2018 Wellbeing Trends at Work: Why They Matter and How to Leverage Them for a Healthier Workforce

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Have you taken the pulse of your workplace’s wellbeing? Is it even on your radar? Employee wellness and health usually fall to human resources or other administrative figures. You, of course, have your hands full, but the wellbeing of your staff has ramifications for almost every part of your business. It impacts productivity, creativity, and collaboration. It can help you retain top talent, reduce costs associated with absenteeism, and generally give your office a more positive vibe.

When thinking about employee wellbeing, two major points are always front and centre: nutrition and health. To completely integrate these into your workplace culture, it’s important to step back and look at the entire ecosystem. First, you’ll want to review the current trends and what they mean. Next, you’ll have the opportunity to review a breakdown of the current state of the Australian workplace. Then, you’ll have the chance to review actionable steps you can take to improve the wellbeing of your workforce.

Australian Workplace Wellness Trends

Many different factors cause trends. With a changing workforce, the wellness of it and what is deemed important are shifting. Consider the evolution seen in just the past decade in the workplace: technology as an integral part of every aspect of the workplace, more virtual workers, improvements in the physical workplace, like ergonomic furniture and more exposure to natural light. 

The last decade has also seen the growth and popularity of workplace wellness programs. And this popularity is mostly coming from the expectations of employees. In the Workplace Wellness Report from Reventure, 25 per cent of Australia’s workforce said they would sacrifice perks for a healthier workplace. Further, the report identified that 74 per cent of workers think workplace wellbeing programs are worth the time and money. These are now the expectations of the workforce. How will you meet them?

Beyond Health and Fitness

Most early programs in the workplace purely focused on activity and an employee’s current health, which might include programs around specific chronic conditions like diabetes education. While health and fitness are vital, more organisations are looking beyond these concepts. The total well-being of an employee also includes nutrition, sleep, and emotional health.

The emphasis on emotional health has much to do with stress, which is a morale and productivity zapper. Employees that feel stressed during the day have a hard time focusing and being their best selves. Companies are taking notice. According to a report by Buck Consultants, stress reduction is in the top three issues driving wellness program design.

The Power of Mindfulness

One way employers may be able to counter stress is through the practice of mindfulness. Teaching employees the practice of mindfulness puts them in the present, instead of distracted. Distraction counters creativity collaboration. Because how can someone on your team be engaged if their mind is somewhere else?

Including mindfulness training within wellness programs is a hot trend and one expected to continue. In the same family as mindfulness, meditation is also seeing a resurgence and may be taught in coordination with mindfulness.

Getting Your ZZZs

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Everybody needs sleep, and without, anyone can suffer lots of negative consequences. Sleep is a real problem in Australia, with experts describing it as an epidemic, one that’s costing the country about $26.2 billion according to a report from the Sleep Health Foundation. They found that up to 45 percent of Australians have poor sleep habits.

The best way to bring awareness to the problem is to talk about it in a wellness program and offer resources to those employees that fall into this category. Improving sleep can bring workers much relief and peace.

Getting Real about Mental Health

Talking about mental health in the workplace has for years been a bit taboo. No one wanted to admit they suffered from depression or anxiety. But the country and the world are certainly making strides to address mental health in society and in the workplace.

Create a safe place where candid conversations can occur. Start with developing some educational programs with facts about mental health, including stats about how many are inflicted. For those who are suffering from their own ailments or have family members that are, this education could be a true lifesaver.

Healthy, Accessible Snacks

Corporate wellness programs are saying goodbye to the sugary and salty vending machine snacks. Most people now realise that a diet high in salt and sugar isn’t going to help our body out, nor will it give you a “boost” of energy. It actually does the opposite.

But workers want to snack! It’s basically in human DNA to want to snack on something while working. Also, in the workplace, a food break may be linked with a break from work to socialise or just to be in a social setting. This is especially true of millennials who may snack up to four times a day in 24 hours. What makes this stat even more important is that millennials will make up about 75 per cent of the workforce in Australia by 2025.

Looking deeper into their love of snacking, research from Millennial Marketing, The Snack Hack: What You Need to Know about Modern Consumer Snacking Culture, explains the trends. First, millennials are focused on health and wellness in the morning, choosing high protein snacks. As the day continues, they become a little less conscientious and opt for convenience. Snacking is also, in many ways, taking over traditional lunch and dinner.

