How Companies Are Improving Their Employee Health Programs

July 22, 2021

Employers have long walked a fine line between maximizing productivity and helping clients lead healthy lifestyles. As the thinking goes, unhealthy employees produce less. Therefore, maximizing productivity requires keeping employees healthy. So what are companies doing to improve their employee health programs these days? For starters, they are rethinking what it means to be healthy.

A few decades ago, employee health programs focused mainly on things like healthy eating and regular exercise. Vending machines filled with high sugar, high calorie items were replaced with healthy alternatives. Catered lunches included more fresh fruits and vegetables. Employees were given free gym memberships and encouraged to exercise.

All of that was well and good until 2020. But when coronavirus struck, it forced us to rethink why people are unhealthy. Diet and exercise are still important, but coronavirus opened our collective eyes to the devastating effects of stress on health. Employers are now re-evaluating their health benefits in terms of mental health, reducing stress, etc.

The Sieve Approach

Mental health benefits are still fairly new to most companies. As such, coming up with the best way to approach a new package is not necessarily the easiest thing to do. One approach is known as the Sieve approach. It is discussed extensively in an MIT Sloan review published in April, 2021.

The Sieve approach utilizes a 3-step process to address workplace stress:

  1. Pre-emption – The first step is to pre-emptively reduce the amount of stress employees experience by changing the company's culture, developing clearly defined work-life balance parameters, and routinely assessing job designs and functions.
  2. Detection – The second step is to utilize things like surveys, self-reporting, and peer awareness to detect stressful situations before they get out of hand. Once detected, employees can be offered assistance.
  3. Remediation – Finally, remediation is the third step. It offers a variety of outsourced services intended to help employees relieve stress and get any additional assistance they need to improve mental health.

This approach is known as the Sieve approach because each successive step addresses a smaller number of issues. The first step is designed to catch the most issues before they occur. The second and third steps have fewer issues to deal with as a result.

Solutions Rather Than Perks

Regardless of the particular approach a company decides to take, employers are being encouraged to focus on actual mental health solutions rather than employee perks. According to Business Insider contributor Stephen Bevan, far too many companies have tried to expand their employee health programs with clearly visible perks that demonstrate the company's alleged commitment to good health more than actually helping their employees.

Employees need effective solutions for reducing stress and maintaining good mental health, even if those solutions are not highly visible. One thing Bevan mentioned was giving employees access to an occupational health professional as opposed to laughter coaches and head massages.

More Than Just Talking

Bevan's piece has one thing in common with the MIT Sloan report: both reveal that improving employee health programs in the post-COVID era requires more than just talking about it. It is not enough for employers to say that employee safety and health is their number one priority. Lifestyle evangelism, as Bevan put it, is inadequate.

Right now, the focus is on improving employee health by reducing stress. Anything employers can do in this regard will help. Employees need less stressful work environments that allow them to focus on their work with as few worries as possible. When that happens, employees are also more likely to eat better, get regular exercise, and live healthier lifestyles.

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