Physical and Emotional Wellbeing at Work

Simply giving employees access to wellbeing solutions is not a great strategy for motivating employees to put their wellbeing first. Barriers, miscommunications, and flaws in implementation greatly reduce efficacy, and may even halt adoption altogether.

The State of Wellbeing at Work

Every year, more employers recognize the importance of offering a robust employee wellbeing program. In fact, a report from the National Business Group on Health from 2018 discovered the average amount spent on employee incentives for these types of programs have increased to $784 per employee (a 50% jump since 2013), and 67% of employers plan to expand their wellbeing solutions over the next three to five years.

You’d think that this increase in spending on wellbeing incentives would translate to positive wellbeing trends across the country. Unfortunately, the opposite is true. In a 2017 study, 21 states showed declines in wellbeing scores, and none showed statistically significant improvements.

As it turns out, simply giving employees access to wellbeing solutions is not a great strategy for motivating employees to put their wellbeing first. Barriers, miscommunications, and flaws in implementation greatly reduce efficacy, and may even halt adoption altogether.

The Importance of Workplace Wellbeing Programs

All of us can agree that employee health is important. Beyond individual benefits for employees, general good health is crucial to getting work done, and characterize a vital and productive workforce. Of course, healthier employees also drive down healthcare costs, but companies with healthier employees also benefit from higher productivity, lower absenteeism, better talent retention, and other key advantages , according to an article from the Harvard School of Public Health.

Unfortunately, simply focusing on health and wellness does not lead to the desired outcomes. The term “wellbeing,” unlike the term “wellness,” goes beyond physical health; it’s a holistic term which also encompasses mental and emotional wellbeing. The Surgeon General tells us that “positive mental health allows people to realize their full potential, cope with the stresses of life, work productively, and make meaningful contributions to their communities.” Depression alone costs employers around $44 billion per year in lost productive time, per the Partnership for Workplace Mental Health.

To reach desired outcomes, it’s crucial that employers consider the mind/body connection. Physical wellbeing impacts mental wellbeing and vice versa. Research shows that a lack of emotional wellbeing can cause physical illness, higher rates of cardiovascular disease, higher stress, and increased susceptibility to viral infections. These connections between mind and body illustrate another reason why it’s crucial that wellbeing programs focus on the mind-body connection.

Why Companies’ Wellbeing Strategies Fail

There seems to be a disconnect between how management thinks wellbeing initiatives are going, and the good they’re actually doing. According to research by Willis Towers Watson, 61% of employees do not believe their employers’ wellbeing programs meet their needs, but 81% of employers believe they do.

One reason for this disconnect is because employers use extrinsic rewards to incentivize employees to use the programs. In fact, the National Business Group on Health study found that 86% of employers use some sort of financial incentive for their initiatives. Psychologically speaking, using these financial incentives turns wellbeing into an externally motivated activity. Once employees get this external reward, they feel like the job is done, and the motivation vanishes. Extrinsic motivation through financial incentives does not seem like the sustainable way to genuinely motivate employees to improve their wellbeing.

Another reason why wellbeing programs fall short is because they do not meet employees where they are. Everyone is at a different stage in their own wellbeing journey. For this reason, the typical population-level program is destined for failure. Employers who use these umbrella programs prescribe solutions for employees rather than working toward a solution that works for each individual; listening to employees and generating data on what matters for them is essential for launching a successful wellbeing solution with ample employee buy-in.

Purpose: A Better Way to Think About Wellbeing

To move from external motivation (the fleeting kind), to internal motivation (the sustaining kind), people need a guiding force that keeps them focused on why they are working on improving their wellbeing. This guiding force is purpose. 

Purpose helps alleviate the problems associated with traditional wellbeing programs. Aligning with purpose helps people sustain intrinsic motivation and focus on improving their wellbeing long term. For employers, having an understanding of what matters to employees helps channel intrinsic motivation to empower them to sustain engagement in wellbeing programs.

Focusing on purpose is also inherently personalizable. Corporate Wellness Magazine calls personalization the “secret sauce” to any successful wellness program, and everybody has the power to commit to their own personal purposes — they need not choose from limited options given by one-size-fits-all wellbeing solutions. 

An added bonus? Purpose is infinitely scalable. Everyone has wildly varying levels of physical and mental wellbeing, which can make it a challenge to deploy a single solution to a diverse population. However, everyone can cultivate purpose, so a wellbeing platform that can amplify an individual’s purpose can have a transformative impact on both individuals and organizations alike.

Employee wellbeing programs present a conundrum for today’s organizations. Their importance is well-documented, but their challenges are also abundant — from tricky implementation processes, to difficulty with sustained buy-in. Focusing instead on prioritizing purpose meets the aims traditional wellbeing programs strive for, and does so while being scalable and intrinsically motivating. 

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