Employee health and wellness programs often suffer from low participation. Credible and consistent support and involvement from top management can make the difference. Two researchers identify the five behaviours of transformational leaders who inspire and motivate full employee participation.
More and more business leaders and top managers understand that employee wellness programs help the organization succeed, through less absenteeism and greater engagement and productivity, as much as it helps individual employees to be happy and healthy. However, according to a report from two researchers involved in a multi-year study of wellness programs, many employees are not as convinced as their leaders that such programs are valuable or even necessary.
Begun in 2011 and continuing through 2016, the Sun Life-Ivey ROI Canadian Wellness ROI study is a multi-part research project exploring the financial impact of corporate wellness programs. In a recent report emerging from the study, Shivani Parihar and Michael Rouse of the Ivey Business School at Canada’s Western University share evidence of an ROI of $3.27 for every dollar spent on wellness initiatives — without counting the $2.73-per-dollar ROI from a significant reduction in absenteeism. Some of the studies in Parihar and Rouse’s meta-analysis put the return on investment as high as 6:1.
There are a variety of wellness programs and initiatives that organizations can put in place to get these results, ranging from exercise classes to counselling on healthy eating habits to support groups and annual physical check-ups.
The goal of such programs, according to Parihar and Rouse’s report, is to change the behaviour of employees. Half of an individual’s health status stems from that individual’s behaviour — and as much as 75% of an individual’s health care costs can be reduced by behavioural lifestyle changes.
Unfortunately, employees are often reticent to participate in these new wellness programs. Ironically, it is the employees that could most use the programs — in other words, employees that are not already engaged in exercising and other healthy activities — who insist that they don’t have the time, don’t see the purpose of such programs, or claim they are unaware of the programs. Many of these employees are simply reluctant to change their behaviours.
Through their position, status and power, transformational leaders inspire and motivate their employees to follow the mission of the organization. Some transformational leaders, for example, engage their entire workforce in the company’s focus on the environment. Such transformational leadership is also required to focus employees on health and wellness, creating an atmosphere that encourages employees to participate and inspiring employees to overcome their resistance.
Building on their meta-analysis of previous studies, Parihar and Rouse developed a Senior Management Involvement and Leadership (SMIL) model that identified five behaviours required of senior management to ensure maximum participation in organizational wellness programs:
One final note emphasized by the researchers: Consistency is key. If the support or commitment from top management flags in any way, expect employee engagement in wellness programs to dissipate.
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