Mischievous Monday: A (small) Rant about Wellness in the Workplace

Happy Monday,

Today, I’m feeling particularly cheeky. Normally, I keep my filter set pretty high, but this topic has been on my mind for years.

While topday’s topic is not in the traditional realm of what I write about in my weekly emails, most readers of these messages are working professionals, and what I’m going to highlight today is extremely important to your future health, happiness, well-being, and performance in life.

Hopefully this is enough to perk up your attention.

Also, I’m not one to rant without providing a solution. At the end, you will get some direct actions you can take to improve your personal work environment…and hopefully your company.

The Joke That Wasn’t (Isn’t) Funny…

Last week, I was speaking with some colleagues and discussing the topic of education and training in the corporate world. These colleagues were professional speakers and corporate trainers working in both the US and Canada.

A group of them were discussing how budgets have been cut over the past couple years, and that they found it challenging to get approval for their programs (Sales, Leadership, Management, etc.).

While this is the typical nature of business in a downturn, they were shocked when talked turned to the health and wellness industry.

They asked how much the average budget had been reduced, and were surprised when I said ZERO. At first they were envious, but then I informed them that there was never any budget to begin with!

The Mindset Problem at Work

After 25+ years in the industry, it still shocks me how little attention employers pay to employee health and wellness.

Here’s a sample conversation that sums up lots of training and education, but becomes particularly relevant to employee health and wellbeing.

CFO to CEO “What if we invest in our people, and they leave?”

CEO to CFO “What if we fail to invest in them, and they stay!”

Very few companies have a set budget for wellness related programs. Those that do rarely have a strategic plan around how to implement the budget. Plus, any budgets that do exist are minuscule in comparison to the overall company revenues.

The current mindset of CFO’s, Controllers, and most executives is to view “Wellness” as a line item expense to be minimized.

Keep in mind that I’m mostly referring to Canadian companies.

My estimate is that the US is at least 10 years ahead of Canada in terms of awareness and how many resources are focussed on wellness.

This is because employers are on the hook for much more of the health care expenditure of each employee. Perhaps this is one downside of the public healthcare system in Canada. Employers get to (literally) “pass the buck” to government (and taxpayers).

Do You Have a Killer Job?

Consider that the majority of our waking hours are spent at work.

Those hours have a tremendous impact on our health, happiness, and well-being. Yet, virtually nothing is being done to provide an environment that helps employees thrive.

Companies that do have a budget for wellness, are quick to cut it at the first sign of a downturn, when stress, uncertainty, burnout, and mental health challenges are at their peak, and employees need these resources most.

I have worked with large companies that cut highly effective and employee requested programs because the “optics” of wellness investment “didn’t look good” when people were being laid off.

This is essentially telling employees:

“Hey, stop whining and be grateful you still have a job. We know you are doing double or triple your current workload for less pay (due to wage rollbacks), but protecting our bottom line is more important than your physical and mental well-being.

To show you that we aren’t completely heartless bastards, we are rolling out some mandartory stress reduction and residency workshops because our legal team told us that it will help us cover our a** in case you sue us, or have a mental breakdown”

While this may be (somewhat) dramatized, it’s not been too far off the mark for a number of companies over the past few years. I’ve head many stories from our clients that shocked me into disbelief.

Of course, that’s one way to look at it. Here’s another one? I would love to hear which you think makes more sense.

A clear message from leadership explaining that…

Yes, times are tough, and people have been laid off. However, each of you reading this are the foundation of our success.

We understand that stress levels are high, workloads have increased, and the future may seem uncertain. Please know that we are committed to working closely with you to support your health, happiness, and performance during these though times.

This is why we are investing/continuing to invest in strategic workplace wellness programs that will help every employee and our entire organize emerge stronger and healthier from this current phase in our development.

We may not have the budget we would like to have around these programs, but your health and well-being is paramount to all of our success. We will do everything possible to help. We welcome ideas and feedback from every employee to help improve your working environment.

Which message do you think would produce greater performance for a company during challenging times?

It’s critical to understand that wellness is an INVESTMENT.

In fact, virtually every study done on proper workplace wellness programs show that the AVERAGE ROI is between $3-8 for every $1 invested, and it’s an extremely reliable return that takes 2-5 years to produce.

The interesting thing is that a properly designed and run wellness program is “pocket change” compared to the operating budget of most companies.

In fact, other than a few hours of professional consulting to set up a strategic plan structures, many programs can be run internally for very little ongoing cost.

If this was any other type of business investment, companies would be lining up to throw money at it! Yet, investments in employee wellness continue to languish.

This is for a number of reasons. Here are a couple key ones…and what you can do about it.

Most “Health Care” is actually “Sickness Prevention”

Investments in employee “health” aren’t actually designed to improve health. They are focussed on sickness prevention, and treatment of illness

While this may seem like a small semantic argument, it’s a fundamental flaw at the heart of both workplace “wellness” and the modern medical system.

