What workers really want in a workplace wellness program

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Workplace wellness programs need to go back to basics if organisations want to see results.

Research into workplace wellness programs suggests a shift in perspective is necessary to increase short term effectiveness.

Standing desks. Yoga sessions. Lifestyle coaching. Developing workplace wellness programs is a costly and increasingly popular strategy for organisations looking to improve the health and wellbeing of its employees. In the US alone, 82 percent of large business and 53 percent of smaller employees have implemented such programs, creating an industry worth $8 billion USD as of 2018.

But is it worth it?

Not according to a randomised clinical trial (paygate) undertaken by Harvard’s Dr Zirui Song and Dr Katherine Baicker. The pair’s study looks at the impact of a comprehensive wellness program on the 32,974 employees of a large US warehouse retail company over 18 months. Although 8.3 percent more employees reported that they engaged in regular exercise and 13.6 percent more actively managed their weight as a result of the program, there was no other significant differences between those who participated and those who didn’t.

The results raise important questions about the short term benefits of workplace wellness programs. If both the physical and financial return of investment are found to be wanting, what should organisations do to ensure immediate engagement and results?

HR research and advisory firm Future Workplace and dynamic glass manufacturers View recently conducted a survey to determine just that. The Future Workplace Wellness Survey saw responses from 1601 US workers who revealed what aspects of wellness programs matter most to them and how they influence productivity.

Perhaps surprisingly, the four most popular responses aren’t exactly new concerns for the modern workplace. They are as follows:

  • Clean, quality air. Only one in four respondents believe the quality of air in their workplace are optimal for them to do their best work. Nearly half feel sleepier at work because of the air. When air quality has been improved, productivity rates have spiked by an average of 11 percent.
  • Natural light. One in three say comfortable light (in relation to colour, intensity etc.) is crucial to their daily health, while 40 percent believe workspaces should provide outside views.
  • Comfortable temperature. Barely a third of respondents consider the temperature of their workspace ideal. The same amount of respondents say uncomfortable temperatures are a permanent issue.
  • Acoustic and noise levels. Nearly 40 percent of respondents say they want their employer to implement policies to lower noise levels and create sound privacy. Everything from coworker conversations to the clicking of keyboards has a significant impact on their ability to concentrate on their work.

Ultimately, the most basic of employee needs remain the most important. Of course, they also prove the most challenging to control on a workspace-wide scale.

That’s why providing employees with the power to personalise their workspace is the most effective way to inspire wellness. From the ability to pick their own desk lamp to democratising the space’s temperature via an app, employees want a sense of control more than the ability to bring a pet to work or an unlimited vacation policy.

By returning to the basics and providing that sense of personalisation, organisations are likely to see the benefits and return on investment that more modern initiatives seem to be lacking.

To read the full Future Workplace Wellness Survey, click here.


Image: ROOM, Unsplash.

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