Wellness Strategy Not Benefit

Is Wellness at work the latest business-trend bandwagon?  Many companies want to jump on but is this out of genuine concern and thought out strategy or a look-good strategy to all the right tick boxes, and without joined up thinking?  Over the last 10 years various academic studies highlighted in the media have focused attention on the costs imposed on business by illness and workplace injury.  A government report published in 2008 estimated cost of injury and illness at work to be £30 billion.  The cost to business of people turning up to work but not doing their jobs properly due to ill health or injury is thought to be double that figure.


Business is in a unique position to be able to positively influence the health of the workers and be a force for good.  We have a tendency to think that government should take on the responsibility for our health and wellbeing.  Seriously limp health campaigns (eg Change4Life, which actually had some glaring errors in the advice they dished out to add insult to injury) show that the government is incapable/unwilling to take up the mantle.  Is it because they have a conflict of interest in terms of who pays the piper (the food industry?)  As we head for the gaping chasm that is opening up in terms of the unsustainability of ill health in our economy and our work places, who should we awaken to kick the ever expanding butt or slide into chronic ill health?  Over the last 28 years the rate of obesity has doubled and this rate does not appear to be slowing down any time soon, by simple mathematical equation we will no longer be able to employ workers “fit for purpose” within our lifetimes.  We simply will not be able to find workers able to work.  Obviously, the NHS is at the sharp end of the effects of ill health, but they are in critical medicine and not in the business, by and large of solving the chronic levels of poor health which manifests as “low energy”, “IBS” or vague “hormone issues”. It is not in the NHS’s scope to be in the realms of preventative health and lifestyle medicine but the impact of ill health indirectly (or directly) from work related causes will soon swamp their resources.  The impact of workplace stress work related is thought to cost the country’s economy £6.4 bn (2012).  The impact of this will directly impact the bottom line of a company as the impact of, absenteeism, presenteeism, replacing staff, recruiting, training is felt.   Government cannot motivate a sea change in attitudes and it stops becoming the preserve of the individual to be entirely responsible for their own health, because the workplace is impacting on the rise of ill health as employees “steal” time away from workers being able to put viable lifestyle solutions into their lives.  It is fine for the company to wash their hands of the problem if they don’t want any workers fit for work in the future.     Health and Safety legislation makes companies either directly responsible or obliquely responsible for the wellbeing of their people, and many companies are taking that very seriously indeed.


Here is where the road divides.  Most companies are aware that they probably need to provide education and the means to improve their staff’s health.  One CEO we did programmes for was worried about obesity amongst his staff (if members of your staff suffers from morbid obesity it is 118% more likely your staff will not show up for work).  Another manager felt that staff were getting progressively sicker and taking more time off work for common infections.   This is where one company travels down the fork in the road that “dabbles” in wellness programmes.  The reason they start a “programme” (series of sessions) can be varied. Perhaps the staff has asked for wellness sessions?  Perhaps they genuinely want to care for their staff?  They look on any sessions/programmes as a staff benefit – an employee reward scheme. The remit is often “dumped” on an ever more loaded HR department which means that any strategic impact is often lost as Wellness goes back round into Staff Benefit (that’s what HR do so very well).  Typical is the “lunch n’ learn” session format – the comparison to a “salt n’ vinegar” crisp is not lost on me.  This is where a random wellness presenter (me) comes in to address a room of staff whilst they are stuffing their faces with some wholly unsuitable lunch choices.  By the way, I am not adverse to the Lunch and Learn format as it creates awareness but as for impact I doubt there is genuine lasting change amongst staff behaviour.  All in all it has made the staff feel good (great) they enjoyed it (wonderful) and perhaps it had some impact amongst those who sacrificed their own lunch hour to turn up for it (yey!).  The choice of session topics has usually been assessed from a questionnaire sent out to the employees to ascertain what they would like to see in a wellness programme.  This is of course useful because if you are going to run sessions at lunchtime you do want to see they are well attended.  In terms of actual strategy, herein lies madness.  If you ask the staff what they want rather than what you as a company needs then you are in danger of wasting the resources you have allotted to your wellness budget, and assume that it’s part of your fluff nice to have money.

The other road taken by progressive companies is a different one – it starts off with a vision for the company’s future probably underpinned with some strong values. The wellness solution is viewed as a whole rather than in parts.  An audit is undertaken to measure where best to place resources and what impact any programme is expected to have.  The programmes are followed through in terms of message and follow up.  The proper budget is in place because the impact on the bottom line can be measured and the impact felt not only as a staff benefit but as a return on investment.  A waste of money or a smart way to manage your Human Resources?

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