What exactly is employee wellness? Is it yet another fancy marketing buzzword? Well, it shouldn’t be, because employee burnout is definitely a real thing. And, the truth is, the understanding of employee wellness is constantly evolving.
Back in the day, it meant healthcare benefits – largely a BandAid attempt aimed at reducing absenteeism. Today, healthcare is merely the tip of the iceberg for companies that are serious about fostering holistic employee wellbeing.
Let’s take a look at exactly what employee wellness entails, and why it is such an important part of modern work culture.
Defining employee wellness
Back in the day, employee wellness was largely viewed from the perspective of providing hard medical benefits. Gradually, the concept of wellness expanded to include mental and emotional wellbeing, and today, it has come to include even how work is designed – whether it allows employees to reach their full potential, or whether it causes anxiety, leading to a sense of dissatisfaction.
As a result, we are looking at a much broader definition today, as we seek to create an ecosystem where individuals are able to bring their true self to work, thrive, and feel safe while working with others.
This requires a more holistic approach, including mental wellness, emotional wellbeing, physical health, and the ecosystem necessary to support these practices. It’s also about the construct of work, and whether it allows employees to do their best, and feel comfortable and empowered in their roles. The goal is to create an environment where anxiety is minimized, and employees don’t need to think twice about how they are perceived – because everyone is accepted and nurtured for who they are.
For example, when individuals don’t feel in control of their work, it invariably leads to anxiety, which in turn results in suboptimal outcomes for everyone.
Why employee wellness is a priority in the workplace
Over the last few decades, economies have evolved and witnessed a huge shift from efficiency to knowledge-based work. People no longer stay with an employer all their lives simply because it offers them a predictable paycheck. Over the past 20 to 30 years, this has changed – even rewarding work is no longer enough, in part because we now deal with “knowledge workers,” who typically exhibit highly-developed soft skills, such as collaboration, innovativeness, creative thinking, and communication.
If employees are not mentally and emotionally well, they are unable to use these skills to their fullest potential – and that is a problem. Organizations are competing based not only on scale, but also with respect to creativity, innovativeness, and flexibility – all soft skills. If companies do not have the necessary ecosystem to support these qualities, they risk losing their employees to companies that can.
Finally, there is the bit about outcomes. Do companies expect their employees to give their bare minimum, or their best? Companies that are competitive in the market are invariably dedicated to the organizational mission and their colleagues. Again, employees who are happy and engaged, and who believe that their companies prioritize their mental and physical wellness, are the ones that are willing to go that extra mile.
The difference between employee engagement and employee wellness
Technically, employee engagement and employee wellness are not mutually exclusive terms – they are part of a continuum. Engagement, which is the stage that many companies are still stuck at, is very reactive. It is a state where companies focus on a finite number of things (typically easily quantifiable), and expect their people to magically feel happy and more engaged at the workplace.
A slightly more evolved model is employee experience, where the exercise is not viewed as an external intervention. Employees are viewed more holistically, and a program is structured to encompass every aspect of their journey within the organization, from hire to retirement. It is not event-based, or reactive, or a set of five measures to roll out.
Then there is employee wellness, where a whole package is created, consisting of various interventions. This becomes a part of the company ethos, and is based on a belief that employees are not just resources who put in eight hours of work a day. Such companies care about their employees at a more personal level, and are invested in their holistic wellness. It follows that an employee wellness program then is not just about bringing down insurance claims, or reducing absenteeism or unproductive hours. It is far more than that – it is about valuing people as an end goal.
So there it is. We now know all about employee wellness, and why one needs to think beyond healthcare costs to run a successful program. That said, what are the key elements of a successful wellness program? Stay tuned to find out in part two.
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