Is your Company Undermining your Worksite Wellness Efforts?

When’s the last time you were given a perfect attendance award for coming into work? For me, it’s way back in the foggy memories of early school age when these type of awards made sense. Now, think about receiving a bonus for going to work every day.

I ran across this interesting “benefit” when researching an employer’s wellness initiative. In my mind, it’s very contrary to wellness. It sends the signal that you should come to work regardless of feeling 100% to go.

What about if there is a family emergency they need to take care of? What if they need to go to the doctor? Need a mental health day?

This benefit got me thinking about employers who have an active wellness program but may have missed addressing other policies, benefits or behaviors that undermine their efforts.

Why should you care? Employees have a easy to trip B.S. meter. They see a view of the organization that’s unique to their business unit, department, management that’s outside of HR and away from senior leaders.

Employees see how well-being efforts are backed up throughout the organization. If they determine your well-being efforts aren’t lining up with your actions (if you’re not walking the talk), they will not engage. Like most corporate initiatives, wellness initiatives are only as good as how they are implemented and backed by the culture.

It’s easy to plan wellness efforts in a silo, without doing a full evaluation of your company culture. If you want to provide a true culture of well-being, consider how your non-health plan benefits and policies are structured. Here are some examples of policies and behaviors I’ve seen recently that can undermine wellness efforts.

Maternity leave (or lack of) – There’s a lot of media attention on companies like Facebook and Netflix that increased parental leave. Although I’m so glad these companies are leading the way, most companies I see are not even close to going in that direction.

If you want to attract women to work for you, don’t make them reduce their salary and take short term disability during the time they are caring for their newborn. Chances are, they depend on their salary to contribute to their household income.

I’m a mother who wanted to go back to work after the birth of my son and luckily, I never had to go unpaid while out. I went right back into my job 3 months later and cannot imagine going back any sooner. It made me value the company for giving me the benefit.

Lactation rooms – If you are a male reading this, I’m sure you’re inclined to skip over this section. Please don’t because here’s what employers miss. Breast feeding your child increases their immunity and lowers their risk of allergies and asthma. This means mom is less likely to have to attend to her sick child and miss work.

Breastfeeding also helps mom reduce post-pregnancy weight, which can ultimately help healthcare claims in the long term.

But the #1 reason to provide a lactation room is to help mothers transition back to work. It’s hard enough leaving your infant so make it as easy and non-awkward to pump at work by having a dedicated lactation room.

Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) – EAP programs are set up to help employees identify and resolve personal problems that may be impacting their work performance. Typically, an employee can call their EAP program and they’ll see if they can help the employee work through their problems or if a longer term referral is warranted. Ultimately, it gives the employee help working through personal problems that are most likely affecting their work productivity.

If you already have an EAP program, see how much it’s utilized. These programs are typically underutilized unless you taken efforts to promote them and encourage use. Often, EAP providers offer many more benefits than a referral system and can potentially offer some wellness programming for your employees.

Company wide celebrations and meetings – I vividly remember spending tons of time and energy planning a health fair for the hospital employees where I worked. As I was walking into my event, there was a booth of employees selling hot dogs for charity. Talk about undermining my wellness efforts.

Here’s a common response I get from leaders when I talk about offering healthy food options at company events…”but it’s just this one time”. This is because they tend to eat healthy and it is just one time for them. Chances are, it’s not for their employees and it’s sending a clear message to their employees that the company doesn’t truly support their health.

I was at two recent Management meetings and the food choices were not what I would call healthy. At one, we had our choice of a large soft pretzel, popcorn, Cracker Jacks and ice cream.  At the other one, I had to avoid the lure of the brownies and cookies (which was really difficult).Talk about a nice carb coma for our afternoon meeting!

If you are offering food and drinks at a company celebration, offer more water than soft drinks, have plenty of fruit and vegetables (not smothered in butter or fried) and grilled or baked meat as options. You don’t have to eliminate all the junk foods but at a minimum, make it easier to be healthy than unhealthy.

So, what can you do to make sure your efforts aren’t being undermined? I encourage you to audit your policies and benefits to see if any are contradictory to the well-being of your employees.

If you are having a hard time making any headway, show the benefits of moving towards specific changes. I’ve seen the opportunity to receive state and national awards drive policy changes within an organization. At the very least, start the conversation and see how far you can get!