• Camila Santiago

Do Wellness Programs Really Increase Employees’ Productivity?

There is a myriad of reasons why workers have low productivity (also known as presenteeism) and some common ones are multitasking, stress, personal health issues, toxic work environment, and so on. Poor employee productivity, according to the Journal of Occupation and Environmental Medicine, is 2 to 3 times higher than health care expenses.

Because it’s not quite on the executives’ radar, poor productivity is often overlooked. It may also give a false sense that the employees’ health is been taken care of just by offering health care insurance and benefits.

However, this isn’t enough. Employees’ physical health is just the tip of the iceberg. Since the Covid-19 pandemic began, 42% of global employees have experienced a decline in mental health.

Workplace wellness programs have been praised for being the solution for workers’ productivity and their overall health improvement but they can only be effective if we first understand what they should address in order to prevent presenteeism.

Workplace stress and loss in productivity

According to a Gallup study on employee engagement, “disengaged workers had 37 percent higher absenteeism, 49 percent more accidents, and 60 percent more errors and defects”, contributing to $450-500 billion a year in losses in productivity.

High levels of stress can often result in loss of motivation, mental and physical exhaustion which can lead employees to miss work — in some cases, increase hostile behaviours towards co-workers and management.

An effective corporate wellness program should first understand the current physical and mental health of employees, such as smoking status, dietary habits and physical activity. Then, to measure presenteeism, they also need to collect information around specific productivity barriers within their workplace.

Wellness programs and behaviour change

Recognition might be overlooked within management but it’s true that employees are looking for meaning and purpose at work. It goes beyond the workplace — it’s part of human nature the wish to feel recognized and appreciated to have a sense of belonging and meaning.

The most powerful way to help people to adopt new behaviours is through a healthier environment and culture. A toxic workplace can be detrimental to people’s productivity and overall health.

Strict policies are not necessarily the solution to having a successful wellness program, but carefully crafted and supportive policies are. Healthier snacks and food options available at the company cafeteria and vending machines are a good example of fostering people to consume healthier foods.

There are a variety of things a company can do to change the workplace environment and culture in such a way that makes it easier for the employee to be healthy, such as:

  • Encourage employees to get adequate exercise at work as part of their job

  • Sponsor sports team or competitions

  • Provide fitness classes, yoga classes and meditation sessions at the workplace

  • Provide fitness center discounts for employees

  • Cafeteria and vending machines with healthy food options

  • Offer healthy eating messages to employees

  • Offer treatment and mental support with a licensed therapist or coach

Changing rooted habits, culture and policies aren’t easy and they might take months and maybe years before you start to see the major results. Nonetheless, it takes patience, effort and commitment from all parties involved. With the right amount of each one of these components, both employees and employers will reap the benefits over time.

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