Why are people unenthusiastic about employee wellbeing programmes? What lead to this? Why bother to improve them?

These are three key questions to ask when deciding whether to invest in evolving employee wellbeing programmes. Research provides some pretty informative answers. I hope these help you when considering your investments into wellbeing programmes and their related financial returns.

1. Why are people unenthusiastic about employee wellbeing programmes?

  • The benefits are not formally measured in the Financial Statements, therefore there’s no auditable link to company share price and valuation. As a result, there’s no structured standard monthly reporting to the Board on the financial impacts of employee wellbeing programmes.
  • ‘Toxic’ workplace culture is not addressed as part of wellbeing programmes (see The problem with employee wellness programs). This increases non-participation rates.
  • The programmes are run in silos, left to HR departments to manage and focus on the wrong things (see 10 Common mistakes employee wellness programs should avoid)
  • Using the latest technologies to track employee’s health, (referred to by some as the commodification of human labour), has been seen as compromising health privacy and forcing employees to ‘participate in wellness programmes against their will’.
  • Employers don’t formally allocate time to employees for them to participate in wellbeing programmes. They also don’t set wellbeing goals or make them a part of performance requirements.

2. What lead to this?

  • Wellbeing Programmes have never been set up like any other top priority Strategic Project. Typically, Strategic Projects are set up with the aim of improving financial performance and they’re always tracked and reported on to the Board. As people are the driving force of an organisation, getting the Employee Wellbeing Strategy right and its effective execution should be the Top Strategic Priority – it never has been.
  • No clear view of the drivers linking them to costs of health and wellbeing issues.
  • A lack of education and awareness about what employee wellbeing is and why it is important to an organisation’s success.
  • No integration into daily operations. Wellbeing programmes should just be part of the normal operating activities of a business. Part of the ‘daily required tasks’ – performed along with other tasks and managed in combination with them. This has never been the case.
  • Some studies have found that it can take three years for a sound wellbeing strategy to yield tangible results. As no proper business case (including financials) is drawn up to start off with, organisations are unable to see the progress they make and also to identify where they need to make adjustments. They can’t see ‘the wood for the trees’ – they do not understand the most important parts of it. (Half of employers who offer wellness programs don’t formally evaluate them, according to a Workplace Wellness Programs Study performed by RAND Corporation).

3. Why bother to improve them?

  • According to reserach performed by PwC South Africa, many employers felt their wellness programmes positively impact the health and wellbeing of their employees and create long term value. However, a more strategic and integrated approach towards wellness along with formal measurement and monitoring of outcomes was found to be critical for sustainable success.
  • This is further supported by Aon’s 2018 EMEA Health Survey (covering more than 900 employers and 2.7 million employees) which found that although ‘employers recognise the role they have to play in influencing good employee health, most are not employing strategies that best enable these outcomes’. It urges employers to ‘challenge themselves around whether they are doing enough to protect the health and wellbeing of their top assets’ saying it’s time to shift from positive intentions to measured investment.
  • And finally, an informative research paper ‘’Corporate Health and Wellness and the Financial Bottom Line – Evidence From South Africa’, tested if corporate health and wellness contributed positively to South African companies’ financial results. It found that it does.

In answering the three questions it can be seen that there is a strong business case to invest in employee wellbeing as a Top Strategic Project expected to yield financial benefits over the long term. Critical to the success of such a Project will be to regularly track, monitor and adjust it in order to ensure its continued relevance and effectiveness.