Thursday, March 30, 2023

Health and Productivity: Wellness in the Workplace

In the last article we discussed creating a supportive and wellness-promoting environment as one of the critical success factors for results-oriented wellness programmes. Today’s article zeros in on this topic for a more detailed discussion on wellness culture.

A number of definitions exist but all of them point to culture being social forces or values, norms and standards that shape and govern attitudes, behaviour and practices; the shared underlying assumptions about how things are done as well as what is acceptable and encouraged or not.

There’s no doubt that the success of any initiative is as the environment in which it is rolled out. This understanding equally applies to wellness. In fact when it comes to workplace wellness programmes, unsupportive cultures are believed to be the biggest impediment to programme success.

Only 20% of lifestyle change efforts have been found to reach long term goals. Many overweight people for instance have tried some ‘diet’ or another but still remain with the problem. Creating a supportive cultural environment is therefore an imperative to sustain the effort and get lasting value.

A framework that is often used to understand culture is the Normative Systems. This system identifies 5 primary culture elements that put together create a wellness promoting culture within any organisation, leading to long lasting sustainable behaviour change:

The first culture element talks to ensuring that wellness is positioned as a key component or an enabler of the organisation’s strategic priorities and shared values. Because most organisations cultivate a culture best suited and aligned to their strategic priorities, the idea then is to make sure that healthy and well employees are seen as essential to overall strategy and focus. The next is the establishment of wellness culture promoting norms. Norms simply put are ‘the way we do things around here’. They are social expectations for behaviour, deviation from which usually illicit some sort of push-back from other members of the group. Established norms make it easy for employees to adopt and maintain healthy lifestyles. Touch Points are means and ways of maintaining norms geared towards creating an environment conducive for adopting wellness behaviour. This 3rd culture element can be formal like a (no) smoking policy, or informal unwritten social mechanisms.

According to the Culture White Paper (Health Enhancement Systems), there are 10 of these touch points, some of which include (role) Modelling of wellness behaviour by leaders and other opinion influencers; positive reinforcement through rewarding and recognising wellness practices coupled with confrontation and push-back against unhealthy behaviours; rites and rituals that serve as symbolic reminders of the importance of wellness done through special wellness activities (no use of lifts on every Monday morning) and resource commitment for example release time for wellness activities during workdays. Enough of these touch points have to be put in place to tip the balance towards wellness. Peers Support, also a very powerful influence on behaviour, is about helping each other as buddies to achieve wellness goals and should therefore be an area of emphasis as part of an effective culture change. (5) Lastly, fostering a positive work climate, characterised by 3 factors- a sense of community, shared vision where everyone has a role and stake in achieving success and a positive outlook – has been found to be directly linked to development of a wellness culture. Employees who lack these factors may be too distracted by the resultant disengagement, trust issues and negativity to adequately focus on their well being, thereby rendering the programme ineffective.

With these culture elements in place, one can then be assured of a wellness supporting culture embedded in the organisational fabric and therefore a programme with a positive return-on-value.

* DR Onalethata Johnson is the Director of Programmes: GO Corporate Wellness Solutions


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