If there's one thing PwC discovered in evaluating its wellness efforts, it's that perfect shouldn't be the enemy of the good.
The employer, along with the University of Southern California, undertook a study aiming to determine the drivers of employee well-being and outcomes of organizational wellness efforts.
In short, PwC concluded its wellness initiatives were worth the effort: "Employees who engaged in healthy habits reported a perception of better client relationships, a belief in improved team dynamics, lower levels of burnout and a stronger intention to remain with the firm," the report concluded.
But it also found that perhaps HR need not bend over backward or make a heavy financial investment to implement a program that can improve engagement and retention.
1. Make a commitment
A commitment to healthy habits may be more important than the specific habits, PwC found. The key is providing encouragement, a variety of options and coaching. Workers' attitudes toward well-being has more to do with positive outcomes at work than the specific behaviors involved.
Whether it's hydration, meditation, exercise or getting a good night's sleep, there are many ways individuals can make health choices that improve their lives. Limiting an employer's program to a single area only limits its ability to reach people, the study found.
It also is not imperative for programs to be run by outside vendors or require significant spending to implement, PwC Chief People Officer Michael Fenlon told HR Dive via email.
"Our journey started with everyday flexibility, which can be implemented at no cost," Fenlon said. "We've encouraged individuals and teams to find ways to accommodate each other's priorities inside and outside of work, building more flexibility into the way we work, our career paths, our formal work arrangements and the career opportunities we offer our people. This starts with buy-in from leadership that encourages people to commit to small, sustainable everyday habits."
2. Design a supportive work environment
For such wellness initiatives to work, employers will need to ensure the workplace is supportive, optimized for adoption and retention of employees' good habits.
Among other things, this means inclusive teams, satisfaction with duties, and supportive management. "When leaders create an environment of inclusion and belonging — and teams support one another and engage in healthy behaviors together — the benefits multiply: well-being habits 'stick,' citizenship behavior improves and teams believe they are more effective," Fenlon said.
Every department and manager must consider how they can improve the office environment to better support employee well-being. That may be easier said than done, but it starts with open and honest communication, even in disagreement. "Trust and communication are key — and teams need to feel comfortable challenging one another when bad behaviors are present," Fenlon added.
3. Consider tech's role
While not essential to wellness efforts, PwC found that technology can deliver "energizing, visible support" for employer programs.
Apps to track steps, send push notifications to motivate exercise or provide other health-related information can help. Beyond that, virtual fitness machines, VR and even wearables like Google Glass are finding a place in wellness.
HR pros may want to consider whether the accountability — "and even friendly competition that lead to improved perceptions of team effectiveness," according to PwC — may be worth the investment.
4. Connect it to turnover
Perhaps most important is the study's finding that wellness programs can improve employees' intent to stay — which PwC said is "a key predictor of actual future turnover."
Employees who engaged in healthy habits also reported better client relationships and team dynamics internally.
"The study confirmed that investing in well-being and flexibility impacts important business outcomes," Fenlon said. Healthy habits "significantly impacted at least half of the well-being outcomes studied."
For HR leaders trying to make the case for a well-bring investment, that connection to turnover may be the most powerful argument. Given how expensive an empty seat can be, the study's findings show that wellness may soon no longer be a "nice to have" amenity.