Today, employee wellbeing programs are more than just a perk offered to entice prospective employees to join a company.
In fact, a rapidly growing number of organisations across both public and private sectors have now implemented these programs and view them as vital components of their operations. For these organisations, employee wellbeing programs are not just a token gesture, but a means to unlocking the full potential of their staff. With a focus on preventative measures and maintaining the health of employees in a holistic and proactive way, these programs aim to mitigate some of the negative repercussions of worker ill health, for both companies and workers. A particular area that many employee wellness programs aim to address is the prevalence of chronic conditions in the workforce.
In recent years, business leaders have begun to identify the significant impact that chronic conditions have on their employees and their organisation’s performance and productivity accordingly. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 2017-18, just under half (47.3%) of Australians had one or more chronic conditions, an increase from 2007-08 when two-fifths (42.2%) of people had one or more chronic conditions. One in five Australians (20.1%) reported mental health and behavioural conditions, which was the most commonly reported chronic condition in 2017-18 for both males and females. Back problems (16.4%) and Arthritis (15.0%) were the next most commonly reported chronic conditions in 2017-18.
The most recent comprehensive study conducted in Australia reported that people with chronic disease had, on average, 0.48 days off work in the previous fortnight due to their own illness, compared with 0.25 days for those without chronic conditions. Furthermore, the annual loss in workforce participation from chronic disease in Australia was around 537,000 person-years of participation in full-time employment, and approximately 47,000 person years of part-time employment (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare).
Accordingly, organisations are now seeking ways to keep their workforce healthy and minimise the challenges of lost productivity due to chronic conditions.
So, what’s the best way to do this?
At Recovery Partners, we meet with a lot of different businesses who understand that optimising the health behaviours of their workforce will minimise the impact of chronic conditions on organisational morale, staff retention rates, performance and productivity. The widespread benefits are clear. However, a lot of these businesses also tell us that they have tried to implement employee wellbeing programs but they ‘didn’t work,’ or ‘didn’t get the results’ the business had hoped for. Undoubtedly, these experiences are frustrating, but we often find that the actual problem is with the approach the business took to creating the program in the first place. What we see (and we’ve all been guilty of this) is that the purpose (or ‘why’) of the program is short-sighted or exists only as an afterthought, rather than as the primary motivation and driver for the wellbeing program. In contrast, organisations who have implemented successful employee wellbeing programs have been clear about their ‘why’ and allowed this to directly inform what the program consists of and how it’s put into practice.
So, what do these successful wellbeing programs look like?
Well, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach that will suit every organisation, but successful programs do have one feature on common: A genuine commitment to improving the health status of employees as the driving force behind the wellbeing program. To find out more, we interviewed Joe Toohey from Qube and Michael Stoddart from Lendlease about the programs in place within their organisations.
Both these leaders suggested that a crucial factor on the success of their employee wellbeing programs was the integration of the program into all areas of the business, and the engagement of all staff within the business with the offering. By directing their energy towards a collective purpose, employees became aligned and functional silos were eradicated. It was also important for both organisations to have a program that was customised for their workforce, to effectively and specifically meet their unique set of needs and challenges.
Another aspect that Joe, Qube’s Group Manager of Health and Wellbeing, pointed to as being instrumental in the success of QubeCare (Qube’s employee wellbeing initiative) was the sharing of the stories, challenges and experiences of employees. Sharing these stories helped employees to understand how wellbeing and preventative strategies could actually free them from the burden of chronic conditions in a meaningful (rather than just conceptual) way. Joe acknowledged the bravery of Qube employees who came forward to share stories of chronic conditions and how they willingly provided these to bolster internal wellbeing campaigns. Joe stressed how starting these conversations without assumptions or judgement were crucial in building trust and helping workplace wellbeing strategies come to life. Equally, he expressed his gratitude to the Qube leadership team that recognised Qube as a people-based business and didn’t seek to use the generated data about worker health for defensive purposes (i.e. workers compensation) but rather to direct how they could improve health outcomes. Joe highlighted how this health data is now being looked at to review job design, employee engagement and future wellbeing programs. When employees trusted that the care provided by QUBE was genuine, they freely engaged with the health resources made available to them via QubeCare.
At Lendlease, Michael also made strategic use of the health data available to him to understand how employee wellbeing could be better facilitated within the business. Michael emphasised the importance of offering a shared platform to team members so that, irrespective of the nature of their chronic conditions, they would be supported. Michael effectively restructured the arrangements of his teams and their interactions with people and insurance products to create a system that was focused on employee wellbeing, ensuring that it underpinned their operations, rather than being tacked onto them.
A cultural shift is underway in Australia. The need for proactive and supportive approaches to worker health and wellbeing that encourage prevention, early detection and ongoing management is understood.
So, where to begin?
There are many resources online that can be explored as you start to plan or revitalise an employee wellbeing program for your organisation, but they tend to be quite general and broad. As such, they’re unlikely to be sufficient for building a program that will successfully reduce the productivity and performance costs of chronic conditions in your workforce. So, to determine how best to tailor an effective program for your business, we’ve created a Healthier Workplace Survey for you.
This survey will help you work out where your workplace is currently sitting with regard to employee wellbeing. Once you’ve completed it, we’ll send you your results with some helpful tips and ideas for your next steps. Together, we can build a roadmap to make sure that both your employees and business can thrive and prosper into the future.
Disclaimer – these articles are provided to supply general safety information to people responsible for OHS in their organisation. They are general in nature and do not substitute for legal and/or professional advice. We always suggest that organisations obtain information specific to their needs. Additional information can be found at www.workcover.nsw.au
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