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The How-To: Delivering An Employee Wellness Program That Works There is a disconnect between the wellness initiatives employers are laying on and the benefits perceived among employees.

By Steve Clements

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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Company wellness programmes aren't working. Despite the increasing sums being spent, most of the UAE workforce consider their employer's wellness program to be of little benefit to them and would not recommend it.

Consequently, engagement in wellness programs is not as high as employers think –or hope– and money is being wasted. This is the conclusion of the Willis Towers Watson 2017 Global Benefits Attitudes Survey. While 52% of UAE employees expressed satisfaction with their company healthcare benefits (not a resounding vote of confidence in itself), only 46% said they were satisfied with their wellness programme.

Across the wider EMEA region, that figure falls to just 28%. Clearly there is a disconnect between the wellness initiatives employers are laying on and the benefits perceived among employees. Given the importance of health and wellness programmes in both keeping insurance and absenteeism costs under control and attracting and retaining talent, this is a problem that companies need to address– and fast.

An engaging approach to wellness

So, what can you do as an employer to encourage more of your workers to engage with your company wellness program and thus ensure the program delivers better ROI?

1. Build a culture of wellness: A healthy approach to life and work needs to be demonstrated in deeds not words and it needs to come from the top. You can't expect your workforce to engage in wellness initiatives if they see their leaders living unhealthy lifestyles. So, encourage your managers to lead the way, not only by attending your wellness programs but also by living demonstrably healthy lives, such as cycling, jogging or walking to work, eating healthy lunches and cutting out smoking. Make sure the office environment reflects the culture of wellness as well. Get advice on ergonomic office layouts, make the place feel bright and uplifting and make sure there are healthy options in the canteen.

2. Communicate the benefits: Develop internal comms that promote the benefits of wellness to the individual, rather than the company, and make sure those communications are reaching the people who need them most, such as those staff members who are clearly disengaged from your wellness program. The message needs to be gently persuasive rather than pushy. There are clear benefits to leading a healthy lifestyle, so it shouldn't be too hard to get that across. But the key is to make staff realize the personal benefits, rather than suspecting you're only doing this for the advancement of the company.

3. Listen and learn: A key part of the communication process is listening to feedback. Ask your employees what they want from a wellness program? What aspects of their health and fitness would they like to improve? What sort of facilities do they need? A gym? Exercise classes? Yoga? Nutritional advice? Quit smoking clinics? What's the most convenient way to fit that into their working day? Listening to your staff will not only help you to put together a wellness package that meets demand, it will also make them feel more engaged in the whole plan.

4. Let's get technical: Consider how new technology can help your communications. The traditional leaflets and posters are still effective, but you can encourage engagement via notifications, incentives and inspirational stories and videos shared on social media or sent to individuals' devices. You can create an internal online platform where staff can post their feedback too. Think about the media your employees use most and use them.

5. Respect privacy: Some aspects of health and fitness are extremely personal and not everybody is happy to don a leotard and join in an exercise class during their lunch break. So, if you notice someone is not joining in, consider the reasons why this might be. It may be necessary to get creative in finding ways to deliver your wellness programs discreetly.

6. Consider financial rewards: According to the Global Benefits Attitudes Survey, 55% of UAE employees said that employers should financially reward them for living a healthy lifestyle. They may have a point. If a healthy workforce means higher productivity, less time lost to absenteeism and lower insurance premiums, isn't it only fair to share some of that financial benefit with your staff? Few things incentivise participation like money, but the rewards for engagement don't have to be purely financial. You could offer shopping or entertainment vouchers, which would give your company an opportunity to build relationships with other businesses.

7. Keep it local: The further your employees have to go out of their way, the less likely they are to engage with wellness initiatives. Try to do as much as you can on-site and if your office doesn't have the space to run large groups exercises, try to find a place nearby.

Why investing in wellness matters?

Despite their ambivalence towards the current offer, workers in the UAE still expect their employers to look after their health and wellness. According to the Global Benefits Attitudes Survey, 72% of UAE employees consider the management of their health a top priority and 64% believe it is the duty of employers to encourage their employees to adopt healthier lifestyles. A company that doesn't offer a wellness program is less likely to attract top talent, or to retain the talent it has.

Furthermore, health insurance costs, included as a core part of most benefits packages, are also directly related to the health of the workforce, so it is in the best interests of employers to minimise the requirement for healthcare intervention. The less your workers have to claim on their health insurance, the lower those premiums will be.

Most important, though, is the overall welfare of your people. If you care about your employees as individuals, you will want them to stay healthy. It makes for a happier working environment and that, in turn, makes for a more productive workplace. Workers in poor health report more absence from work and less engagement in their roles.

With the cost of health insurance rising all the time, employers need to take more care than ever to ensure that every penny spent on healthcare and wellness benefits delivers a return. The most effective way of doing so is to recognize that healthcare and wellness are different things, understand the specific wellness concerns of your employees and seek expert advice on the best programs to provide for them.

How will you know when you're getting it right? Your employees will tell you.

Related: Four Ways To Keep Your Team Engaged (And Thus Support Your Business' Bottomline)

Steve Clements

Director - Global Services and Solutions, Central & Eastern Europe, Middle East & Africa (CEEMEA) at Willis Towers Watson (WTW)

Steve joined Willis Towers Watson (WTW) in 2014 as a Director of the Health & Benefits business, responsible for brokering and consulting across the Middle East. With more than 25 years of experience in health and benefits, he specialises in medical plan design and management, and advises both multinational and local clients on employee benefits plans. Steve also heads WTW’s carrier relationship and proposition development across the Central & Eastern Europe, Middle East & Africa (CEEMEA) region. Developing a data-driven consultative brokering proposition and the region’s first full flexible benefits programme are at the core of his work, as well as establishing a centre of excellence for employee benefits consulting. Steve travels the globe as a guest speaker on employee benefits.

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