Why do wellbeing?
Posted Wednesday 19 May 2010
This is the part of a series to launch our Taking care of business campaign on employment and mental health.
I get asked this question all the time, along with where is the return on investment? And how much will it cost me? We should be turning this around now and asking "Why are you not doing wellbeing?" This seems to be a much more important question today.
In the UK we seem to have done the absence issue fairly well now, most organisations understand that this is a cost to the business. Many still lack formal recording systems but the fundamental concept is accepted. Attention has turned to presenteeism, the cost of which, according to the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health (2007) is one and half that of absence. It is reasonable to address this costly issue, but we must understand that the underlying causes of presenteeism are multiple and co-existent.
Looking after the health of employees and protecting them from harm in the workplace is a legal requirement; however, providing good work and a good place to work are not, as long as harm is not resulting. Our employees are massively valuable to our business and looking after their health is important. Employees spend upwards of 60 per cent of their waking hours at work, and therefore the role of the workplace in promoting good health is paramount. Many organisations have a benefits-led approach to help, for example providing private medical cover. This does provide some return but it is not enough. Helping employees to look after their health is part of both absence management and presenteeism reduction, because they are part of the same health continuum.
Fit, healthy, and active employees will perform better, they will be better engaged, more creative and deliver more every day to the business. They will better be able to adapt to the changing business environment and will have more optimism. My observation is that organisations that have active wellbeing programmes create a culture that is positive, and energetic, where employees feel happy being at work. They feel that their employer cares about them as a person, and not just as human capital. The real gains are upstream of sickness in prevention, by helping them lead happy and healthy lives, and have positive relationships around them. Data from the Price Waterhouse Cooper study Building the case for Wellness (2008) showed the return on investment for wellbeing between neutral and 34:1.
Wellbeing is more than salad bars, replacing biscuits with bananas and filling in health questionnaires. It becomes a philosophy, a culture, a way of being an organisation that really does care, and stretches well beyond the tick-box protectionist minimalism so often seen in corporate Britain. Many organisation will already have a lot of supports, initiatives, products and services that can be gathered together to form a wellbeing focussed approach.
Of course it will cost time and effort, and some money to achieve it. The returns will be worth it. Many initiatives can be done for low cost or free: get people up and walking, encourage the sharing of healthy recipes, drinking more water and less coffee. Local health trusts and charities can provide support and information on health, and throughout the year there are dozens of health awareness initiatives to piggy back your effort. Allow people time and space at work to make incremental changes based upon lifestyle choices.
Inform and educate but don't dictate - control is a major factor in determining negative stress. Allowing employees not just a say in the organisation's wellbeing but passing ownership to them allows control. Let your workers design what they need and show your support from the very top. This will draw your community together and create a sense of shared purpose. Don't feel you have to do it all at once, or that you will get it all right every time. Acknowledge what didn't work for you and move on; the energy to keep going is important and never allow it dwindle.
Organisations that do good wellbeing are just better places to work. Better places to work attract and retain better talent, the rest is just business.
Eugene Farrell, Key Account Director at AXA PPP healthcare and Chair of Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAPA) UK.
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