Why Do Corporate Wellbeing Plans fail?

Organizing one-off activities not aligned with employee needs will not help enhance their wellbeing. To make a real impact, organizations need to leverage technology and data and foster a culture of wellbeing


Culture eats strategy for breakfast. Every single time. This oft-repeated quote by the late management guru Peter Drucker is as true today as it was when it was first touted in the mid 2000s.

In the context of corporate wellbeing programs — all the more important in the new, stressful post-pandemic reality, which has placed a renewed focus on employee wellbeing. You can put in place a fantastic wellbeing program with all the bells and whistles — virtual games, lunch and coffee connects, festival celebrations, mental and physical health webinars, leadership connects, et al — but without the right catalysts and the right culture, even the best-laid plans can fail. Failure, in this case, is defined as inadequate employee participation and/or failing to enhance their wellbeing.

The recently released RoundGlass Wellbeing at Work Survey Report 2020-21, which interviewed 400 leaders across 15 industries in corporate India, threw up interesting insights around what makes wellbeing plans fail — and work. The good news is that organizations are increasingly thinking about employee wellbeing — more than 50% of the surveyed companies offer health screenings/awareness or meditation sessions to employees; 86% even have a dedicated budget for their wellbeing plans. However, a large proportion (65%) find it challenging to elicit employee participation in such programs — for various reasons.

The RoundGlass survey analyzed the major pitfalls/challenges of implementing a workplace wellbeing program and also how companies can do so successfully. Here are some of the key findings:

Not addressing employees wellbeing needs wholistically

Humans are not just physical beings — have a mental/emotional side; financial, professional, and social needs; and are innately connected with our communities and the planet. While corporates are focused on physical and mental wellbeing — 67% conduct regular health screenings and check-ups; 61% hold awareness events on stress, anxiety, and depression; and 51% hold mindfulness and meditation sessions — they need address employee wellbeing needs wholistically.

Many companies include financial, community, and planetary wellbeing in their programs, but the measures are pretty basic — awareness of company financial benefits (57%); opportunities to participate in one-off social causes (92%); and educating employees on the importance of sustainability (75%) — leaving much scope for improvement. Only 35% offer lifestyle disease management programs and 34% offer one-on-one counselling sessions — something companies should look at, especially in these challenging times. Remember: An employee who is centered on wellbeing is more present, efficient, and creates more value, bringing in the ROI on the wellbeing program.

Not leveraging employee health data and technology

While 66% organizations consider wellbeing programs as an employee engagement activity, ironically, 65% leaders feel the biggest challenge is eliciting employee participation in such programs — only 24% reported an average employee participation rate (EPR) of more than 50%.

Corporates can enhance participation by adopting technology-enabled solutions such as gamification and apps, backed by employee health data. However, only 19% small organizations use technology-enabled tools in their programs compared to 53% percent of large organizations. Such solutions now come at a low per-employee cost and fit into all organizational budgets. Companies would also do well to build online communities to spark off conversations around wellbeing and build champions.

Leaders must also remember that engagement is not synonymous with wellbeing. Rather, it is a natural outcome — a happy, healthy employee is likely to be more engaged and aligned with organizational goals and also to put in discretionary effort at work, furthering the company’s business objectives.

Not personalizing program initiatives

Another big mistake organizations make is adopting a generalized approach to wellbeing and rolling out initiatives they think will benefit employees. Most often, wellbeing programs don’t solve specific problems, are inflexible, and tend to be boring and even cumbersome. To personalize wellbeing plans, companies should root their initiatives in employee inputs and health data. While 52% organizations invite inputs from employees, only 16% use health risk assessment (HRA) data while designing programs.

The key to a successful wellbeing plan is understanding what employees want (through pulse surveys or one-on-one interactions) and offering a range of relevant, engaging initiatives in a flexible time and format. For instance, if the incidence of stress or anxiety is high at a particular office location, employees there won’t be interested in weight loss programs — meditation and mindfulness sessions will appeal more to them.

Not having a proper communication plan

No matter how good a wellbeing program, if information about the initiatives is not communicated to employees in a timely and motivational manner, there will be no takers. According to the RoundGlass survey, 76% of organizations have an EPR of less than 50% and 66% of these companies communicate wellbeing programs to employees through emails.

Program activities need to be communicated in innovative ways across multiple channels to engage employees. Organizations can use emailers, newsletters, the company website, printed material, standees in the cafeteria, etc, to inform employees about wellbeing initiatives. These should also be amplified in team meetings, company chat forums, social media platforms, and new hire orientations. Of course, nothing works better than word-of-mouth promotion and appointing wellbeing champions across teams.

For success, center the company’s culture on wellbeing

Unless wellbeing is central to culture and important to the leaders, wellbeing programs just don’t have the intended impact. Leaders need to walk the talk and demonstrate top-down commitment to wellbeing. According to the survey, organizations that nurture a positive wellbeing culture have a 60% endorsement rate and 59% participation rate from the top leadership in their initiatives. However, only 27% feel that line managers understand the importance of wellbeing. Line managers play an important role in overall employee wellbeing, so they need to be sensitized to recognize and respond to the needs of their team members.

Researchers found that the key enablers of an effective wellbeing program are a well thought-out, documented plan; a dedicated budget; a specialized team, and technology-enabled tools. But even before organizations look at leveraging these enablers, they need to lay the foundation — a strong, effective wellbeing program rooted in employee inputs and health data. Most importantly, they need to take off their myopic filter and look beyond superficial markers of wellbeing to address the needs of the whole person, the whole company, the whole ecosystem, and even the community and the planet.

(The given article is attributed to Sunny (Gurpreet) Singh, Founder, RoundGlass and solely created for BW People)


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