What is workplace wellness?
Jan McLeod / Words
Workplace wellness has moved well beyond being considered the new kid on the block in office trends. Most businesses now view the program as a core element of their employee management plans. This is exactly where you, I and others who advocate for the vision would like it to be. With acceptance of the vision as mainstream, it’s important to stay up to date on trends in workplace wellness. To understand what the trends are and how, as an advocate, you can use the insight to shape programs and ensure they remain relevant.
Defining the term
I will begin with confirming what the term “workplace wellness” means and, importantly, confirm a definition as relevant today as it was in the early days of the initiatives. It is a term used to describe organisational activities or policy designed to support healthy behaviour of employees in the workplace. The over-arching aim is to sustain and/or improve employee health and wellbeing outcomes in the workplace. The activities and policy seek to influence three integrated aspects of employee wellness: physical, mental and emotional wellness.
Physical wellness encompasses the more traditional areas of health and wellbeing.
Initiatives primarily focus on promoting healthy eating, sleeping, and movement choices and habits. Initiatives focus on helping you understand how your job contributes to your overall sense of purpose, how to stay engaged at work and how to deal with the normal day-to-day stresses and pressures you encounter.
Emotional wellbeing = social wellness.
Initiatives focus on helping you create the relationships you need to work and collaborate with others in your office. Although program focus remains on all three areas of workplace wellness, more recently there has been an increasing focus by many programs on mental wellbeing. This trend parallels the increased understanding of mental health issues in the community. It’s estimated that each year one in five Australians will experience a mental illness.
It’s important for you as an advocate to know flexibility remains on-trend. Just as companies are not a one-size-fits-all, workplace wellness programs are not a one-size-fits-all. Programs can and will look different between companies based on a range of factors including scope, budget, size and targeted outcomes. What is most important for workplace wellness policy and activities is to have them be relevant in meeting the needs of the employees and the organisation.
In the early days of workplace wellness some people felt that programs on offer were most suited to meeting the needs of healthier employees — those already committed to their wellbeing. The program has come a long way. Policy and activities are now designed to meet a range of employee and business needs. In delivering on workplace wellness it’s essential to acknowledge employees have differing needs.
A more recent trend has been the increasing use of evidence and data. Data is now more accessible and reflects a wider range of industry experience. It’s being used to identify what has been proven to work and to confirm what policies and activities deliver what benefits. Being able to leverage the experience of others to design and implement policy and programs can save you and your organisation time, effort and money. It helps you rationalise what may be a long list of activities considered for implementation. It can help you identify policy and activities most aligned to the outcomes you are targeting.
Link to workplace culture
The last trend is the most powerful – link being made between workplace wellbeing and workplace culture. Workplace culture is the sum of your organisation’s values, beliefs and attitudes and how they manifest to influence how people relate to and behave with each other. Workplace wellness policy and activity significantly shape office culture. By example, the policy can be used to influence employee attitudes and behaviour towards working hours.