Every time I hear the word “Health care” and “Wellness” I am sceptical.

There are very few mainstream programs and services that are actually designed to improve health. Without going down that rabbit hole, and losing site of the workplace wellness theme, all we have to do is look at the typical medical school curriculum.

An overwhelming majority of the time students spend in medical school is on diagnosis and treatment of illness.

These doctors then go out into the world and design “Health care” programs based on ways to avoid “getting sick” instead of ways to get healthy, feel great, and improve performance! Again, a small distinction with a massive impact on results.

How does this relate to workplace wellness, and what is the solution?

Most workplace wellness programs come from this mindset of preventing illness.

The entire definition of workplace wellness needs to change from a mindset of “Sickness prevention” to that of “Health and Wellness Promotion”.

My first recommendation is for companies is to take the H out of HSE.

The words Health and Wellness are loosely related to, but very different than Safety and Environment. From my perspective, they need to be separate entities with different leaders and mandates.

It would send a clear message to employees that a company took employee wellness seriously if they created the following position(s):

  • Chief Wellness Officer
  • VP of Health and Human Performance
  • Director of Employee Awesomeness

My second recommendation is to move beyond Employee Benefits Plans

Most companies with more than a few employees have a benefits plan. These are essential tools, but only one tool in the toolbox. While some are better than others, there is a big flaw in this system too.

Virtually all of them are for treatment of illness/symptoms. Plus, they require employees to self-select and access services on their own.

This is fine for those willing to use the tools and resources available. However, those who need it most are often the ones who fail to access the services. The healthy get healthier, and those who are unhealthy, end up costing the company more and more money, time, productivity, and resources.

Companies must also create and deploy strategic programs targeted to key areas of the organization that are the highest “risk” for productivity, presenteeism, absenteeism, and other long term costs.

4 Essential Elements of a Worplace Wellness Program

A properly designed wellness program based around 4 Key Parameters will make a phenomenal impact on long term health, performance, and profitability…if there is buy-in from senior leadership.

Those 4 Key Elements are:

  • ACTIVITY
    The human body was meant to move. Programs designed around getting people moving are a foundation
  • EDUCTION
    The second part of the foundation. People need to have a high quality trusted source of information that’s delivered in an engaging, memorable, and practical manner
    Compared this approach to the boring, snooze-fest that comprises most “health education”. It’s like high school sex education remade into workplace illness prevention.
  • STRATEGY
    Like any business, a wellness program needs a mission, vision, goals, objectives and a realistic plan to make it happen.
    Most workplace programs aren’t actually a program. They are a collection of random events and services with no rational interrelation.
    This also includes a strategic person or team tasked with development and management of the program
  • METRICS
    Every workplace is familiar with KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators), yet they are glaringly missing from most wellness programs.

These 4 points are the fundamentals of every successful program from no cost grass roots initiatives to multi-million dollars per quarter comprehensive plans.

They aren’t complicated. They just aren’t done by most companies.

As a working professional, concerned with your health and well-being…

Here’s what you can do starting TODAY!

  • MOVE your body daily
    Every hour at work, do some movement and mobility
    Take opportunities to move more (walk, take the stairs, get outside for breaks)
  • EDUCATE yourself
    Reading these posts from me regularly is a great start.
    Have questions to want to learn more about a topic…ASK ME!
    Pick up a copy of The Fitness Curveball 🙂
  • IDENTIFY where you need to focus your time and energy for maximum impact
    Evaluate your work environment (What’s helping your health, what’s hindering?)
    What’s your strategy and plan for change?
    Get help if needed
  • TRACK your progress
    Set simple and effective KPI’s that you can track daily, weekly, monthly.
    KISS (Keep It Super Simple)
    Get a friend or coworker involved.
  • BONUS
    Identify key influencers and decision makers in your organization and lobby them for change.
    Reach out to me for help in doing this. I would be happy to help.

Hopefully this post hit home. It’s an area I’m very passionate about, and one of the reasons I started working with corporate professionals and companies almost 20 years ago.

A lot has changed in the workplace, but people are still unhealthy, unhappy, disengaged, and stressed out. I’m committed to long term change and would love your help to do it.

If you would like to chat about how my Team and I can help your organization, please message me and we will set up a time to chat.

Tim Borys
CEO
FRESH! Wellness Group

P.S. As part of my upcoming book launch and national wellness promotion campaign, I’m doing a number of workplace presentations across Canada.

I’ve updated some of my most popular talks, and to fine tune them, I’m offering a five presentations at a large discount to select companies in Calgary.

If you would like one for your company, please reach out and I will see if it’s a good fit. The first to respond will get priority for their company. Just message me and we will chat.

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