Workplace wellbeing and engagement programs are evolving rapidly, and the past year has been one of tremendous innovation. Around the globe, organizations are adopting new and advanced employee wellbeing programs in greater numbers. A recent study of global employers by Buck Consultants found that 74 percent of companies consider wellbeing to be a key element of their employee value proposition. As with any advancing industry, it’s important for us to look ahead to the future of workplace wellbeing. This will ensure we’re ready to embrace change and adopt the best practices on behalf of employees.
We may not have a crystal ball, but we can rely on the next best thing: The Virgin Pulse Science Advisory Board, a group of international scholars and researchers in the fields of behavior change and workplace health. With expertise in topics including occupational health, social psychology, global wellbeing, and behavioral economics, these scientists are at the forefront of the industry, and have keen insight into the future of workplace wellbeing. Read on for their wellbeing predictions for 2017 and beyond.
Eric Finkelstein, PhD – Executive Center Director, Lien Centre of Palliative Care; Professor at Duke-National University of Singapore Graduate Medical Center “In 2017, there will be an increased emphasis on personal responsibility, such that employers and insurers will incentivize individuals for meeting healthy behaviors, partly through the increasing use of wearables and other measurement devices.”
Dr. Finkelstein’s prediction speaks to a growing body of research that is evaluating the effect of wearable devices on long-term behavior change. While the results so far are mixed — and the need for continued inquiry is clear — it is evident that wearables are no passing fad in the workplace. Devices that help employees track their behavior are helping them stay mindful of their decisions, their challenges, and their progress toward their goals. As Dr. Finkelstein suggests, this technology appears to have a lot of value to employers, as it’s a validated source of data. With devices, employers gain a tool not only for inspiring healthier choices among employees, but also for measuring improvement and organizational outcomes. Plus, financial incentives become more meaningful when they are tied to validated results — for the employee and the employer alike.
Ron Goetzel, PhD – Senior Scientist and Director of the Institute for Health and Productivity Studies, Bloomberg School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University “In the months and years ahead, employees will have a greater say in the design, implementation, and fine-tuning of programs.”
In the past decade, workplace wellbeing has experienced a boom. No longer solely focused on physical health and fitness, employee wellbeing programs have dramatically expanded in an attempt to address additional determinants of wellbeing: stress, sleep, nutrition, finances, social relationships, mindfulness, and even spirituality. Dr. Goetzel’s prediction is aligned with this evolution. Employers now understand that the journey to wellbeing is a deeply personal one, defined uniquely by the needs and desires of each individual employee. As employers seek to create and provide relevant and engaging tools, they have begun to turn to their employees for feedback and insight into the programs that will have the most impact and benefit. Dr. Goetzel’s prediction speaks to the natural maturation of these programs as employers and employees together gain more experience with them.
Nicholas Christakis, MD, PhD – Director, Human Nature Lab, Yale University; Co-Director, Yale Institute for Network Science “There will be an increasing awareness of the power that relationships at work have to shape our wellness. The focus on online interactions will shift back to face-to-face interactions at work, which are powerful forces on human behavior.”
For years, Dr. Christakis has been advancing our understanding of social dynamics and their impact on both individual and population health. Thanks to his work, we now understand that health and health behaviors can spread through social groups, be it smoking cessation or weight loss. With this as a foundation, Dr. Christakis’s prediction has tremendous potential to change lives. If positive behaviors spread through social groups, then our workplace social network is perhaps the most powerful environment for developing healthy habits. We spend most of our waking hours at work, after all. As both organizations and individuals realize that the co-workers around us drive some of our most significant behaviors — what we eat, how much we move, how we manage our stress — we can leverage this awareness as a force for positive change. Technology can help organize and amplify this affect, but real behavior change happens offline and is heavily influenced by social interaction in the physical spaces we inhabit.
David Batman, MBChB – Specialist Consultant, Occupational Medicine; Former Head of Occupational Health, Safety, and Employee Wellbeing for Nestle “In 2017, there will be a move from ROI to a VOI evaluation, which will necessitate a new business dashboard including metrics such as engagement, resilience, concentration, fatigue, sleep, stress, etc.”
As this industry evolves, so must our methods of assessing its impact. As Dr. Batman predicts, we’re going to need a new set of data points to understand the myriad ways employee wellbeing affects businesses. While medical and pharmaceuticals claims have been a traditional method for evaluating wellness return-on-investment, that framework doesn’t fully capture the value of the complex, holistic, and far-reaching nature of strategic wellbeing programs. There is an exciting future in — and growing consensus around — the measurement of VOI, or value-on-investment. This new framework attempts to understand and explore all of the different areas in an organization where value is created through the enhancement of employee wellbeing. Not all of the value created can be measured in pure dollar terms, but that’s true of so many things that business around the world invest in every day, such as employee learning and development. Building models that accommodate the intricate relationship between employee sleep and worker’s compensation claims, for example, or that reveal a correlation between physical activity levels, productivity, and business profitability will be the next step in advancing employee wellbeing both in 2017 and the years ahead.
I-Min Lee, MBBS – Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Professor of Epidemiology, Harvard School of Public Health “Large increases in prescription drug costs to employers will increase the emphasis on worksite wellbeing programs that work to reduce the need for such drugs. There will be more evidence-based evaluation of what programs truly work.”
The past year has seen increased media attention to the dramatic increases in the prices of many prescription drugs, including those used to manage chronic conditions like diabetes. When prices for these treatments increase, self-insured businesses are forced to shoulder the costs. In this environment, the need for effective health management programs is higher than ever before. With so much on the line, employers will demand proven outcomes from their investments, as Dr. Lee predicts. Gone are the days of data-light, feel-good programs, offered as an ancillary benefit to employees without any real measurement of outcomes. In 2017, wellbeing programs will become central, critical business imperatives, necessary for optimizing not just the productivity and performance of employees but also for managing the bottom line.
BJ Fogg, PhD – Director, Persuasive Tech Lab, Stanford University “We will start recognizing that the home bathroom is our personal center for wellbeing.”
Workplace wellbeing and work-life balance are intrinsically linked. The need for the former is driven in part from a lack of the latter, and there are countless articles, Buzzfeed lists, and adult coloring books devoted to successfully navigating the pressures of work and home life. But balancing these two aspects of our lives against each other is nearly impossible. Instead, employees and employers alike must accept that our work and home lives are not discrete but blended — they affect each other all day long. Thus, as employee wellbeing programs drive the evolution of the physical design of workplaces and offices, the effects will bleed into our personal lives and spaces. Dr. Fogg predicts that we will see this impact in the home bathroom. This is, after all, where we practice a large amount of self-care rituals — flossing, cleansing, refreshing, weight measurement, and more — and it’s also where we have to, literally, take a cold, hard look in the mirror each day. Want to know if you’re stressed, exhausted, depleted, or unhealthy? You’ll know in the bathroom. Dr. Fogg is predicting that we will realize the tremendous opportunity to enhance and cultivate our wellbeing through greater focus on bathroom design, layout, and amenities.
As our experts predict, 2017 is going to be a groundbreaking year for the advancement of workplace wellbeing programs, leading us to new ways of engaging employees, driving sustainable behavior change, and measuring meaningful individual and business outcomes.