HR must remove the barriers blocking shared responsibility for wellness

According to Merel van der Lei, wellness needs a shared responsibility model - but currently too many barriers exist that need to be removed to achieve it:

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May 8, 2024

Right now, it seems there is a worrying disconnect at play.

Employers are supposedly offering more wellness program than ever before – in fact 83% of large companies now boast wellness programs.

Yet against this is the startling fact that global worker stress levels are currently at historic highs.

But not only is this gap between the provision of programs and the wellbeing of workers alarming, it is especially pronounced among frontline employees.

These workers, often facing the most direct stressors due to their customer-facing roles or high-risk work environments, require significantly better tailored support – support that actually addresses their specific needs and challenges.

A new era of employee wellness is needed in the workplace

 Talent managers and HR executives must stand at the forefront of a transformative journey that I argue shouldn’t be about adding more programs but which should instead redefine the entire ethos of wellness in the workplace, and have at the center of this a shared responsibility model.

 The Shared Responsibility Model: A synergistic approach

If we assume wellness in the workplace refers to the comprehensive approach organizations take to promote employees’ physical, mental, and emotional health, then most companies’ programs lack focus.

While they might comprise outwardly useful things – like health screenings, fitness challenges, and mental health resources, they under-emphasize the importance of personal responsibility for self-care among employees and the company’s responsibility to create a supportive environment that truly enables such wellness practices.

This rift suggests a need for a more holistic approach; one that empowers individuals while holding organizations accountable for fostering an environment conducive to healthy living, particularly for those in high-stress, high-risk roles.

This is what a shared responsibility model can do.

A shared responsibility model offers a more nuanced and effective strategy than traditional employer-driven approaches.

It operates on the premise that while individuals are responsible for making healthy choices, the organization must provide the necessary resources and support to facilitate these choices.

For frontline employees, this might mean access to on-site mental health support, ergonomic work tools, and more frequent breaks to mitigate physical and mental fatigue.

The shared responsibility model fosters a collaborative environment where empowerment, customization, and engagement are paramount.

It recognizes that true wellness is not a top-down directive, but a shared vision that values employee input, tailors initiatives to meet diverse needs, and embeds wellness into the organizational DNA.

This approach is particularly beneficial for frontline workers, who often feel overlooked by generic wellness programs that don’t address their specific circumstances.

Navigating the hurdles: fostering trust and dialogue

Implementing a shared responsibility model is a continuous, evolving process that requires buy-in from all levels of the organization.

The model thrives on this inclusivity, encouraging a proactive stance on health that aligns with personal goals and lifestyles.

For frontline workers, it means creating channels for their voices to be heard and their unique wellness needs to be addressed, transforming the employee wellness plan from a static offering into a dynamic, participative ecosystem.

This approach not only enhances the relevance and uptake of wellness initiatives, but also significantly contributes to a more supportive and cohesive organizational culture.

But while filled with much potential, the journey towards implementing a shared responsibility model is not without its challenges.

Trust and communication stand as the pillars upon which this model either thrives or falters.

For frontline workers, these challenges are compounded by the immediate pressures of their roles.

HR leaders must, therefore, cultivate an environment where feedback is encouraged and acted upon, where goals are realistic and aligned with individual and team capabilities, and where resources for wellness are readily available and accessible.

The mitigation of these employee wellness challenges lies in a commitment to transparency, flexibility, and continuous dialogue.

Talent managers and HR executives have a unique role in facilitating these conversations, ensuring wellness is not just another agenda item but a core organizational value.

This commitment extends to encouraging employee self-care through flexible work arrangements, mental health support, physical activity incentives, and nutrition and wellness education, with special considerations for the frontline workforce.

The need is undeniable

As we navigate the complex modern workplace, the urgency for a shared responsibility approach to wellness is undeniable.

It provides a vital link to close the gap between wellness program offerings and the true well-being of employees.

For talent managers and HR executives, the challenge is creating an environment where wellness is a shared responsibility toward a healthier, more engaged, and more productive workforce.

Through this transformation, they can establish a new benchmark for organizational success that balances performance, work enjoyment, and health.

This ensures all employees — especially those on the frontline — are fit for work and life.

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