pouring money into them, according to Bloomberg. The industry grew from a $1 billion in 2011 to $6.8 billion five years later, according to an IBIS World analysis, and last year, almost a quarter of employers boosted their wellness offerings, the Society of Human Resource Management found in its yearly benefits survey.
Measuring the success of a wellness program
Wellness programs are traditionally intended to reduce healthcare costs. They can focus on smoking cessation, nutrition, free flu shots, and physical exercise. Their results of health-driven programs have been mixed, however, because healthy employees were most likely already healthy employees, and unhealthy employees rarely change their behavior significantly.
In the 2017 Workplace Wellness Trends report from the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, only 25% of employers say controlling or reducing health-related costs is their primary reason for offering wellness programs. The other 75% offer wellness programs with the goal of improving overall employee health and well-being.
2018 is the era of well-being.
How do we measure well-being instead of health? The next generation of wellness programs may track success metrics like
Stress-levels before and after work
Ability to focus / concentrate
Ability to suppress distractions
Success of team projects