Why common workplace wellness challenges are also the biggest opportunities

A workplace wellness program has the power to transform a company’s culture, simultaneously increasing productivity, reducing stress, and improving wellbeing. The potential benefits can be meaningful, widespread, and long-lasting.

Yet, living up to the promise often proves more challenging than expected. Many HR professionals are familiar with a different, much less inspiring workplace wellness program experience, marked by fleeting excitement, faltering engagement, and failure to achieve lasting change.

A chance exists to close the gap between the promised results and the lacklustre reality, but to fully seize the opportunity, we must first properly size up the challenge.

There are no simple solutions to complex problems

The truth is that most workplace wellness programs fail to make a difference because what they’re trying to accomplish is truly difficult. Making a lasting change in a workplace, and in people’s lives, takes time and effort. Progress is rarely quick and almost never linear. Ups and downs are inevitable, setbacks are to be expected, and even then, success is not guaranteed—reduced stress, improved satisfaction, and greater productivity are perennially problematic for a reason.

A workplace wellness program that works must acknowledge that these problems aren’t easily solved. The promise of a turnkey solution is great. To be sure, in a time-strapped world, a program must be quick and easy to implement if it is to have any hope of getting off the ground. But quick and easy is only half the equation—it must also be sustainable, strategic, and grounded in human nature.

Two good starting points

Getting people away from their desks is a perfect place to start.

More movement can be at the core of a successful workplace wellness program because it has a broad and cascading effect. If you can increase the physical activity levels of employees, you can change their lives! Studies show that active employees are less stressed, more engaged, and report greater levels of job satisfaction. They typically take fewer sick days and get more done.

Of course, getting employees to move more can also be challenging, which brings us to the second point—behavioural economics. Workplace wellness programs work when they bring about lasting changes in people’s behaviour, but to do so, they must be grounded in an evidence-based approach that uses the tried and tested tools of behaviour change theory.

We must move beyond a narrow focus on behaviour and delve deeper into the capabilities, opportunities, and motivations that determine what people do. The conditions for success must be created.

Overlooked opportunities

While physical activity and behaviour change theory are great starting points, to live up to their full potential, workplace wellness programs must take advantage of every opportunity. The trick is that often the best opportunities are disguised as challenges.

For instance, too often management is not encouraged to endorse the program and, as a result, unknowingly deter employee participation. When the importance of management buy-in is understood, however, this obstacle becomes an opportunity. If an employee’s immediate supervisor is engaged, the likelihood of that employee engaging rises dramatically. Asking managers to set the example is an easy win.

Another common hurdle is attempting to maintain 100% engagement 100% of the time. Yet, the fact that enthusiasm will naturally wax and wane creates an opportunity to change things up. People get bored of the same thing day after day, which is why variety is so important. When changing behaviour, relapse will happen, but a good program anticipates this challenge and leverages it to renew engagement.

A final noteworthy obstacle is that workplace wellness programs too often cater to the most active individuals, leaving those at highest risk behind. This common mistake leaves a lot of room for improvement. A workplace wellness program that specifically targets those most at risk of poor health and absenteeism can have a huge impact. A culture of productivity, satisfaction, and reduced stress can be created, but no one can feel left out.

Committing to a workplace that’s well

While many workplace wellness programs claim to be quick and easy turnkey solutions, the truth is that many fail because what they’re trying to accomplish is hard. If these problems were easily solved, they wouldn’t be ubiquitous.

Yet, seeking solutions is undoubtedly a worthwhile endeavour. A workplace wellness program that gets employees moving more and sitting less can indeed solve many of the most pervasive problems facing HR professionals. The dream of greater productivity, increased satisfaction, and improved wellbeing can be achieved. Stress and absenteeism can be reduced. 

Busy workplaces inhabited by fallible humans aren’t doomed to misery. But to reach their full potential, they need to get up and going.

UPnGO with ParticipACTION is a workplace wellness program designed to positively impact your workplace culture by getting your workforce sitting less and moving more. Using a unique, behavioural-science approach, delivered off and online, that reaches the entire workplace UPnGO provides year-round engagement through monthly themed programming including personal and group challenges, step tracking, social support, and rewards. The program helps participants understand and overcome barriers to physical activity and make healthy, long-lasting behaviour changes over time, leading to a happier, healthier and more productive workforce.

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