The four pillars of employee health and wellbeing

The International Labour Organization defines workplace wellbeing as “all aspects of working life, from the quality and safety of the physical environment, to how workers feel about their work, their working environment, the climate at work and work organization.” You may notice that some businesses refer to this as workforce wellbeing, office wellbeing or employee health and wellbeing, but they all mean the same thing.

The four pillars of employee health and wellbeing

When it comes to maintaining an engaged and productive workforce, gone are the days when salary and compensation packages were the leading motivators. Today, 43% of employees attribute motivation in the workplace to wellbeing initiatives.

In this blog, we discuss why establishing a workforce wellbeing program is important and some initiatives you can start investing in today to promote a healthier workplace culture.

Why is a workforce wellbeing program important?

The global corporate wellness market size was valued at $U.S. 51 billion in 2021 and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.38% from 2022 to 2030.  Since the pandemic brought personal health to the forefront of organizations globally, employees have maintained the expectation that employers need to invest more in establishing a healthy workplace environment. Essentially, workforce wellbeing initiatives lead to happier employees which results in better productivity and efficiency levels. But where’s the proof?

A study by Harvard University found that employee wellness activities can:

  • Increase sales by 37%
  • Improve productivity by 31%
  • Reduce production errors by 19%
  • Increase creativity by 55%.

A study by the Chapman Institute found that workforce wellbeing programs reduced absenteeism by 25%. With disengaged workers costing the U.S. economy somewhere between 450 to 550 billion dollars a year in production losses, it’s safe to say that a component of success of an organization today is closely related to the level of investment they place in workforce wellbeing.

Not only do the statistics make it hard to say no to establishing these initiatives but consider how potential candidates, existing employees and even consumers may react. As it has become harder to hire quality and skilled candidates due to recent labor shortages and the rise of candidate ghosting, putting your best foot forward in terms of recruitment and brand image is crucial.

Advertising that your organization believes in the investment toward employee mental health or physical wellbeing paints a pretty picture; a supportive work environment that fosters confidence, innovation and wants it’s workforce to succeed. In the early stages, this is a huge green flag for candidates considering working for your company. Looking more long term, these initiatives can help existing employees minimize stress and manage mental health, creating a more resilient and stable workforce.

Employee health and wellbeing initiatives

So where to start? Consider these four main categories as pillars to establishing an effective health and wellbeing program: mental and emotional, physical, financial and community. If you can tick off an initiative for each one of these areas, you are on your way to establishing a well-rounded well-being program.

  1. Mental health and emotional resilience

    90% of employees believe mental health to be a priority in running a successful business but only 50% of them believe their workplaces are mentally healthy. From a recruitment and staff attrition perspective, around 75% of employees say a mentally healthy workplace is important when looking for a job.

    Start by normalizing conversations around mental health and emotional wellbeing in the workplace. There is still a lot of stigma against having mental health days or where not being ‘go, go, go’ all the time is frowned upon. Instead of waiting until Mental Health Month rolls around, get your human resources team to create mental health awareness days every month and plan activities that allow employees to openly discuss emotional wellbeing recommendations for the business.

    Invest in platforms or applications that promote mindfulness and allow your employees to take time in their day to engage with these applications. Examples include Headspace, Calm, Talkspace, Happify and BetterHelp.

    Consider getting an in-house psychologist for the organization and provide free consultations for your employees where confidentiality is completely maintained. Alternatively you could seek external corporate funded therapy sessions for your employees should an in-house option not be feasible.

  2. Physical health

    Whether working from home or in the office, employees spend around 67% of their time at work sitting at a desk. This can have long term detrimental effects on the human body. Even if your employees aren’t predominantly desk-based, it’s important to facilitate activities that promote blood circulation, correct posture and physical movement.

    Forbes released an article titled ‘Why we pay our employees to exercise at work’ where they explained why they allow their employees to exercise on the clock for 30 minutes a day. This can be done easily by way of organizing online yoga classes for people working remotely or an annual 5km office run. From more energy and better productivity to fostering social positive social connections at work, getting your employees moving can have great benefits for their wellbeing.

    Even encouraging physical changes in the workplace itself instead of events can be a good start. Invest in providing the option to use standing desks instead of traditional ones, yoga balls instead of chairs, under the desk treadmills or bikes and even automatic notifications on computers to tell your employees that it’s time to get up and take a walk.

  3. Financial stability

    With inflation and rising interest rates an ongoing battle for people of all ages and demographics, your employees are no exception. But how can you provide financial support at work?

    Regular salary reviews are one way to ensure your employees are being paid in line with economic changes and are reflecting what the market is currently paying employees in their positions elsewhere. This can improve their wellbeing by feeling secure knowing their employers have essentially ‘got their back’ during stressful times. Salary bonuses are another way to give further financial support to those deserving.

    Just as we recommended funded therapy sessions above, why not offer free financial advisory sessions too? Whether in-house or not, all are kept confidential, which could allow employees wanting financial guidance an opportunity to reach out.

    Perhaps providing training opportunities to do with ‘investing for your future’ or offering salary sacrificing schemes could be another way to improve your employees' wellbeing from a financial perspective.

  4. Community collaboration

    Volunteering is associated with a better quality of life, so introducing these opportunities into the workplace could boost employee morale. Consider what your organization stands for and whether there is a not-for-profit organization that you could form a partnership with and that resonates with your employees. If not, that shouldn’t stop you looking at ways to give back to the community.

    For example, some large retail clothing stores offer recycling services to their customers where people can bring in any piece of clothing (doesn’t have to be the brands) and they either recycle the clothes into new ones or provide them to communities in need. Running a charity event might be the way to go, or simply ask your employees for recommendations on what not-for-profit companies they’d like to offer support with. The options are endless.

Improve employee engagement

Improving workforce wellbeing improves employee engagement. As Erin Davis said in her 2010 presentation at the annual American Library Association conference in Washington, DC: “a happy employee is a productive employee”. In other words, if your employees are not enjoying their job, feeling valued and mentally engaged, there is a high chance that they won’t be productive.

A study by the Department of Economics at the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom tested the idea that happy employees work harder. The results? More engaged, or happier, employees were around 12% more productive.

What are five ways you can improve employee engagement in your organization?