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What makes a workplace health program work?

by CBHS Corporate Health | Jun 26, 2019
Employee at a workplace

It’s unlikely that the decision-makers in your organisation haven’t considered, or even already implemented, a workplace health and wellness program. In 2018, a Buck Consultants report identified that 81% of workplaces globally aspire towards a strong culture of wellbeing. However, within Australian organisations SuperFriend reports that one in three employees say that their workplace is too busy to take action on this front. So why the disconnect? We often hear that one thing holding organisations back is the concern that their program won’t be effective or won’t see ROI. This is an understandable concern, as with budgets ever tightening, you want to know that dollars spent are making an impact.

Undoubtedly, there is a need for more research in the workplace health and wellbeing program space, especially localised to the Australian market. However, there are a handful of robust studies which have reviewed the factors which make or break a program.

Published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, one study looked at more than 30 years’ worth of evidence and found that well-designed and well-executed programs founded on evidence-based principles can achieve positive health and financial outcomes for businesses. However, they do note that employers must consider if they have a culture that will facilitate success. They describe this as being a ‘culture of health’, and state that improving the health of a workforce requires more than just convincing their people to take better care of themselves. It also requires an environment where “leading a healthy lifestyle is the default option”. A good example when promoting nutrition is ensuring healthy catering is available at meetings, and there are healthy options in vending machines and in workplace cafés. And that these are priced reasonably where relevant.

Another main finding from the review was that workplace health programs need to integrate health promotion best practices to be successful. A health information website and workplace risk assessment as a standalone program will generally not be effective. Nor will simply “random acts of wellness” like a few free yoga classes and flu shot program. However, for many organisations, these will be essential building blocks to a more integrated program in time. It is recommended that companies firstly focus their investment on key health risk and priority areas and evolve their approach over time to meet best practice.

In addition to a strong health culture, programs which were deemed successful were seen to include ongoing health education focused on skill development and behavioural change, integration of the program into the organisation’s HR, health and safety, and general workplace practices, and screening services combined with goal setting.

Stakeholders need to align when designing workplace wellbeing programs to agree upon clearly defined goals. Too many and too varied goals can be overly optimistic for a new program. When asked to rank 10 objectives in order of importance, Australian employers ranked ‘improving morale/engagement’ as first and ‘organisational values/mission’ as second. Reducing health care costs landed in tenth and last place. This shows that Australian employers are open to the notion that cost-saving is not, and should not be the sole purpose of a workplace wellness program. While short-term benefits around engagement can in seen in a matter of months, it can take 3-5 years to see a measurable financial ROI. What we’re saying is, don’t write off the worth of your program too early in the piece. The benefits are there to be reaped. A recent Australian report by PwC and beyond blue shows that effective actions to create a mentally healthy workplace creates an average positive ROI of 2.3 across all industries and company sizes. The statistics were the most compelling within small organisations, with ROI as high as 15 as a result of implementing just one action. With evidence-based results like this, can your organisation really afford not to invest?

What factors help create program success?

  • A strong health culture in place
  • Leadership support from executives and middle-management down to grassroots champions
  • Best practices in health promotion
  • Strong communications strategy
  • Meaningful incentives to participate
  • Well-defined metrics of success which are not solely financial, and are measured and evaluated regularly
  • Targets the most important issue/s within your workforce

If you’re looking to kick start or restart your workplace’s health and wellness program, let’s talk. Learn more about CBHS Corporate Health’s tailored Health & Wellbeing offering at

About CBHS Corporate Health

Even though we're new, our experience isn't. Our knowledge comes from our connection with the Commonwealth Bank of Australia as their committed health insurance provider for over 65 years.

CBHS Corporate is here for all Australian businesses, focusing on improving health and wellbeing in the workplace and providing comprehensive health cover for security and peace of mind at home.