Over the past couple of years, there’s been a big push to initiate workplace health and wellbeing programs. The Healthy Workers Initiative reports how healthy workers are up to three times more productive then their less healthy counterparts.

With one-third of the Australian workforce estimated to have at least one of eight chronic medical conditions including heart disease, depression, diabetes and osteoporosis, there is clearly room for improvement to reduce the amount and cost of sick leave taken. In addition, stress is cited as the most common challenge at work, implying the mental health of employees is an ongoing concern.

These programs are not without merit, especially for those workplaces where there is a significant amount of pre-existing chronic ill health and obesity, with the return on investment up to $3 for every dollar invested.

But focusing on wellness alone isn’t the answer because it fails to address the issue that providing access to good food and exercise classes doesn’t change behaviour.

If under stress, finding little meaning in your job or being bullied, the motivation to lose weight, quit smoking or reduce alcohol consumption will be low, even in the face of knowing it makes good sense to be healthier.

Engagement requires more than access to good coffee and a discounted gym membership.

The modern workplace is a demanding environment that requires a high level of what Martin Seligman and Angela Duckworth term “grit”.
Getting gritty is the tenacity, adaptability and resilience required to thrive in the twenty-first century.

Increasing engagement starts by identifying the internal drivers for greater self-care, acknowledging our limits because we are humans not machines, and recognising that despite the best intentions our brain can sometimes work against us.

Why don’t the perks of free fruit and lunchtime yoga classes drive engagement?

Because while appreciated and adding to job satisfaction, such perks don’t influence how we feel about our work.

The better questions to ask include:

  • How much is the existing level of workplace stress affecting engagement and productivity?
  • Is the work stimulating or boring?
  • Do employees feel valued or taken for granted?
  • Do they have a degree of autonomy in their work or is everything closely directed and monitored?

The answers to these questions will reflect the degree of wellbeing, health and productivity in a given workplace. Wellbeing research has shown what drives engagement is feeling pride in your work, being appreciated for what you do and enjoying good interpersonal relationships. Feeling happy at work boosts energy, optimism, possibility thinking, creativity, resilience and better health.

Begin at the beginning.

Building workplace wellness starts from the top. When the leader is seen to care, placing high value on those aspects of lifestyle that support better health, the message received is that people matter and the culture is supportive.

Acknowledge results to elevate wellbeing.

Calling out the good, especially when unexpected, boosts confidence, encourages collegiality and contribution. Expressing gratitude and helping out creates a positive and inclusive environment that amplifies engagement and productivity.

Focus on the personal.

Being known by name, feeling listened to and asked for input elevates wellbeing and mood. This builds stress resilience, broadens perspective and keeps the individual in a “towards state” that is more open-minded, less risk-averse and directed to greater possibility thinking.

Wellness is about more than health alone, driving engagement and productivity starts with enhancing emotional and social wellbeing first.