To help create workplaces that support employee well-being, Alive & Thrive and the Innovation Incubator at FHI 360 have launched the Happy Workforce Program. The program provides training and resources for employers who want to launch or improve wellness services for their workers.
The program evolved from Alive & Thrive’s decade-long effort to protect breastfeeding in Viet Nam, Cambodia, and Myanmar by helping employers adopt family-friendly policies and advocating for workplace regulations that support breastfeeding, including parental leave, lactation rooms, and breastfeeding breaks.
Alive & Thrive’s success led to employer requests for additional technical assistance to promote employee well-being, said Roger Mathisen, Alive & Thrive’s program director for the East Asia Pacific region. Through private sector funding and networks of regional service providers, the Happy Workforce Program has delivered services in about 20 factories in Viet Nam and Cambodia to date.
“Most adults spend up to one-third of their lives at work,” Mathisen said. “We must recognize the importance of creating healthy workplaces for a happy workforce to reach many of the sustainable development goals.”
“The workplace is a contained environment where … we can affect a lot of people,” said Quyen Luu, Alive & Thrive’s program officer for private sector and civil society engagement in the East Asia Pacific region. By expanding support beyond breastfeeding mothers, “we focus on the workplace as a setting for promoting positive behavior change for better health.”
The Happy Workforce Program addresses four components: breastfeeding support as part of a family-friendly workplace; nutrition and health promotion; water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH); and mental health.
The program’s breastfeeding work focuses on ensuring employers create a supportive environment for women in the workplace. It helps employers comply with local maternity protection regulations and global best practices to create family-friendly workplaces. The program also provides employers with customized training and information on breastfeeding policies and practices. After the training, the program continues to support employers by developing counseling cards appropriate for the local context and providing coaching for human resources and infirmary staff on how to use them.
Some of the requests for the program’s nutrition and health component came from employees who participated in breastfeeding training sessions. “There are a lot of employees whose children are older. … They want more information about nutrition and health for themselves and for their children,” Luu said.
To meet this demand, the program consults with managers to identify nutrition and health priorities for their staff. It develops customized materials on topics such as healthy diets, physical activity, and using health services. The program also offers training for canteen staff on preparing healthier food options for workers. In workplaces where annual health checks are required, the program offers health counseling to help employees follow up on any doctor’s recommendations from the check.
The COVID-19 pandemic increased demand for programming that improves workplace WASH behaviors. The Happy Workforce Program reviews local guidelines and conducts a situation analysis to understand each employer’s context and workforce. The program then consults with managers and employees to customize a WASH strategy and materials for their needs. For example, in Viet Nam, a large factory’s workforce typically includes different ethnic groups, some of whom have cultural beliefs about water use that conflict with WASH best practices. “We don’t want to just oppose their practices or force them to adopt a new practice,” Luu said. “We want to build a consensus with employees on the WASH strategy.”
The pandemic also highlighted the need for mental health services for workers. “More and more employees say they’re dealing with some kind of mental health issue,” Luu said. The program helps employers develop risk assessment guidance and provides training on mental health awareness. The program identifies potential barriers that employees with mental health conditions face and reasonable work accommodations that they need to be successful. It also develops employee wellness resources and lists of local mental health services for referral.
The program has received positive feedback from employers and workers. “Employees often highlight the importance of increased job satisfaction, better health, reduced sick days, higher productivity, and increased earnings,” Mathisen said. “Employers mention reduced absenteeism, increased retention rates, enhanced productivity, reduced incidence of accidents, reduced health care costs, and a positive image with the public and shareholders as the most critical aspects of the program.”
Over the long term, “we will use monitoring and evaluation data to develop the business case for the Happy Workforce Program and seek to embed the social and behavior change tools and materials into employers’ routine systems to ensure sustainability,” Mathisen added.
The Happy Workforce Program is now in talks with its current clients about replicating the program in their factories and supply chains in other countries, including Bangladesh, India, and Egypt. “It’s a very exciting opportunity to expand our social impact,” Luu said.