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Do Wellness Programs Actually Work?

Workplace wellness programs are quickly gaining traction as an essential element for a healthy office culture. We chat to a recruitment leader and two professors about their lessons learnt and findings about wellness programs.

It seems wellness programs are not a fad, not a buzz-phrase and not going anywhere soon. In fact, workplace wellness programs are quickly becoming the new norm, as employers recognise happy staff make for higher productivity, engagement and commitment to the business.

Increasingly, businesses have started to understand that helping staff to negotiate the stresses of life, whether they be work-related or otherwise, is a smart business investment.

Giles Keay (pictured right), Managing Director of Sydney-based Constructive Recruitment, recently introduced the “peoplefirst” initiative for his staff after witnessing the ongoing pressures that balancing work and home life can have on individuals.

Constructive has a core focus on what it calls the “Happiness Advantage” principles which are geared around increasing productivity, engagement and success through ensuring individuals’ happiness and positivity.

Keay said this is now an ingrained feature of the business following its adoption almost two years ago and included having Happiness Coach Alex Dawson from Positive Scenario as their guest speaker at their 2017 conference.

Keay described the process over the past 12 months as an evolution.

“We have always had a core focus on our employees since hiring our first staff member in 2004 but following our commitment to this strategy we then created a ‘Best Place to Work’ team comprising four individuals in the business who have pulled together our commitment to our staff, peoplefirst,” Keay said. “The feedback, engagement and support to implement these initiatives by the business has been amazing.”

The peoplefirst initiative has been designed to cover five areas for staff:

• Health and wellbeing

• Rewards

• Flexibility • Career and personal development

• And the little extras

This includes flexible working arrangements, capacity to work remotely, incentive schemes which are particular to staff and which can include holidays to Bali for staff meeting their targets, career pathways and guidance and the capacity to alter working arrangements for individuals.

Since the program was introduced 12 months ago, Constructive has reported:

  • Staff turnover the past year of only 12 per cent against an industry average of 38 per cent

  • Revenue increased 30 per cent year-on-year with six monthly records broken this year

“Our staff are more engaged than they have ever been because they understand that we are looking after them and the results are there to be seen, with record-breaking months almost ongoing although our headcount has remained steady” Keay explained. “We are now looking to increase staff numbers over the forthcoming year, but will always stay a medium- sized business, as our culture means more to us than global domination! As a company, we are genuinely interested in the welfare of our staff and our commitment to this extends to life outside of the demands and confines of work. Life and society are changing rapidly, with technology bringing help but also more pressures, and being prepared to allow staff to do what they need to do to achieve the work-life balance they are after is a good way of attracting the best staff and keeping them.”

Since founding the business 15 years ago, Keay said the focus on the wellbeing of his staff had always been a guiding principle for Constructive and the peoplefirst initiative was a very successful extension of this.

Key pillars of Constructive’s peoplefirst initiative include: • Up to 12 weeks paid parental leave for the primary caregiver (regardless of gender)

• Up to 10 extra days in the first six months following birth to the non-primary caregiver

• An additional four-week paid bonus upon returning to work after parental leave

• An Employee Assistance Program and wellbeing walk-ins which are two annual half-hour sessions with a wellbeing consultant

• Above award leave entitlements

• Above industry average commission bands

• Additional loyalty and performance bonuses

• A new program for management and peer-to-peer recognition

• A substantial focus on learning and professional development

“There is definitely a commercial justification as well as a social case for introducing a wellness program,” Keay said. “And if that is what motivates the change in the recruitment industry, then at least the result is positive change that benefits the employee, their family and circles of friends as well their level of productivity and engagement at work.

Business owners have an obligation to try to change this and make our industry more supportive and understanding to people’s needs.”

Australian workplace think tank Reventure released its Workplace Wellbeing Report A Future That Works in November 2017, saying that work-funded wellbeing programs, when implemented effectively, are proving to be a worthwhile investment.

The report’s author, Dr Lindsay McMillan said his research indicated that a quarter of Australia’s workforce believe the focus on workplace wellbeing is increasing and 20 per cent of them would be prepared to sacrifice a promotion for better workplace wellbeing.

“Our research has found 74 per cent of Australian workers believe workplace wellbeing programs are worth the time and money, which speaks volumes,” Professor McMillan said. “An effective workplace wellbeing program is not just about perks, so it is important that business leaders are attuned to what is going to improve wellbeing and act on it – not just copy whatever seems to be the trend at the time.”

In his report, Professor McMillan said the emphasis on wellbeing in the workplace had “gripped Australian workplaces”.

“Wellbeing is not a buzzword to attach to any new HR strategy but rather it requires careful consideration,” he said.

The report revealed five key things employers need to know before they introduce a wellbeing program into the workplace:

• 51 per cent of workers think unrealistic workloads negatively impact workplace wellbeing

• 38 of workers believe low team morale has the most negative impact on workplace wellbeing

• 75 per cent of workers understand wellbeing to relate to physical and mental health

• 74 per cent of workers believe wellbeing programs are a good investment of time and money

• 51 per cent say family is one of the biggest stressors in their life.

The University of Sydney recently released a world-first study looking at workplace wellbeing and how positive psychology in the workplace extends beyond HR.

The Towards a Positive Psychology of Buildings and Workplace Community: Delineating the Benefits of the Positive Built Workplace Environment report revealed employees have a number of key psychological needs “that if ignored will reduce performance and wellbeing in the workplace”.

Those needs are autonomy, competence and relatedness at work. The report said factors which contribute to a high-performance workplace “include the organisation’s culture and values, and the social contracts between the management and employees”.

“Engaged employees are more productive, have higher job performance, take less sick days, have higher customer satisfaction ratings, are less likely to leave their job, and hold themselves and their organisations in higher esteem,” the report found. One of the report’s authors, Professor Anthony Grant added: “By taking an inside-out approach to wellbeing, employers would be rewarded with greater innovation and customer-facing outcomes, while reducing work- related stress at the same time”.

With the evidence suggesting healthy workplaces perform better simply, isn’t it about time these became standard for all businesses?

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