Developing a health and wellbeing program is a great idea, but organisations risk wasting time and money unless resources reflect the genuine needs and interests of employees.

A successful health and wellbeing program takes a level of commitment from the business and from the program coordinator. This commitment could be budget, time and/or resourcing, none of which is plentiful in most businesses.

“Make your commitment count by having a program focused on your people and their needs,” Ai Group Chief Safety Officer Annette Alexander said.

“The risk of not getting it right is not just about wasting time and money; you can have the opposite of the desired effect if workers are made to feel like you’re just ticking boxes. Workers may feel like you’re dismissing their real needs and that can be disenchanting.

 “They'll feel undervalued whereas getting it right can put you in that ‘preferred employer’ status. It’s the sort of thing that moves you from being ‘they’re alright to work for’ to ‘they really actually care about us’.”

The value of health and wellbeing programs is well documented. A recent article in Forbes described the links between wellbeing programs, employee engagement, improvements in the company culture, improved productivity and reduced turnover and absenteeism.

“Wellbeing and engagement go hand in hand. Employees with high wellbeing are almost twice as likely to be engaged and enjoy their work. Wellbeing initiatives can boost employee engagement.”[i]

Ms Alexander said it was important to take the time to plan before starting a health and wellbeing program.

“Don't just assume you know what your workforce needs are in this space, and don’t be tempted to take the easy route and provide resources on common topics, just because they are plentiful online,” she said.

“They may be of no interest to your workers and provide no benefit. Take the time to speak to your workforce and find out what would be of use and interest to them. In any health and safety space, there should be consultation with workers, and this is no different.

“What’s important is gaining an understanding of the issues that are important to your workforce.”

Consider ways to consult with your staff – focus groups, a safety committee, even something as simple as a suggestion box. Find a way that suits your business to let workers be heard. Let them know you want to provide information, tools and other resources that will be useful.

“If you don’t get any engagement from your health and wellbeing program and there’s no improvement in worker health and wellbeing, you’re wasting time and money and missing an opportunity to improve your business,” Ms Alexander said.

Once you have gauged the interest of your workforce, you can start to build your program. An understanding of your staff demographics (gender and age is a great start) will assist in identifying topics of interest. For example, if you have an all-male workforce, articles on regaining fitness after childbirth will not hold much attention.

For staff who indicate that they are interested in improving their health outcomes, a good way to find out what health issues would be relevant is to head to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare website to gain insights into common conditions that affect the health of Australians (including mental health, heart conditions and diabetes).

A bit of web surfing can help you understand what information people need to know about serious health issues and how your workplace can assist in disseminating this information and supporting any recommended activities and interventions (think quit-smoking support programs and Movember).

“It’s well known that men aren’t proactive in seeking help for health issues,” Ms Alexander said.

“If you can find ways to get information to them or make accessing medical advice easier, that would be useful. Consider the benefit to staff of a nurse visiting site to do simple health screening such as blood sugar or cholesterol levels.”

Employees who indicate they are interested in support for other aspects of their life such as parenting, financial wellbeing and relationships can also be catered for. There are plentiful resources and experts who can assist in providing useful, practical information to your staff.

You could commit to an Employee Assistance Program provider for ongoing input and access to counselling and general wellbeing information. EAP costs vary, depending on the type of support offered, so it is worth doing some research and getting recommendations from other organisations who utilise them. If an EAP is not feasible, you could consider engaging an expert to present to staff through seminars, webinars or similar. But don’t fear, if there is no money in the budget, but the organisation is able to allocate time and an interested staff member to a program, it can still be run very effectively.

“Don't think it has to cost a lot of money,” Ms Alexander said.

“However, you might find certain topics are of such interest that it’s worth some sort of extra financial investment. That might be an expert giving a talk or a seminar. It doesn’t have to be a lot of money spent. You can have a small budget and commit to every six months having an expert come and talk which is money well spent if it’s in the areas that workers have indicated they’re wanting to be engaged.”

Keep the information current and relevant to your workers. Consider topical and seasonal issues which are worth raising with workers. Sun safety and skin cancer screening make sense in spring to prep everyone for summer, whereas articles on flu vaccinations and reducing infection at work make more sense pre-flu season.

“You can find information,” Ms Alexander said.

“It’s out there. It just takes some time to corral it and make sure you're pointing people in the direction of good, useful, practical information."

Remember your program should be reviewed regularly to ensure it remains relevant. If you can, assess the impact of your program through staff surveys, engagement statistics (ie from your EAP) or similar. This will enable you to tweak the program where necessary and ensure it remains interesting to your staff.

Bear in mind that even a great wellbeing program will not a fix a psychologically unsafe workplace. So, before embarking on a health and wellbeing program, organisations need to identify and deal with issues that increase worker stress such as poor workplace culture, ineffective managers, lack of work satisfaction, work repetition, work overload, lack of work-life balance, conflict with peers and bullying and harassment. Once you have identified any issues in these areas and your staff are working in a psychologically safe space, you can look at really engaging them through a health and wellbeing program.

In response to a recent Ai Group staff meeting where suggestions for the health and wellbeing program were raised, the team suggested resources on how to cope with issues such as menopause, providing support for sick and elderly parents and the inability to see family members in states affected by lockdowns would be beneficial.

“We’ve since had a talk about how we might address those issues within our health and wellbeing program,” Ms Alexander said.

“We’re making sure Ai Group walks the walk and is not just telling our members what to do and then not doing it ourselves.”


[i] Feb 11, 2020 Employee Well-Being: A New Perspective On ROI, Jim Purcell


Wendy Larter

Wendy Larter is the Senior Content Writer at Ai Group. She is a former journalist with more than 20 years’ experience as a reporter, features writer, contributor and sub-editor for newspapers and magazines including The Courier-Mail in Brisbane and Metro, News of the World, The Times and Elle in the UK.