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Employee wellness takes Centre stage as organizations vie for talent Having a workforce that is disenchanted and has no passion for what it does will not only create a negative work environment but will never give 100per cent to the organization

By Rajeev Bhardwaj

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For a long time organizations in the post-liberalization technology-powered world tended to look at employees as yet another replaceable asset. Behind this belief was the focus on profit over everything else and the availability of ample human resource in the market. This erosion of belief in human resource as a company's most valuable asset has been a major contributor to the high degree of disenchantment prevalent among employees cut across industries. High attrition rates – the major bane of our times -- are a direct consequence of a work environment that doesn't invest in the well-being of their most valuable asset.

Thankfully, a growing number of organizations are today realizing the cost of treating people as expendable. The increasing focus on employee well-being as a centre of HR policies and a growing thrust on improving quality of life is gaining increasing priority at the HR agenda. This turn has not only been pushed by greater social consciousness but by the practical need for preventing a flight of talent and nurturing loyalty and commitment.

In India, this movement towards employee wellness can best be regarded as nascent. However, there is a clear and visible turn towards initiating policies that take into account the employees' comfort, their need for greater work-life balance as well as greater stress on their health and wellness.

Cost of Disengaged Employees

If you think investing in employee engagement will unnecessarily inflate your overhead expenses, you have most likely never thought about the cost of disengaged employees! According to a Gallup survey, an actively disengaged employee costs their organization USD 3,400 for every USD 10,000 of salary. This survey estimated that actively disengaged employees cause American companies somewhere between USD 450 – USD 550 billion in lost productivity every year. On the contrary, by increasing a company's engagement by just 10per cent, profits can increase by USD 2,400 per employee per year. It is not difficult to understand why. Having a workforce that is disenchanted and has no passion for what it does will not only create a negative work environment but will never give 100per cent to the organization. They are essentially sleepwalking through their weekdays and just about managing to keep their jobs. On the other hand, employees who feel valued and engaged at their workplace enjoy being at work, are highly productive and emotionally invested in creating value for their organizations. Engaged employees are also 87per cent less likely to leave the organization than the disengaged ones.

Wellness Programs to Improve the Quality of Life

The need for better employee engagement has resulted in a growing number of organizations crafting dedicated wellness programs for their workers even if the business benefits are not always tangible in the short term. Wellness programs encompass a wide range of initiatives that promote a sense of physical and mental well being. Such programs include offering healthy snacks, encouraging fitness goals, allowing flexible timings and offering a generous sick leave policy and work from home options, among others.

Focus on health: Free fruit, anybody?

One of the major downsides of excessive work pressure is health taking a backseat for most people. This includes both a substitution of an adequately nutritious diet by unhealthy junk food and lack of time for physical exercise. Health-centric wellness programs aim to tackle these two areas by offering healthy snacks at work and providing time and space for workout sessions. In many western countries, wellness-at-work promoters are actively promoting the idea of offering free fresh fruit and vegetables at work to improve the health and wellness of employees. A research conducted by the Fruitful Office, a workplace fruit supplier in the UK found that providing fresh fruit at people's desks increases employee's productivity by more than 10 per cent, boosts their energy levels and encourages them to adopt a healthier lifestyle. Over 75per cent said the provision of free fruit made them feel more valued while over 80 per cent thought this improved their quality of life at work.

Similarly, providing workout equipment as well as promoting employees to exercise within the office schedule is another trend that is gaining momentum. Apart from making the employees feel more valued, these initiatives also aim to invest in having a healthier workforce, reduce absenteeism and increase productivity.

Flexible Work and Happy Ergonomics

In a constantly connected world, employees today are rarely off-work. This persistent always-on-the-job nature of work burns out people and tends to overwhelm them further underlining the need for a well-being oriented workplace. Seating ergonomics, biophilic design, abundant availability of natural light and a flexible office culture that lays minimal emphasis on protocols is the recipe for wellness.

Allowing flexible timings and more work from home options enforces an environment of trust at the workplace. It also respects your employees' personal needs and contributes to their overall wellness. Similarly, having a generous sick leave policy rather than forcing employees to join work in a half recuperated state is another vital element that makes employees feel valued, cared for and motivated.

Employee Assistance Programs

Human beings often need assistance, much more than professional assistance. This is the idea behind "employee assistance programs' being offered by a number of organizations today. These programs aim to provide professional counselling services to employees who might be struggling with personal problems and motivational issues, with its effect reflecting on their work. The success of such programs, however, depends delicately on ensuring confidentiality as well as assuring employees of confidentiality of information they share.

Interestingly, a survey commissioned by staffing firm OfficeTeam in the US found that as many as 73 per cent of surveyed job seekers took into account a company's health and wellness package while considering a position. In India too, this trend is fast catching up and is expected to gain more strength in the years to come.

Rajeev Bhardwaj

VP-Human Resource, Sun Life Financial Asia Service Centre, India

Rajeev Bhardwaj, who heads the Human Resource function at Sun Life Asia Service Centre, is a veteran in the field who has spent 25 years contributing to the HR policies of diverse organizations across sectors.

Over the years, Rajeev has been associated with a slew of global organizations such as ABB, Coca Cola, and Intel Technology, among others.

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