User experience today is the key to engagement and this truism is not just limited to apps, physical products or websites but to retaining employees as well. That said, employees today are no longer motivated or engaged by the carrot at the end of the stick. While most organizations are trying to strike the right balance between personalized and customizable compensation and benefits plans, nap-pods, gaming consoles and soda machines at work, remote working options, paid sabbaticals and flexi-schedules, an important aspect which is easy to overlook but should not be lost in this crowd of “coolness” is well-being.
This is not to say that corporates are not paying attention to the wellness and well-being of their employees but is it really more than a trend that they merely want to adhere to? Is having EAPs (Employee Assistance programs) at work just another ticked off box on the to-do list?
In a workplace utopia, wellness programs would immediately lead to a reduction in overall health costs and absenteeism while significantly boosting turnover and engagement. But, most of us do not operate in such utopias. In the real workplace, these goals seem either out of reach or are realized over a lengthy timeline. An ever-present challenge is that of behavior – of the organization as a whole and of its employees irrespective of the levels that they operate in. Behavioural economics and psychology shed light and provide insight into the challenges faced due to the arduous task of behavior modification. Unhealthy behaviours like poor level of physical activity and unhealthy eating habits often become a part of the workplace culture, are so deeply ingrained individually that it becomes difficult to modify them and they soon lead to lifestyle diseases that cost the company dearly financially and in human potentially.
Loss of workdays, decrease in productive capacity and a general dip in employee engagement and happiness demand that wellness be looked at from a behavioural standpoint as well – in order to program it into every individual to by default strive to be healthier and happier irrespective of the pressures at work.
How an organization plans, brands and communicates its wellness programs not only affect the engagement and involvement levels in favour of the same but also significantly influence the benefits that they reap from them. This is because of how we process information and how our cognitive systems control our decisions. Behavioural scientist, Daniel Kahneman, segregates these thought systems as fast-thinking (which tends to be emotional) and slow-thinking (which is based on rationalization). When we decide emotionally, we tend to be reflexive, instinctive and impulsive while when we judge with rationales, we are deliberative, pensive and put in more effort. These frameworks apply to how employees perceive wellness programs as well. Communication that targets an emotional response, begets an automatic connection (whether it is positive or negative) while communication that targets our rational side, makes us look at pros and cons and then decide how we feel about these initiatives.
Frederick J. Zimmerman conducted a study to understand how fitness companies use a positive frame to promote a behaviour change towards becoming healthier. A communication like “Get Game, Have Fun!” elicits a totally different response as opposed to a dry obligatory message like “Regular Exercise is Good for Health”. According to Zimmerman, how the message is framed is responsible for making us decide whether the activity would be rewarding or burdensome.
To increase employee involvement in wellness initiatives, the communication focus should thus be on a sense of personal achievement, increased individual and group interaction and fun. Thus frameworks that zone in on fast-thinking couple with positive framing methods work well for most corporates in getting employees onboard the wellness express. Communication features such as engaging graphics, gamified and story-format content coupled with instant gratification system through rewards.
Holistic wellbeing at work
Most companies today are looking at rethinking and redefining their wellness programs. While at it, it might help to look at health and wellbeing as not just another burden – a nagging necessity that must be dealt with. It is time that wellness is regarded as a lot more than having a few EAPs in place that employees feel compelled to avail of while worrying that they are just another means to monitor and micromanage them. Wellness programs need to look at more than just a set agenda and incorporate within their framework a holistic view of wellness – physical, mental, emotional and financial aspects need to be borne in mind. In other words, it is time to look beyond EAPs, ergonomics and run-of-the-mill engagement activities.
Programs today need to be inherently flexible and allow employees ease of access from anywhere at any point in time. We are a generation that is, at some level, always connected to work. Hence, we need to be able to connect to wellness drives as frequently as well. Moreover, wellness programs need to be able to engage employees at multiple levels – in ways that go beyond the hours they clock in at work.