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The First Two Steps to Prepare for 2024 Worksite Wellness

BY: Derek Bell // VP, Solutions & Clinical Operations • VITAL WorkLife

Let’s start with the obvious—2024 stands to be a pivotal year for worksite well-being.

Many wellness, HR, and Benefits professionals are in strategic planning mode for the next calendar year. While it’s critical that each organization examine its own data to understand employee needs, it’s also helpful to consider emerging trends in workforce well-being. Here are a few areas to consider as you finalize your plans for 2024.

The yellow highlighter ink was spread all over worksite wellness during the COVID pandemic and repeatedly saturated due to the attention on mental health, hybrid working, shifting ambitions, professional goals, and priorities of workers, which increased turnover and attention directed to address employees’ work-life needs. To us, it felt like an abundance of opportunity, like a silver lining during tragedy. Implementing thoughtful worksite wellness initiatives continues to be top-of-mind for C-suite leaders and central to enhancing the employee experience. While the attention to the issues above and improving worksite well-being has been flattering and welcomed, we unfortunately haven’t seen increased employee well-being. Moreover, during the past year, and with increasing intensity, we’ve sadly seen companies scaling down, cutting wellness programming, re-forming departments, and streamlining areas that support worksite well-being because of this overall lack of impact. Each HBR and Gallup report continues to affirm our struggle with impact as we continue to see issues remain, including stress, burnout, attrition, presenteeism, and mental health.

I’ve seen this tension between need and impact expressed in articles, blogs, and other opinion pieces suggesting “we’ve lost the plot” or “workplace wellness isn’t working.”

I disagree. I think this provocative position we find ourselves in is recognition that we are not just occupying a seat at the table (or begging for a seat at the table), but we are, in fact, the table. With well-being placed in this central position comes growing pains as we learn how to move away from periphery-focused concerns, like health cost containment or benefit plan utilization, and toward our expanded range that involves enterprise-wide performance and culture—like leadership, productivity, and organizational purpose. This pathway is illuminated by a growing need and desire to prove that well-being is something more than where we’ve been. We crisscrossed over this evolving terrain, sharing and thoughts with the amazing and thoughtful Jessica Grossmeier and Maria Dee in the WELCOA webinar, “2024 Workplace Wellness Trends,” facilitated by our fearless leader, Ryan Picarella. If anything was certain, it is that we’ve entered an era that is both reflective of our past (holistic) and challenged by our future. Collectively, we have been tasked with making organizational change with not all the levers, and we’re curiously navigating increasingly complex workplaces with greater demands to produce impactful outcomes. This sentiment echoes the disconnect between attention on well-being and actual improvements. However, this is our greatest opportunity to carve out the well-being space we want, and to effectively bind the tie between work and well-being—which will be the most essential issue we solve in 2024.

We’re the leaders of this movement to evolve well-being, and it is up to us to coach our organizations to support employees by understanding their needs and creating our well-being ecosystem to make it more about thriving, not just surviving. Here are some ideas to help promote this movement.

First, do you have the right definition and vision for well-being in the workplace?

This is essential. It is critical that you provide an overall vision for well-being that informs your strategy and integration of well-being into your organizational fabric. If you don’t have a destination in mind, it is problematic to lay out your map and build your well-being architecture.
  • Growth — In opportunity and by challenges
  • Achievement — Acknowledge and value everyone’s role
  • Care — Our self-care and the care of others
  • Connection — To people and work
  • Safety — In practice and psychological safe spaces
  • Joy and Flourishment — Sense of purpose and meaning in our life and work.

We know that well-being is personal, and our ideas about our own well-being are rooted in our needs. If this is not clearly outlined in your mission and definition, then you’ll risk not building appropriate support systems, assessment processes, and programs that speak to the actual needs of your employees and, most importantly, connect with what matters most to them. This might mean an expansion of your current practices or vision, moving to expand beyond risk reduction, condition management, or health promotion strategies to ones that speak more directly to organizational performance and human sustainability. It might also mean that you can audit and complement your assessment practices to include tools that aim to measure joy, needs, flourishing, and happiness.

Second, have a middle-out strategy to improve well-being.

We continue to see some alarming reflections of what people think about their work and well-being. Workers are more stressed, are concerned with their mental health, don’t feel valued or heard, and feel disconnected from leadership. These feelings were present prior to COVID but exacerbated by the duress of living and working through the pandemic. We also know that most people like or dislike, or stay or go from, their current workplace based on the type and frequency of interactions with their manager or one-up supervisor.

Revisioning the middle management layer as your wellness champion can support closing this gap. Middle managers are the conduit for organizational information, values, and strategies to flow between employees and leadership. Building their skills to be better equipped to support the well-being needs of employees will provide you with the best opportunity to improve your well-being culture. When we have assessed middle managers’ well-being skills, we find that they are woefully insufficient to support both their own well-being and the well-being of their staff. Given what we know about their influence and opportunity to enhance the employee experience, increasing tools and resources for them to improve skills in these areas can make significant impacts on your well-being culture:
  • Listening
  • Gratitude
  • Prescence and Change Management
  • Coaching (motivational interviewing, growth, appreciative inquiry)
  • Collaboration

Building wellness champions is one of the most important practices to employ—Consider looking to your most important structural layer and reassess their opportunity to be your best well-being stewards.

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Derek Bell
ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR Derek Bell // VP, Solutions & Clinical Operations • VITAL WorkLife
Derek is a nationally recognized leader in mental health, well-being, and human flourishing. He is the Vice President of Solutions and Clinical Operations for VITAL WorkLife, the leader in physician and health care systems well-being. He was also previously the Director of Well-Being and Joy of Practice for Ascension as well as Executive Director of the National Wellness Institute. He also hosts the podcast “Highway to Well” and a podcast series on gratitude for the American Nurses Foundation. Derek also teaches “Finding Meaning & Purpose in Your Work” in the M.B.A. program at the University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point and claims Led Tasso as his spirit animal.