In Australia workplace wellness initiatives are commonplace, yet only half have measureable outcomes. Without them their fitness for purpose is questionable.

In a recent news article the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) considered the effectiveness of Australian workplace wellness programmes. It reported that around half of all Australian companies offered some kind of health promotion service to their employees. But of these, only half had measurable outcomes with which to gauge their effectiveness. Without measurable outcomes, the fitness for purpose of a workplace wellness programme is questionable.

All systems seek to fulfil a purpose. It is the reason for their existence. Purpose is fulfilled when a system performs as desired, to produce its outputs at the right time, in sufficient quantity and in the right place. Fitness for purpose is a measure of how well a system fulfils its purpose.

To gauge the effectiveness of any workplace wellness programme its purpose must be clearly stated. If wellness is defined as ‘being in a state of good health, especially as an actively pursued goal’, what is the purpose of a workplace wellness programme?

Wellness Worx Now, an American provider of workplace wellness services states that the purpose of a wellness programme is to establish a work environment that promotes healthy lifestyles, decreases the risk of disease, and enhances the quality of life.

What does a workplace wellness programme need to do to achieve its purpose? The purpose statement provides some insight. It must provide a work environment that promotes healthy lifestyles.

How can we measure its effectiveness? The purpose statement again helps by stating three measures of effectiveness. They are how well healthy lifestyles are adopted, how well the risk of disease is reduced and how well employees’ quality of life is enhanced. These outcomes can be measured but they need to be measured in a sensitive and culturally acceptable manner. If not any programme introduced is destined to fail.

The ABC article concluded that a well designed programme could deliver significant financial benefits. However, the purpose of any programme should be to promote healthy lifestyles. Any significant financial benefit is a desirable side-effect, not the primary outcome.

Understanding purpose is key to understanding systems. It is only when we understand purpose that we can understand what a system must do to fulfil its purpose. Only then can we determine the measures of effectiveness that determine how well a system performs.