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Building the Business Case for Wellbeing: 4 Key Focus Areas

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Are your employees happy? Considering that studies show that happy workers are more engaged, more productive, and more likely to stay at their company, you’d better hope so.

Evidence is mounting that suggests that maintaining a happy and healthy office isn’t just good for employees, but good for the business as a whole. Economists at the University of Warwick found that happiness is correlated with productivity – those considering themselves happy saw a 12 percent increase in productivity compared with those that were unhappy.

Increasingly, to help bolster this “happiness”, which seems to translate to overall success and sustainability of an organization, businesses are prioritizing employee wellbeing. After all, if employees are happy and well, it’s likely that customers will be too.

But wellbeing goes far beyond just staying fit and healthy, although that is an important part of it. Making sure your employees are mentally well, socially stimulated, and financially cared for is every bit as important as looking after their physical wellbeing.

In Depth

Corporate attitudes towards employee wellbeing are changing. Shifting age demographics and generational expectations mean that workers are demanding more and more from their employers in terms of overall support.

Traditionally though, “wellbeing” has been thought of in physical terms, with organizations prioritizing the physical health of their workforce.  Kim Kivimaki, Director, Colleague Wellbeing at Aon explains that this is no longer the case, “wellbeing is more than just a focus on physical health. It’s an understanding that financial, emotional and social wellbeing are just as important.”

So what are the elements of a holistic approach to wellbeing and what can organizations do to provide better experiences for their people?

Physical Wellbeing

 Insurance and medical costs have a huge impact on companies’ balance sheets, both when providing coverage plans, and when dealing with lost productivity from sick days.

Physical wellbeing should be one of the most straightforward issues to address around workplace wellbeing. Prevention, after all, is better than cure, and workplaces are ideally positioned to act as frontline promoters of healthy lifestyles.

“Time and money are the two big things that get in the way of people making healthy choices. By making healthy choices easy, accessible, and affordable in the work setting – so that people don’t have to go off and do something more, or take more time, or spend more money in order to do it – organizations can help promote these types of positive behaviors” explains Robin Bouvier, Vice President of Aon’s Innovation Group and Health Transformation team. Promoting physical wellbeing could be as simple as offering free fruit at work, providing fitness incentives like cycle-to-work schemes, or contributing towards employee healthcare insurance packages.

“Change the work experience, the culture, the environment,’ says Bouvier “and you can make health part of the work day.”

Psychological Wellbeing

 Psychological wellbeing is just as important as physical wellbeing when maintaining, healthy, happy and engaged workforces. And the opening up of conversation around mental health issues, particularly among millennials, means that employers should have a better insight into its prevalence and impact and how to devise approaches that help their employees get the help they need, should they need it.

Employers can address mental health challenges in a number of ways. It is important to train leaders how to spot the early warning signs of an employee who might be struggling with depression, how to identify opportunities to offer support, and how to direct employees to services that can offer professional help.

It is also important to evaluate the work environment to identify and address issues that could negatively impact employees’ mental health. Creating an emotional health strategy to raise awareness, reduce stigma, foster a trusting climate and boost participation in mental and emotional wellbeing programs can then follow. This can be accompanied with on-site classes or seminars to teach stress resilience, mindfulness techniques and other coping skills.

Social Wellbeing

 Engagement with a company is crucial to nurturing a productive workforce, and people are more likely to engage if they like the people they are working with.

  • 50 percent of employees reported stronger connection with the company if they had a best friend at work, according to a 2012 Gallup poll.
  • 1 in 3 people have met their best friend at work.
  • And having a best friend counts ­– those who reported having a best friend at work were 27 percent more likely to report engagement with the company mission.

Building social elements into workdays can be as simple as calling town-hall style meetings or just making the effort to talk to colleagues one-on-one, rather than via an email server. Team bonding exercises and casual get-togethers can help to achieve this.

Bouvier also emphasizes the need to take into account employees’ social needs outside of the office. “Work-life balance means different things to different generations and people at different stages of life. Allow employees to achieve work-life integration by offering flexible schedules or enabling people to work from home so they can be more engaged with their families, friends and communities. If your employees feel better, if they look better, and if they have more confidence and higher self-esteem, they have better relationships and they’re going to be more engaged with their work.”

Financial Wellbeing

Money troubles can be a big driver of stress for individuals and typically goes beyond an individual’s actual compensation.

  • Financial wellbeing (or lack of it), can factor into other wellbeing challenges, but can also directly harm a company’s prospects in other ways. For instance, failing to prepare for retirement can lead people to stay employed long past their productivity peak.
  • Additionally, 52 percent of people say that their financial situation contributes to stress at work.

Financial security isn’t just about about pay – it’s also about making sure that employees understand how to manage that money. Programs such as financial assistance or even auto-enrollment savings and retirement programs, can help with alleviating financial-related stress that employees might encounter.

Moving towards a happier workplace

Having an understanding of what individuals are looking for help with as it relates to wellbeing is the first step. Often times, explains Bouvier, there is a disconnect with what an organization deems as valuable versus what an individual is looking to accomplish.“Organizations, for example, when prioritizing wellbeing programs, are focusing on diet and exercise, but we’re seeing that  employees are saying that they need more sleep and less stress.”

With this mismatch of priorities, it’s clear that organizations won’t see the results they are looking for because they are offering programs that employees don’t really want. “Building a culture of wellbeing means understanding what’s important to the organization and its workforce, and understanding how you can drive business results… if you want to drive change, it actually has to be a cultural change – it has to be a grassroots effort that infiltrates the experience. It can’t just be telling people what to do and telling them when to do it” says Bouvier.

Kivimaki agrees that cultural change has to be grassroots: “Culture change is a process, it is not something that happens overnight. Barriers are different across organizations, locations, and even business units. To change a culture, you need to make it happen from the ground up.”

Moving to a “happy workforce” and addressing corporate wellbeing requires a combination of specific steps and wider strategic thinking. “Leaders have to buy in to a culture change, and sometimes that can be difficult. Leaders should see value in wellbeing – support programs, promote activities, and often lead by example,” says Kivimaki.

Although not all-encompassing as it relates to nurturing a happy and productive workforce, such philosophies are essential to creating a culture that prioritizes the wellbeing of their employees. And this is not just because of the correlation to customer satisfaction, but that it’s arguably the right thing to do.

Talking Points

“Organizations must look at how the workplace can appeal to millennials, generations X and Y, as well as baby boomers, who still run the boardrooms of most businesses. Baby boomers, for example, are often process driven and focused on independent working. In comparison, millennials are often innovation driven and group motivated, with an interest in socializing online with colleagues” – Nicola Gillen, Global Strategy Lead, AECOM

“Each year, we see an increase in employees seeking support for stress and anxiety – conditions that are attributable to everything from the uncertainty of an unstable economy to difficulties in a personal relationship” – Alan Torrie, President & CEO, Morneau Shepell

Further Reading