All businesses focus some amount of dedicated time evaluating the productivity of their employees. In manufacturing, employee productivity directly affects company revenues, while in the service industry, productivity affects customer satisfaction rates and the likelihood of having repeat business. Loss in productivity can be attributed to inefficient processes and ineffective project management, but often, the true cause of a decline in output is less clear.
As companies evaluate the impact of the recent pandemic and heavy workloads on employee productivity, a prominent culprit continues to rise to the top: a lack of employee wellness.
Wellness can manifest itself in a variety of ways including our physical, emotional, social, intellectual, spiritual, and occupational domains. To have an engaged, productive workforce, companies must consider the influence of stress on all dimensions of health and the potential financial benefits of investing in supporting the health of their workforce.
A study published in 2017 in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology conservatively estimated the cost of workplace stress in the United States to be $221.13 million to $187 billion. Specific sources of stress and productivity losses included absenteeism, imbalances in low perceived control compared to high demands, and poor interpersonal relationships in the workplace. Based on the Stress…At Work report from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), job stress ranks higher than financial and family stress as a contributing factor to health problems.
Consider how workplace stress can affect just two domains of wellness (source: clevelandclinic.org):
High blood pressure
Anxiety or irritability
The development of unhealthy behaviors is not uncommon when trying to manage workplace stress. Potential behaviors include the excessive use of alcohol, gambling, smoking, drug use, and overeating. Obesity-related illnesses and absenteeism greatly impact the nation’s economy and worker productivity. A 2014 study published by the National Library of Medicine estimated that $8.65 billion per year is lost in productivity related to absenteeism, with which obesity is associated.
Because obesity has been associated with a variety of chronic diseases (diabetes, cancer, heart disease), the long-term management of these chronic diseases is going to place a burden on the U.S. economy. We have to be careful, however, not to place blame and stigma on persons who are overweight and obese, as these methods do not encourage individuals to make positive health changes. Instead, barriers to healthy living should be reduced to develop a national culture of health where body weight is not the sole parameter for evaluating wellness.
According to an interview by the American Institute of Stress with Dr. Gabe De La Rosa, chief behavioral science officer for Fierce, Inc., “It’s key to create cultures eliminating the gap between what people feel and what they say in workplace conversations, as this is at the center of what drives a lack of mental and emotional health.”
De La Rosa continued, “Leaders that steer their groups toward eliminating this gap produce higher performing company cultures. When employees feel safe to truly show up as they are, they can invest more of themselves into their work roles.”
Could embracing an employee wellness mindset offset these productivity losses?
What are some no- to low-cost ways to improve employee wellness?
• Support healthy boundaries between work and home—for instance, don’t email or call your employees outside of business hours.
• Offer flexible work hours.
• Offer work-from-home options a few days of the week.
• Genuinely appreciate what employees contribute to the team and don’t wait for a corporate event to do so. Sincere words of praise go a long way!
• Actively engage with and listen to your employees.
• Conduct walking meetings to harness positive peer pressure to take care of one’s health.
• Ask people what they need to make completing their tasks easier or to reduce barriers, then seriously consider their suggestions.
What are some low- to mid-cost ways to improve employee wellness?
• Provide gift cards for self-care services or gym membership discounts as a company benefit.
• Bring in a massage therapist to give chair massages during employee breaks.
• Incentivize preventive wellness visits to one’s health care provider by reducing the need to use paid time off for such visits.
To make employee wellness an integral part of your business culture, consider the benefits of hiring a certified health education specialist (CHES) or a certified wellness practitioner (CWP) who is specifically trained in developing and supporting employee wellness. These professionals can conduct corporate health needs assessments to individualize wellness program planning, implementation, and evaluation for your workplace.
Your business is more than a building and products—it’s your employees. Investing in your workforce’s health can reduce lost productivity, sick days, and absenteeism. To reach your collective goals, wellness must be ingrained into your company’s culture.