Employee burnout—which we previously blogged about here—is an “occupational phenomenon” characterized by prolonged workplace stress that affects, according to a Gallup survey, about two thirds of full-time employees. Because it is so commonly experienced by the workforce, and because the World Health Organization (WHO) has now exclusively dubbed it a workplace problem, a growing number of employers feel compelled to do something about it.
One approach that employers are taking is offering wellness programs to staff. A recent article published by the New York Times explores what these programs can look like. The wellness approach is expanding the field of corporate wellness consulting. Companies will partner with wellness consultant networks like Wellbeings and Gympass to lead onsite workshops as well as virtual courses on anything from meditation to sound baths. As the article describes, the point of these exercises is for employees to “look internally” and to “free their minds of work,” and for employers to “be proactive” rather than deal with the consequences of burnout.
But how effective are these wellness programs? The results are largely mixed. Not only do employers need to be willing to offer them, but employees also need to be open to the idea. In addition, the wellness opportunities must be proportional to both the companies in which they are established and the issues and challenges that those companies face.
For example, the article discusses a hospital unit that hired EnlivenWork to conduct a wellness session focused on compassion to help correct a growing error rate. Dr. Monica Worline, the session leader, discovered that the unit was short-staffed, forcing many to work double shifts. “In that case,” she told the NY Times, “wellness programs were a Band-Aid over a gaping wound.” In other words, wellness programs are not a blanket solution to poor working conditions.
Another barrier to the effectiveness of wellness programs is unfamiliarity. Prior to putting such a program in place, it may be wise to conduct a survey asking your employees to (a) choose their top three from an array of options (e.g., meditation, yoga, mindfulness, guided breathing exercises, etc.) and (b) indicate how likely they would be to participate should such a program be offered during working hours. After the wellness course, gather feedback from your employees on whether they enjoyed it, if they would attend again, if they found it easier to focus on their work afterwards, and anything else you might like to know. If employees are not only open to the idea but also willing to commit to engaged participation, the results of giving them the opportunity to set aside their stressful to-do lists may “well” surprise you.