When outlining the key characteristics of an effective employee wellness program, it is imperative to equitably provide the same benefits, resources, and opportunities to all employees.
While all employees should receive equal access to wellness offerings, no two employees require the same resources or start from the same place.
Rather, employees bring a wide array of life experiences to their organizations, meaning each individual requires a different, personalized level of support to thrive.
In WellRight’s recent webinar hosted by Fierce Healthcare, WellRight CEO Neepa Patel sat down with Vanessa Guzman, MHSA, President and CEO of SmartRise Health, and Amelia Bedri, MHSA, Senior Content Engineer at the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA), to break down the foundational elements of an equitable workplace.
In order to bring equity in the workplace, wellness programs must enable employees to be their authentic selves by supporting all dimensions of well-being, as defined by the following core pillars:
So what specifically can employers do to infuse equity throughout their organizations? Here are some of the biggest takeaways from our discussion.
How to Infuse Equity in the Workplace
1. Starting with a DEI Framework
Before employers can create more diverse, equitable, and inclusive work environments for their employees, Guzman recommends that they first identify the “why” behind their commitment.
“I’ve seen a lot of organizations treat [DEI] like a separate project versus making sure that it’s part of the day-to-day functions,” Guzman explains. “Employers need the safe space and time allocation to focus on the strategy for this type of work.”
Even so, committing to equity in the workplace and strategically acting on it are two separate challenges—neither of which can be successfully accomplished without an underlying framework.
When asked to identify the top barriers to promoting equitable wellness offerings to employees, 63% of webinar respondents cited resources and capacity as the main impediment to progress. This isn’t surprising given that only 12% of DEI leaders have dedicated teams to mobilize action plans.
Source: Webinar, Infusing an Equity Perspective into Workplace Well-Being
This is made even harder by not having a solid DEI framework underlying every strategic idea, decision, and goal. But by putting time and energy into assessing what equitable offerings can do for unique employee populations, employers can weave their purpose into every facet of their organizational culture.
“When we talk about organizational commitment,” Guzman goes on, “We’re talking about how we can make sure that DEI is part of the culture, just like we treat any other continuous improvement project.”
Related Reading: Getting Past the Top 5 Barriers to DEI Program Implementation
2. Prioritizing Equity over Equality
A majority of employee wellness programs are built with equality in mind. In other words, employers give all employees access to the same resources to achieve the same outcomes.
And while that is certainly the ideal goal of wellness programs, the reality is that there isn’t one path to well-being.
Because employees bring different life experiences to the workplace, they require a variety of resources and solutions to ensure their unique needs can be met.
“83% of large employers have a wellness program in place, and those wellness programs are intended to originate from a DEI lens,” Patel explains. “But often, we hear an emphasis on the word ‘equal,’ which often points to a blanket program without taking into account the individual needs of employees.”
Consider the analogy of a coach providing her team with shoes before a big game. From an equality perspective, the coach would give all team members shoes of the same size to maximize their performance—even if the shoes didn’t fit every player. From an equity perspective, the coach would provide each player with shoes that fit their unique foot size to set up everyone for success.
Giving employees the resources and opportunities they need to reach an equal outcome is the defining characteristic of equity in the workplace.
What this means is that no two wellness programs will look the same from organization to organization—rather, because employee populations are diverse, so too should wellness offerings rooted in equity.
“We all know that employees bring their own needs into the workplace,” Patel goes on. “It’s important that employers understand how those individual needs can manifest at work.”
Related Reading: NCQA Well-Being Series from an Equity Perspective
3. Fostering Trust, Starting a Dialogue, and Integrating Equity
“When you have a meaningful, trusting relationship—whether it’s with your manager or your colleagues—you’re much more positioned to feel safe to share information, resources, or needs.”
– Vanessa Guzman, MHSA, President and CEO of SmartRise Health
In order to lay the foundation for equity in the workplace, one key element is required to tie teams together—trust.
When employees feel safe to identify and articulate their needs, they provide employers with invaluable data that can be used to actualize powerful change throughout an organization.
Not only does this benefit the engagement, performance, and morale of workforces—it also personalizes an employee’s wellness experience and prevents gaps in care.
And while this type of unique data can be extracted quantitatively from employee surveys and biometric data, it’s essential that employers create a safe environment for employees to voice their thoughts freely. Rather than throwing out resources to solve problems prematurely, employers must first engage with their workforces at a human level to pave the way for equity in the workplace.
Related Reading: How Empathy and Belonging Improve Remote Team Communication
4. Boosting Engagement Through Coaching, Strategy, and Leadership
Employees often have trouble expressing what their unique needs really are, and it’s even harder for them to figure out how their workplace can support those needs.
Enabling employees to find their voice and advocate for their own needs is much easier when there are champions within an organization that reflect their values.
Patel suggests that these champions can come in the form of wellness coaches.
“That element of infusing coaching into creating self-awareness and helping individuals find their own voice is super important,” says Patel. “When wellness coaches help employees figure out what they actually need, you can create programs around those needs.”
Wellness coaches help employees formulate clear and attainable plans to reach their unique goals. While some traditional wellness programs tend to focus on the big picture, wellness coaches tailor program offerings to the needs of individual employees, guiding them toward resources that will help them reach their goals.
In addition to wellness coaches, Patel also cites leadership support as a crucial element of fostering equity in the workplace.
“None of this is possible without leadership support,” Patel advises. “Make sure you’re listening, gathering feedback, and creating real relationship opportunities so you can have that dialogue about what is going to be important for employees to succeed.”
Related Reading: 5 Benefits of Employee Wellness Coaching
5. Why DEI is a Collective Effort
In order to effectively infuse diversity, equity, and inclusion throughout an organization, ownership and execution cannot be housed in a singular, centralized department.
Rather, it must be widespread and collective.
“In order for initiatives to gain momentum and really become sustainable, we all must feel empowered that we are part of the solution,” explains Guzman. In order for the benefits of equity to reach all employee populations, initiatives and programming can’t be treated as merely a “pilot program” or a one-time project to work on.
It’s now essential to make DEI a key part of strategic company commitments and mobilize teams to further initiatives. As Guzman asserts, successful employers bake it into every component of their organizations, from performance reviews and job descriptions to training and hiring policies.
What this calls for is a network of “change agents” stretching across teams, departments, and levels that identify unique challenges, design equitable initiatives that are tied to progress goals, and carry out the mission.
“It’s important that no specific group feels like they’re doing all the work,” Guzman says. “We all have to work at this as colleagues with the goal of driving change.”