Employee wellness is essential to business and organisational success. It impacts a workplace’s culture, its resources and productivity and, ultimately, its bottom line.
Consequently, how employees are feeling, both mentally and physically, is more than an HR issue. It is, in fact, a fundamental foundation for business growth, stability, strength and sustainability.
However, for any business or organisation to understand the importance of employee wellness and properly engage with it as an issue, it must first understand what employee wellness means.
What Does Employee Wellness Mean?
Wellness covers physical and mental fitness. Over the past 30 or so years, it has grown as a concept in the workplace. It focuses on helping employees influence their own health, quality of life, mental wellbeing and, consequently, their performance at work.
As such, employee wellness looks not just at reducing absence from work through illness, but also at how to proactively encourage and promote healthier lifestyles and attitudes.
Employee wellness looks at the individual and encourages them to make healthy lifestyle choices. The purpose of this is to benefit them and the culture in which they work.
It covers, broadly, health promotion, the prevention of ill health and the factors that help determine how healthy someone is, in both body and mind.
Most of all, it is about enabling individuals to make better choices about their own health, to take control of it, for their own benefit.
Why should employers have a stake in employee wellness? Because the costs to business of absenteeism and stress are considerable; and the benefits of attracting and retaining talent, and improving productivity, are clear.
Millennials and Workplace Values
The ways people view work and their lives are changing. By 2020, millennials accounted for 50% of the global workforce, which in recruitment terms has made them business-critical.
To attract and retain this fresh talent, businesses and organisations must align themselves to the kinds of things millennials prioritise.
According to research from Deloitte, as millennials are increasingly values-driven, so they are sceptical of business motivations and ethics. At the same time, millennials are much less tied to notions of loyalty – they are used to switching jobs as an adaptation to greater job insecurity and expect more flexibility from their employment.
UK millennials put a desire for mental and physical health at the top of their list of what would make their lives happier and more fulfilled, according to a report from a marketing agency; Inkling.
Together, these elements make a compelling case for employers to put measures in place that will encourage and support employee wellness if they want to attract and retain the kind of talent that will enable future growth and success.
Tackling Absenteeism and Presenteeism
The good news is, absenteeism is falling, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The bad news is that this does not necessarily represent a clear, positive outcome.
While more people are now at work, more of them are not fully engaged when they are there. The president of the CIPD, Professor Gary Cooper, has warned that the statistics for sickness absence may in fact be telling a different story.
The suggestion is that increasingly, people are at work when they should be recovering at home. Presenteeism is where employees are present, but their motivation, and productivity, take a significant dip.
There is also a risk that employers have helped encourage this situation by creating a culture of fear, where taking time off is looked down on.
Both absenteeism and presenteeism are costly in both business and personal terms.
This is where employee wellness has a vital part to play. Helping people become more aware of their own physical and mental health, can motivate them to be more mindful of it and to make key, positive lifestyle changes.
Helping to Solve the Productivity Puzzle
Getting together a “business jury” of HR professionals and people specialists, PwC has analysed the UK’s productivity puzzle. The country’s productivity lags behind leading competitors and has more or less stagnated since the 2008 financial crisis.
There are concerns about nurturing a skilled workforce that is ready for the future, and suggestions around potentially broadening the Apprenticeship Levy, as well as stating a need to focus on technology.
However, PwC’s panel of specialists has also talked about employee wellness, and what businesses must consider in introducing programmes and raising awareness of mental health.
Indeed, stress is bad for business, and this is measurable in economic terms. Employee stress is impacted by sickness absence, high turnover and reduced productivity.
There is therefore a strong link employee wellness and organisational wellness.
When it comes to employee wellness, the personal impacts on the corporate, as well as vice versa. The business or organisation should be building a strategy around helping individual employees to identify and meet their own wellness goals. At the same time, this feeds into an overarching business strategy concerned with staff engagement, retention and performance.
The familiar phrase is that a business’s employees are its greatest assets. An employee wellness programme is a meaningful way of investing in those assets.
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