Workplaces now have the opportunity to offer healthy snacks as a perk for workers, something that could make millennials more loyal. Thus, it's never been a more opportune time to explore ways to offer healthy snacks in the office. Many offices are turning to healthy snack food delivery programs, which offer tasty, nutritious options. If workers have access to healthier, fresher foods, they’ll take advantage of this because snack decisions are so often about convenience. Consider it one of the easiest trends you can take advantage of that is likely to go over well with your employees.

The Current State of the Australian Workplace: Where Does Wellbeing Fit?

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Looking at the trends, it’s important to decipher what is driving them. As mentioned earlier, the push has a lot to do with worker expectations. They want a wellbeing program and believe it to be worthwhile, even more so than other perks. Diving deeper into the Reventure survey, you can get a broader picture of the state of the Australian Workplace.

Wellbeing programs aren’t just something that would be nice. They have a bearing on job hunting, with 42 percent of Australians considering it important when job hunting. These workers also believe the responsibility is that of the company with 85 percent of respondents putting the onus on the employer to create an environment of wellbeing and less stress.

Workers on Wellbeing and Satisfaction

Wellbeing can mean a lot of different things depending on the perspective. It’s usually not associated with just one idea or term. When workers were asked what personal wellbeing meant to them, the answers with the highest responses were rest and relaxation, healthy friendships, financial security, regular exercise, and nutrition. It’s interesting that the first three most important are not necessarily physical aspects of health, but rather related to emotional wellbeing.

Beyond wellbeing and into life satisfaction, respondents were most satisfied with relationships and least satisfied with sleep and finances. It makes sense that sleep and financial security would be at the end. Finances are stressful; more stress leads to more brain activity and less of a chance to sleep peacefully.

Job satisfaction among the participants isn’t high as nearly half will look for a new job in the next year. And sleep has something to do with this stat as well. Bad sleepers are more likely to look for a new job. Why? It could be that stress and worry at the current job have the power to disrupt sleep. So, there could be sleep deprived, disengaged workers at your office. Is it possible to turn them around?

Wellbeing in the Workplace: What Employees Think

In this part of the survey, employees had to answer what elements are a factor in wellbeing. The majority (44 percent) said a pleasant work environment. The other top answers were flexible working hours and realistic work expectations (both at 36 percent). Money is not in the top three here, neither are true perks like bonuses. At the end of the day, workers want a low-stress, easy-going work environment that’s flexible and comes with reasonable expectations.

These same topics are repeated in how wellbeing is promoted at work. Realistic work expectations, flexible work hours, and work/life balance were the most popular answers. It’s obvious that workers feel more at ease when they can be certain that their workload is sensible and that they aren’t pinned into a traditional schedule. In a modern world with all the advantages of technology, it’s certainly not hard to offer flexibility.

When Wellbeing Programs Work

So how do you determine if your wellbeing program is working for your employees? You can simply ask them, but it’s better to look at some more tangible results. The survey lists the four main indicators that employee wellbeing programs are an asset. They are: high team morale, low turnover, loyalty, and higher productivity. These four indicators are beneficial for both employees and employers. That’s really the end game for any employee wellness program, better outcomes and health for all.

The impact as determined by workers is vital to its success. For the 43 percent of respondents that have a wellness program, the most positive impacts were productivity, performance, and sense of value, whilst the least positive impact were better sleep, stress levels, and physical health.

As you can tell, there are some significant patterns that continue to pop up. Sleep patterns are a huge challenge, one that has significant ramifications, not just in dollars as noted earlier, but sleep deprived people aren’t typically very happy people. Stress again makes its way to the top; this time as something not being well addressed by wellbeing. Stress has emotional and physical side effects.

Weaknesses in Programs Remain

When examining the research for weaknesses, there are several opportunities for employers. One of those is in developing and sharing a strategy. Only 13 per cent of workers were aware of the company’s strategy. Your strategy shouldn’t be a secret. You have at your disposal many different channels for communication, so use them to inform employees.

In looking at the components of a workplace wellbeing program, the numbers are telling here as well. Flexible work hours were by far the top component currently available. Whilst education around healthy lifestyles and nutrition were only at nine and eight percent respectively.

