Happy, Healthy, and High Performing: Getting Workplace Wellbeing Right

In the realm of workplace wellbeing programs, there can be hurdles that get in the way of their successful implementation. From navigating workplace culture to inspiring behaviour change, it is important to plan for these obstacles so that wellness programs can make a lasting difference.


In Australia, The Wellbeing Lab Workplace Survey was conducted between 2018 and 2022, with a report released on the findings in 2022. In this report, they found that 68.5% of respondents reported that they felt they were burning out at this time. While this was especially true during the height of the pandemic, most studies show that high stress and burnout are continuing to be a concern.

According to the report: “As workplaces transition to the “new normal,” organisations that provided both mental health and wellbeing workplace support for their workers – and did not rely on EAP alone – were significantly more likely to have workers who were thriving and performing well.”

Many large companies implement some form of a wellbeing program, however, some are more effective than others. Additionally, some small to medium companies are yet to recognise the benefits of offering wellbeing initiatives, despite the fact that wellbeing programs have been shown to provide measurable benefits to employee health and happiness, not to mention improved retention rates, decreased absenteeism and presenteeism, and improved productivity overall.

As an example, according to the Qld Government WorkSafe, absenteeism cost the Australian economy $44 billion in 2014, while presenteeism cost the economy $35 billion.


Presenteeism in this case was mostly contributed to by unhealthy lifestyles:

  • Unwell people are going to work.
  • Work-related stress.
  • Poor work-life balance.
  • Allergies and asthma (while not caused by unhealthy behaviour, this was also included in this statistic).

On the job, ‘presentees’ with these issues are unlikely to perform at their best. Clearly, they are better off at home having a rest, but even more importantly, there are many changes that can be made which can prevent these lifestyle issues from manifesting in the first place. A workplace that champions prevention strategies will be better off financially but will also retain staff who are happier and healthier.


What are some of the issues workplaces may have when trying to put together a wellbeing program for their staff? Why are they not always as effective as they look on paper?


Here are some of the reasons why your workplace wellbeing program might not be running as smoothly as it could be.


1. Workplace Culture


The dominant culture within an organisation, and also within pockets of the organisation, can significantly impact the success of a wellness program. A culture that prioritises productivity over employee well-being might view wellbeing initiatives as distractions. Employees may even roll their eyes if a culture of cynicism and distrust has already been embedded.


To overcome this, we must foster a culture that values employee health and recognises its role in enhancing productivity and job satisfaction. Spending time evaluating and working on the cultural values of the teams is paramount. It starts with leadership but must also be fostered from the grass roots. HR must investigate and understand what the prevailing culture is, as well as the areas of both positive and negative difference. Are the IT team overworked, while the front-facing staff are relatively happy? Find out where the peaks and troughs are and seek to understand what is causing it, before coming in with a grand wellbeing plan.


2. The Complexity of Behaviour Change

Encouraging employees to adopt healthier lifestyles requires more than just offering wellness programs. It demands a gradual shift in behaviors, which can be difficult. Employers can be a part of this change by providing personalised support, incentivising participation, and fostering a sense of community around wellness, among other things.


Remember that behaviour change is not black-and-white. You don’t just not do something and then start doing it. There are many factors that are involved. If you share a new program and no-one takes it up, don’t dismiss it as a write-off. Look at your approach from many angles. Share health information in a variety of ways. Seek out those who never take up the offerings and try to understand why, rather than assuming they are not team players.


3. Gaining Buy-In

Securing support from employees and management is crucial for the success of a wellness program. Engage employees early on in the planning process to seek their input and preferences. Additionally, present the benefits of these programs to leadership in terms of improved productivity, reduced absenteeism, and enhanced employee retention.


One of the most effective ways of getting employee buy-in is when the leaders are also a part of the initiative. Genuinely modelling the behaviour you are seeking to enhance in teams is one of the best ways to promote a healthy workplace culture, and actively create a culture of trust and positivity.


Providing smaller opportunities for change conversations, through wellbeing coaching is another way to engage and assist employees through wellness changes.


4. The Right Fit

Too often, we see well-meaning workplace wellbeing initiatives fall flat, simply because the program design is not the right fit for the workforce. Consultation plus quantitative and qualitative information should be gathered prior to initiating any workplace wellbeing program.


In order to truly reach and engage the teams, you first need to have a very clear picture of the participants. Knowing your numbers is not enough. Getting a good sense of the demographics including age ranges, ethnicities, value systems, geographical placement, level of education, and more, will help you to design an effective program which is the right fit for the population.


5. Public Health Perspective

From a public health standpoint, preventing lifestyle diseases is essential to the long-term outcomes of both the people and the company they work for. The rising burden of chronic illnesses directly impacts workforce productivity, the national economy, and overall health and happiness. By investing in workplace wellbeing programs, businesses contribute to the health of the population by reducing the prevalence of preventable diseases and enhancing wellbeing.


6. Mindfulness

The role of taking a mindful approach cannot be understated here. Leaders who are self-aware and are able to regulate their own reactions and emotions in response to workplace changes are then better able to create a more positive culture among their teams. Employees who become more mindful of their own choices and reactions can make better decisions around their health and wellbeing, from making positive lifestyle changes to paying attention to when it is time to step away from the desk and have a break. By developing the skills to listen to their needs, people at work are able to make decisions that improve their health, while also improving the outcomes for the company.


Businesses that are aware of the positive impact their wellbeing programs can make are not only boosting their own productivity, but also actively improving the lives of their employees and their families.


By integrating these considerations into your workplace strategies, you can create more successful wellbeing programs at work.


Because, at the end of the day, a healthy workforce is a happy and productive workforce. Is yours?


Ruth Kent | Mental Health & Wellness Expert


Ruth Kent is a sought-after coach, consultant and facilitator in the workplace wellbeing space. Through her consultation and strategic development, she provides tailored programs and workshops in health and wellness for long-term behaviour change and support to both teams and leadership.


Her purpose is to educate, empower and energise in mindbody wellbeing. In her workshops she aims to always leave participants with plenty of tools to add to their own wellbeing toolkits. Ruth has also created a number of digital products which she shares with her participants. If you would like to read more about Ruth and her workshops on Essemy, click this link.