Creating a Culture of Wellness

Human resources goes through great lengths to ensure they’re selecting the right benefits provider that will offer the greatest options for employees. Although this has been a common benefit to ensure positive employee health and resources if/when needed, HR is also realizing that healthcare benefits aren’t the only option to help improve employee wellness. Employee wellness is vital, not just for the employee but also for the well-being of an organization.

When the economy struggled, many employees lost their jobs and benefits. Workers who were able to keep their job may have absorbed other job functions to keep the business afloat, creating stress due to the need to produce the amount of 2+ people. With recent increases in healthcare benefit premiums, employers may have had to cut back on benefit offerings (such as using a lower quality provider or cutting dependents) or stopped offering it altogether. In more positive situations, employers who are growing have been able to not only offer fantastic benefits but also have incorporated additional wellness programs through their Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) which provide additional support and resources for employees.

In my experience, I’ve seen HR actively keep employees informed. Sometimes benefits can be a bit too overwhelming to understand and other times, employees aren’t always aware of what they can use through EAPs. Aside from regular meetings, newsletters and so on, some companies’ HR departments have also incorporated initiatives to improve employee wellness. Some such things include weekly emails with tips on diet and exercise, on-site events for nutrition and fitness classes, and some companies also require employees to take a specific number of stretch breaks throughout the day. Lucrative companies have even splurged on cafeterias with healthy options (sometimes at no cost to employees), on-site fitness centers and unlimited PTO/vacation days.

Wellness programs are a good way to improve employee morale and lower stress levels, and is something more companies should consider. Although healthcare benefits are perfect for medical needs, wellness does not stop short of this and some wellness issues might not require a visit to the doctor. Additionally, some employees might not even be aware of situations impacting their wellness until it creeps up on them. This can include workplace stress, anxiety, sore muscles from sitting long hours or performing strenuous labor, eye strain from a computer, poor diet and so on. Over time, these things can add up and negatively affect the employee and organization. This can consist of unexpected absences and a general rise in absenteeism, reduction in performance and quality, turnover, low morale or even more long-term absences like LOA and FMLA. Although many HR departments are making an effort to boost wellness, it can’t only be up to them to be proactive about this. After all, they can’t be everywhere and they can’t keep a constant eye on every employee (despite what some might believe).

As part of a proactive wellness initiative, HR needs to get management involved to support the ongoing programs established. HR should train management regularly to be able to do the following:

  • Take stock of your employees: On many occasions, managers focus on the work that employees produce but may forget to pay attention to the employees as individuals. It’s important for managers to be aware of their employees, such as if they seem to be struggling, overwhelmed, distant/withdrawn or lack passion. These signs could be a tip of the iceberg that an employee is quietly dealing with. If you notice these things, be sure to reach out and see if there’s something you can do to mediate the situation.
  • Regularly check in: Along the lines of taking stock of your employees, it’s important to regularly check in with them even if you don’t notice any signs of struggle/lack of wellness. Checking in can be a practical approach to ensuring employees are prioritizing workloads correctly and managing their stress. Very similar to regular feedback sessions, this can be incorporated frequently and in a casual environment.
  • Create a culture of wellness and health: Time is money and some employees might work themselves into the ground to ensure job security or to help towards career progression. In other situations (and ones I’ve personally seen in the past), an office culture might be aggressive in the sense that employees seem to work an average of 10+ hours a day and respond to emails at all hours… and if you weren’t one of those employees, you may be shunned as the office slacker. Although businesses thrive on productive employees, there comes a point where working your employees too hard becomes counterproductive. Management should create a culture that offsets some of the pressures of rapid work demands, whether that means giving your employees breaks such as a longer lunch or an early dismissal, or just taking time to lighten up the atmosphere around the office.
  • Support employees who need it: As proactive as HR and management try to be to help wellness, sometimes it may not help an employee or maybe it’s too far past that point for them. An employee may not have spoken up sooner or asked for a mental break day because of guilt or the feeling of pressure from an overwhelming workload. Maybe some might feel like they don’t deserve a break because everyone works just as hard, so why are they the weak one? Whatever the reasons may be, if an employee finally reaches the point where they show signs or outright say they are having issues, management should take the stress of asking for help away. Being supportive, getting them in touch with HR about benefits, or encouraging them to take a day or two off to take care of things can help relieve any stress, guilt or anxiety they may have felt when asking for help.

Workplace wellness is more than just finding the right benefits provider; it’s about paying attention to the day-to-day of your employees. Underlying issues such as poor habits or workplace stress can be the cause of many issues and affect the health of an organization. Being proactive and finding ways to be supportive of your employees is essential to help promote a culture of wellness.

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The Buzz on Gamification

As I’ve been conducting my research to find resources for my daily blog posts, I seemed to be spotting the word “gamification” popping up more and more. I became intrigued once I saw this term trending on a more regular basis and finally decided to investigate what all the hype was about. I had figured that it had something to do with video games or gaming of the sort, so you could imagine my pleasant surprise when I learned that it was much more than that. Gamification does involve some of the structure and competitive aspects of games, but this trend is used to help increase employee and/or customer engagement. Needless to say, the topic was perfect for my post today.

In short, gamification is the concept of integrating game-like function and processes into non-gaming activities. Some common consumer examples of this would be frequent flyer miles for airlines or hotel upgrades for hotel chains. However, gamification has taken on a whole new form for human resources. Companies now use this concept as a tool for recruiting, employee engagement, recognition/rewards, and employee wellness programs. Some examples of these are as follows:

  • Recruiting: Companies have created games that are similar to Facebook’s Farmville or The Sims, but customized a structure that is relevant to the company and job function. The idea is for candidates to virtually display their abilities to multitask, perform job functions, and handle unexpected issues. Recruiters are able to see the candidates’ activity and distinguish which individuals clearly display the competency and experience needed to successfully perform the job duties. It is considered to be a virtual way to “test drive” candidates before hiring them.
  • Employee Engagement: Gamification can tap into employees’ competitive side which will increase their motivation to do certain tasks. This can also help employees be more engaged while doing boring, mind-numbing functions.  In addition to motivation, this tool can allow employees to collaborate easily and work as a team towards organizational goals. Collaboration can help employees build relationships with one another which will also increase employee engagement.
  • Recognition/Rewards: Gamification can allow managers to see which employees are putting in the effort and also determine which employees have the qualities that are worthy of reward or promotion. This can give all employees an even playing field instead of allowing the more outgoing employees to have the upper hand in catching management’s attention. On the other hand, if a company does not have the resources for monetary rewards (which can be common with the downturn of the economy), gamification can give employees awards and recognition. Even a simple thank you or virtual award can go a long way with employees.
  • Health/Wellness Programs: Gamification can be a fantastic way to get your employees on a healthier track. For example, I worked at a company where majority of employees sat through their shifts and obesity and health issues were becoming a problem. The company started a contest where employees were to set exercise goals and log their workouts on an online website for three months. At the end of the contest, the individual that lost the most weight and/or inches would win an iPad. Employees loved this contest. Even if they did not win the prize, they still felt like winners because they had now made a workout regimen routine and were seeing results.

Gamification can help make HR professionals’ jobs a lot easier and also provide some great benefits for employees. Employees will feel happier going to work, can grow professionally, prove that they’re worthy of promotion, and can even help their health. I suggest that more companies take a look at which “games” would be useful to their company and test it out. The results may be interesting!

More information on gamification:

Forbes: Gamification: Three Ways To Use Gaming For Recruiting, Training, and Health & Wellness.

Gamification Summit Videos.

Gamification.org

Employers and Brands Use Gaming to Gauge Engagement.