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Healthy employees = Healthy company

A report from the Global Wellness Summit: How to make employee wellness programs work

By Anne Dimon

With the theme of Building a Well World, the subject of wellness in the workplace was front and centre at the 2015 Global Wellness Summit, a three-day event held in November in Mexico City.

In one of the general sessions, Katherine Johnston, senior research fellow at the Global Wellness Institute and senior economist.at SRI International, pointed out that “unwellness” at work is incredibly costly. In the US alone, she says, the loss in GDP resulting from workplace “unwellness” is $2.2 trillion. She added that while 52 per cent of working adults in North America now have access to wellness in the workplace programs, “today’s programs are not necessarily effective.” She cited two main reasons for this lack of success: Limited participation and a reactive rather than proactive approach.

Limited participation, says Johnston, is mostly due to lack of communication and lack of trust by employees. “They may feel the program is more about a cost cutting business strategy than a true concern for them.”

What works?
“To be truly effective, companies need to start thinking more proactively about wellness,” says Johnston. “Beyond simple one-shot programs, wellness in the workplace should be more comprehensive and integrated into the company culture.” She adds that a more holistic approach “with company leaders and managers driven by the premise that employees are the company’s most valuable assets will help develop an environment of trust that will lead to more participation and better results.”

Company dynamics and management expectations, as well as the physical and social workplace environment, she says, all have to be taken into consideration. Specific programs, she says, “also need to be tailored to the employee population, taking demographics, physical needs and social economics into consideration. We also need to understand individual motivators for lifestyle change.”

Johnston has just completed a year-long global project on the future of workplace wellness based on a changing economy. The report by the Global Wellness Institute is scheduled to be released in February.

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