Challenges to Engaging Workers

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Challenges in the workplace are also barriers to success and must be improved to facilitate a program. The challenges cited by employers for lack of engagement were lack of time, costs, and lack of employer buy-in. So, basically there’s no time or money, and decision leaders don’t think it’s necessary. That’s a lot to be up against. Luckily, there’s a lot of evidence out there to support the need for employee wellbeing programs. Comcare has found that programs improve productivity and performance, reduce costs related to absenteeism and other factors, improve the culture helping to retain employees, and enhance the company’s image allowing them to attract great candidates.

The reality is that making time and spending the money is an investment in the future of your employees and business. And the tons of research proving the points of happier, more productive workers should improve stakeholder buy-in.

Actionable Steps for Employers: What You Can Do With All this Information

Now that you’ve learned about the trends and the current state of the Australian workplace, it’s time to examine your options. Whether you need to update a program or start one, there are many ideas to glean from the research presented. Consider these steps for a healthier, happier workforce.

Understand that wellness and work are interdependent.

You need to resolve that the two are connected. If a worker’s personal life is full of strife, he/she brings it to work. If the job is stressful, they take it home with them. So, if either side of the work/life balance is toxic, it invades the other.

However, if you have the ability to impact the work part of the equation, making it a comfortable environment where workers are valued and have wellness initiatives rolled into the culture, this can cause the worker to take the positive home, ending the cycle of negativity.

Realise employee wellness is much more than physical activity.

Exercise or activity can’t be the only part of your wellness program. You need to address all the components of a person’s life. Your wellness program should have lots of facets, including education on healthy eating, chronic diseases, and mental health.

Engage your workforce with more opportunities to get real about what’s impacting their physical and emotional health. Think of small ways every day you can promote total health. Send out healthy tips every day. Offer a space for mediation. Stock your break room with healthy snacks. Make educational material accessible to all your employees.

Help your employees get better sleep.

As noted throughout this analysis, much of the country can’t get a decent night’s rest. Not sleeping well can be the result of a lot of factors: stress and worry being a major one. Lack of sleep then feeds into the stress. It’s a vicious cycle. You don’t want an office of sleep-deprived workers. Develop a sleep-better program that has educational components as well as de-stressing techniques like meditation. You could even develop a sleep problem group where employees come together to talk about their sleep problems and offer advice to others.

Communicate more about everything wellness related.

In the Reventure report, very few employees knew the main objectives of the wellness plan. What you really need to do is align your company’s wellness strategy (assuming you have one) and what they mean to the individual. How will a wellness program improve his/her life? When workers understand it on an intimate level, they will probably be more likely to engage and participate. The more they engage, the more benefits they could realise. The bonus for an employer is a happier, more loyal employee. Whilst the employee may be living a healthier life, both physically and emotionally.

Don’t forget about healthy eating.

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Sometimes nutrition can get lost in a wellbeing program, or it’s just lumped together with fitness. Food and fitness are linked, but there’s more to what you eat than just fat and carbs.

Nutrition is also important for those with chronic diseases. It’s not just about calories anymore. You’ve got more and more individuals becoming gluten intolerant or having other allergies. Then there are the conditions like diabetes, migraine headaches, and thyroid disorders that also impact what a person should eat.

Education is key to helping employees embrace nutrition. You’ll need to give them lots of information about the benefits of superfoods, vitamins, and minerals as well as the dangers of salt, trans fat, sugar, and high cholesterol foods.

Another important way to get employees on the right path to better nutrition is offering healthy snacks in your break room. Trade out the candy and chips of your vending machine and instead choose healthy snack delivery, which can be customised to fit the dietary needs of any employee.

Once workers have access to items that are healthy (but also taste good), it may be the first good food selection of many. When people begin to eat cleaner, they feel it and want more of it.

Worker Wellbeing: The Evolution

Your employee wellbeing plan is meant to evolve. Wellness is a changing definition and has different meanings to many. By looking at the current trends in workplace wellness programs and the current state of it in the workplace, you’ll find opportunities to enhance or change up your program, offering your employees a true mind and body wellbeing program. When you have engagement and participation in your program, employees find avenues to better health while the company has a more involved workforce. So, where will your employee wellbeing take you?

Conor Reynolds