We recently conducted a survey of Ohio employers, posing questions about their wellbeing programs. Participants were asked to rate their company’s actual performance compared to their desired performance in fourteen categories on a five-point scale.
One of the least surprising things we learned: Almost 100% of employers who participated are highly committed to fostering employee wellbeing, as well as providing an environment that does so. Both are pretty strong affirmations signaling that, whether or not the performance level is there, employers want employees to be healthy and feel like they’re in a healthy environment.
Obviously, there are a number of questions that come on the flipside of this response. Do employees believe their employers actually feel that way? Are the steps being taken encouraging or discouraging a healthy lifestyle? Do some actions (i.e., adding a weight room or walking track) seem to offset others (i.e., extended mandatory overtime, flexing day and night shifts, or offering unhealthy food in vending machines and the cafeteria)?
Employer wellbeing advocates are often faced with challenges like tight budgets, unsupportive senior leadership, and change-resistant employees. That said, while the desire for a healthy workforce and workplace is seemingly unanimous, achieving that objective remains an uphill battle.
Wellbeing isn’t just a measure of physical health, and employers acknowledge that based on their positive performance in several areas. Most respondents say they’re providing an environment that is safe, clean, well-lit, and attractive to employees. Employers also generally believe they offer retirement benefits that enable adequate savings for their employees.
Purposeful work is another important aspect of fostering wellbeing and almost 80% of respondents believe they achieve that professionally and/or via community service opportunities.
But there is a less encouraging flip side. Only a third of employers believe they encourage healthy eating and drinking habits in the workplace. Virtually the same number are of the opinion their mental health program helps employees manage stress and maintain emotional wellbeing. On top of that, only 40% of employers believe they encourage and directly enable exercise and active living.
So, where do we go from here? How do employers overcome many of these challenges and move beyond simply desiring an environment which fosters wellbeing to one that actually achieves it? Unfortunately, that may only come at a cost — monetary or otherwise.
Some potential answers — shift wellness program funds traditionally used for reducing payroll contributions, invasive biometric screenings, and expensive outsourced wellness vendors to things like healthier worksite food options, enhanced mental health assistance, and more community service activities.
Most survey respondents acknowledged that, for an employee to really know their employer cares about their wellbeing, there has to be a sustained period of time and resources dedicated to improving all aspects of employee wellbeing — physical, mental, social, and financial health. Which leaves us with the question, why do we continue spending hundreds of dollars per employee per year on costly programs focused on just one of these areas?