Workplace wellbeing programs: If you build it they may NOT come…because it’s not what they really need!
Keywords:employee wellbeing, trust, receptivity, change, need satisfaction
Public and private sector interest in employee wellbeing has grown steadily in the past 20 years. Arguably the most visible manifestation of this interest is workplace health promotion and wellbeing (WorkWell) programs, which can be found in various guises within many contemporary organisations. Despite their recent proliferation, research in this area has focused mainly on how participation in these programs impacts upon a narrow range of factors related to finance (e.g. health care costs) and productivity (e.g. absenteeism). Whilst the focus of these programs is invariably positive (insofar as they aim to improve physical, psychological and social functioning), it cannot be assumed that employees will be positively disposed towards them. Indeed, empirical and anecdotal evidence suggests that employee participation is a widespread challenge when implementing WorkWell initiatives. This paper introduces the concept of employee receptivity and reviews an array of factors that may influence participation. After reviewing pilot data from an employee wellbeing research project, three primary conclusions are presented. First, that participation may be low because such programs may not provide employees with what they most need. Second, that employee receptivity may be an important factor in making decisions about the implementation of WorkWell programs. Finally, there may be times when organisations would be far better served by concentrating on basic human relations issues than making sizable investments in formal, structured employee wellbeing programs.
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