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Workplace Wellness: It's All About Caring

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Unwellness at work costs the United States $2.2 trillion annually, and the answer goes beyond wellness programs to a company conveying a sense of "caring" to its employees.This information comes courtesy of the Global Wellness Institute, in two companion research piece, "The Future of Wellness at Work," and "Unlocking the Power of Company Caring."

The Unwell Worker

Most of the world’s 3.4 billion workers are unwell. They live with serious economic insecurity: 74% make less than $13/day; 45% are in low-skill/manual jobs; and 77% are in part-time or unstable jobs. They’re aging at an historic rate: 18% of the workforce will be over 55 by 2030. They’re unhealthy: 52% are overweight/obese, and 76% report they’re struggling with their wellbeing.

Worldwide, the cost of unwell workers represents 10-15% of global economic output. The GWI estimates that in the U.S., when you tally the cost of employees’ chronic disease ($1.1 tril.), work-related injuries/illnesses ($250 bil.), work-related stress ($300 bil.) and the cost of work disengagement ($550 bil.) that an unhealthy workforce costs the nation $2.2 trillion a year, or a staggering 12% of GDP. 

Wellness Programs

While the United States may lead other regions in workplace wellness, only 54% of employees have access to wellness programs. Of those with access, only 40% say they actually improve their health/wellness; nearly one-third don’t use them; and 10% don’t even know if one is available.

The impact of wellness programs can be questioned when 58% of those with a program rate their health/wellness high vs. 42% without one. When it comes to the largest growing demographic millennials, there is little impact with 50% rating their health/wellness high with and without a program.

"Caring" Companies

GWI's research indicated that to understand what has the most profound impact on employee wellness, you need to look beyond the existence of wellness programs. The critical finding: if an employee identified their company as “caring about their health/wellness”* (and a disturbingly low 37% did), that employee’s overall health, stress and job engagement/satisfaction improved significantly.

Only 25% of employees believe that their company offers a wellness program because they care about workers’ health and wellbeing. Fifty-eight percent believe their program exists only to cut company health costs, while another 17% believe it’s in place to make employees work harder/be more productive. So, 3 in 4 employees are now cynical, perceiving wellness programs as companies “caring” more about their bottom-line than employee health.

The majority (57%) of employees at “caring” companies rate their health/wellness high versus only 39% at “non-caring” companies. Only 8% at caring companies report poor personal health versus 21% at non-caring companies. Only 17% of employees at caring companies report “very high” stress versus 41% at non-caring ones.

The tangible. So what makes a company "caring" if it isn't defined just by offering wellness programs. Among “tangibles,” compensation, benefits and recognition impact worker wellness most. Those that work for non-caring companies are 11 times more likely to report that their pay, benefits and recognition have a negative impact on their wellness. And caring companies are more likely to offer financial counseling (39%) than the uncaring (17%), as well as non-monetary gifts/incentives (64% vs. 30%). Caring companies are also more likely to provide employees with a wellness program than the non-caring (67% vs. 41%) – and encourage/offer a host of healthy options, like regular exercise (58% vs. 20%), healthy eating (57% vs. 21%), meditation (20% vs. 7%), stress reduction (35% vs. 13%), mental health services (56% vs. 34%), and wellness coaching (38% vs. 24%.)

Eighty-three percent of employees at caring companies (vs. 48% at uncaring) report they have comfortable workspaces. And workers at caring companies are significantly less likely to report that lack of break time/space (15% vs. 48% for uncaring) – fresh air (17% vs. 45%) – or private space (19% vs. 38%) are detractors from their health and productivity. Caring companies are also significantly more likely to offer healthy workspace elements: like providing nap/meditation spaces (33% vs. 13%), standing treadmill desks (23% vs. 11%), or places for moms to breastfeed (38% vs. 18%).

The intangible. The survey showed that when it comes to what employees believe most constitutes “company caring” that the tangible aspects are actually less important than emotional, intellectual and work relationship “intangibles.” Openness and honesty, opportunities for growth, independence, "me time" encouragement, socializing encouragement, option to telecommute/work remote andvacation encouragement are all intangibles. Company cultures that build positive relationships between employees and managers and coworkers rank high in “caring” and significantly impact employee health.

Employees at uncaring companies reported that the top thing that could be improved at their work was “leaders leading by example” (85%, vs. 33% agreeing at caring companies).

Generational Wellness Drivers

A "caring" company isn’t one-size-fits-all, as there are generational differences as to what constitutes workplace wellness.

Gen X/Baby Boomers. The top five workplace wellness drivers for this demographic were: choose work path/projects, onsite or subsidized childcare, onsite recreation, nutritional counseling and opportunity to grow.

Millennials.  This demographic identified: caring about my personal wellness, feel my work has positive impact on people’s lives, health insurance, boss/manager cares about my personal wellness and my employer is supportive.

Generally, workplace “intangibles” and emotional factors have the largest impact on employee wellness, especially for Millennials, who want to know, above all, that their company, managers and co-workers all care about their personal wellbeing. For this rising generation of workers, “caring” is the very heart of workplace wellness.

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