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Choose your wellness program with for a reason.
By: Michael Winter

Being in the health and wellness game for a few years now you see all sorts of programs in place and I wander often if they are really that effective and gaining the benefit of running that chosen program or product.

When looking at your health and wellness program, there should be a reason behind it: Mental, physical, social, educational, spiritual or a combination of one or more of those factors.

Maximum participation would also be ideal. There will be naysayers and wall flowers, but with enough thought and reasoning behind your choice of program, you will see everyone participating and enjoying the benefits. Don't be afraid to ask your employees what their interests are. After all, it is also about them.

In recent years, the standing desk has become a trendy workplace accessory — one that seems to breed inexplicably overnight.

One day Phil from the IT help desk has one … and then suddenly, the entire office is hopping from foot to foot while chatting on the phone to a client.
But do they really improve our health, or make us more productive? Some studies indicate they do have benefits, but others are more sceptical.

In Australian workplaces, wellness initiatives are becoming a commonplace phenomenon.
And while standing desks, office yoga classes and gym memberships are all nice things to have on offer at work, the jury is still out on whether they actually make us healthier, or better at our jobs.

A growing body of research actually suggests that without a targeted and well thought out approach, workplace wellness initiatives often fail to yield results.
But conversely, ignoring employee health costs money too.

The cost of absenteeism in Australia is estimated at $7 billion each year, while presenteeism — defined as not fully functioning at work because of a medical condition — was recently estimated to cost the economy more than $34 billion a year.

Studies have shown that properly designed wellness programs can deliver significant benefits, with an average rate of return of between 2:1 and 5:1 for every dollar spent.
Encouragingly, a 2014 report by Buck Consultants found that about 47 per cent of companies in Australia offered some kind of health promotion service to employees — but only about half of those had measured, specific outcomes.

Occupational physician Niki Ellis said the Australian approach to workplace wellness programs was somewhat "immature".

Prolonged periods of stress can make going to work seem like a nightmare. So whose responsibility is workplace stress?

"There is scope for improvement here in the way investment in this area is being made," Professor Ellis said.

Professor Ellis said while usually well-intentioned, often wellness programs both here and abroad were not very strategic.

She used an example from Harvard Professor Gloria Sorenson, a leading authority on workplace wellness programs, to illustrate her point.

"It's my favourite story about why wellness bits and pieces, just introduced into a workplace without integrating them carefully into an overall strategy for health, is probably not going to work," she said.

"She was running quit smoking programs in the workplace and she started to deliver those in foundries.

"And she could see the irony of her very earnestly encouraging workers to quit smoking, when all around them were these toxic fumes and heat."

The health benefits the workers might have received from quitting smoking were negated by the very environment they were working in.

"You can't really expect workers to be anything other than a bit sceptical when you're doing that in a hazardous working environment," she said.

In the United States, where health insurance for staff is often paid for by employers, the push to identify workplace wellness initiatives that deliver results is more established than in Australia.

A 2015 report by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that the best corporate wellness programs addressed both the individual risk factors affecting employees' health, and the organisational factors that helped or hindered employees' efforts to reduce those risks.

It found the strongest programs created a culture of health, intertwining individual health promotion efforts with the overall company goals and objectives.
The best programs were also created in consultation with staff.
Honest Tea, an organic drink company based in Bethesda, Maryland, was used as a case study in the report.

The company's headquarters were deliberately placed next to biking and walking trails to encourage physical activity, and staff were given access to a wellness coach who gave advice on diet, weight management, and quitting smoking.
Initially the company also offered yoga and meditation classes at work, but participation was low.

By polling their staff, who were primarily quite young, the company found out that their employees wanted more intense activities. As a result, Honest Tea now offers boot camp workouts and rock climbing events, and participation exceeds 50 per cent.
For Honest Tea — a company founded on principles of health — these investments, among others, help maintain a corporate culture and keep employees healthy.

By all means I want to see all workplaces "fit for work" and have an ongoing health and wellness strategy in place. But I also want you all to reap the benefits from the program(s) as well.

Added: 23-05-2018