What is wellbeing in the workplace?

What is employee health and wellbeing?

Employee health and well-being, workplace wellbeing, or workplace wellness all refer to the same thing. They are broad terms that try to describe how an employer tries to monitor, preserve and improve the wellness of all individuals working in the organisation.

Understanding the concept can be easy. The problem arises in the execution. Many organisations don’t fully grasp how to create or execute a plan that will provide a level of education, coaching and health benefits for staff. As a result, mistakes are made and then business leaders fail to see any return on investment. Some of the more common mistakes include

  • Opting for a service over a program - one-off events versus a consistent program of activities
  • Opting for material over experiential - providing beanbags for the meeting rooms versus advice on fostering good relationships
  • Opting for a box ticker rather than committing to consistent, measurable exercise
  • Encouraging staff to ‘do’ wellbeing but not giving them time in their day to ‘do’ wellbeing
  • Believing wellbeing only applies to lower levels of staff and not management or business leaders
  • Focusing on the person in work, not the whole person - performance reviews only consider the job spec and fail to appreciate how the whole person affects their performance in work

How does PepTalk approach workplace wellbeing?

At PepTalk, we provide a wellbeing program built around small but consistent behavioural change. We use gamification to provide a constant feedback loop so people can understand and gauge their progress. The biggest difference that we believe is our competitive advantage is the fact that we target the entire organisation through our wellbeing program.

Whereas most well-being solutions focus on the personal wellbeing of employees, we believe that this is not enough. There will be some organisational benefit as a by-product of increased personal wellbeing. But, for a wellbeing program to be truly effective it must account for the entire organisation in the wellbeing program.

By allowing employees to focus solely on their wellbeing will provide limited benefits to the organisation. It may create some engagement challenges or reaffirm some of the silo mentality that exists.

If you only focus on the organisational wellbeing, again there will be limited performance gains and engagement challenges.

Watch us explain the PepTalk Wellbeing program in 100 seconds HERE.

People managers are the key to workplace culture

We believe that the key to developing a high-performance culture in the workplace is by empowering the people managers in the organisation. If your company truly believes that your products and services improve your customers’ lives, then your ability to do this depends on the performance of your people.

Instead of asking managers ‘how do we get our people to work harder?’ a better question to ask the business leaders is ‘how can restructure our peoples’ jobs to give them more meaning?’. Part of the restructuring needs to include a wellbeing program for the personal development of the people in your organisation. We call this Pleasant Productivity™.

Pleasant Productivity™ delivers employees who are mentally, physically and emotionally ready to do great work. They are lead by a manager with empathy, purpose and authenticity. And for the organisation, a wellbeing program should be able to offer data and insights provide a real measure on the strength of their team effectiveness and culture. In summary, Pleasant Productivity™ creates:

  • better managers
  • that lead better teams
  • that build better companies

For SOME cool TED Talks on Happiness, Positivity and Wellbeing, check out our blog post HERE

A brief history of wellbeing in the workplace

The idea of wellbeing in the workplace is still relatively new. The evolution of the industry in the last 10 years is as much down to developments in neuroscience and understanding how the brain works as it is a function of employment law and employee rights.

People like to point to the late 1800s when companies began allowing exercise breaks for employees. For example, in 1879 the Pullman company formalised its approach and established an athletics association for staff. The early twentieth-century companies began to invest in sports teams and facilities to further the physical wellbeing of staff.

In the 1930s, when people would routinely drink alcohol during the workday, Employee Assistance Programs were created to address the job performance and productivity effects of alcohol dependence. Due to the effectiveness of EAP programs, they were expanded to cover a wider range of problems that may affect peoples ability to do their jobs, such as emotional, financial, legal, relationship and drug abuse problems.

The social responsibility of business

Corporate ethics took a bit of a back seat in the 1970s and 80s with a series of oil crises creating economic uncertainty and the work of economist Milton Friedman being used as justification. An essay for The New York Times in 1970 became the excuse for a corporation to become uber capitalist machines at the expense of all else. The essay was titled "A Friedman Doctrine: The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase Its Profits" and you can guess the direction of the message.

In the essay, he argued that “business” as a whole cannot be said to have responsibilities”. He went on to say

“In a free‐enterprise, private‐property system, a corporate executive is an employee of the owners of the business. He has direct responsibility to his employers. That responsibility is to conduct the business by following their desires, which generally will be to make as much money as possible...”

​The essay inspired the creation of many organisations dedicated to the idea of shareholder primacy. One such organisation was the Business Roundtable, which as late as 1997 declared that the purpose of a corporation is to serve shareholders by writing it into their principles.

And that was that. CEOs had no choice but to play along and ride the capitalist wave to profits… or risk being sacked. Wellness in the workplace had hardly been front and centre in the minds of the C-suite, but it was firmly relegated to the lower order of business concerns.

At this point, we should pump the breaks and take a wider look at this issue.

Conforming to the basic rules of the society

Milt Friedman said all the stuff above, but he said other things that people opted not to pay as much attention to.

Like, the rest of the quote from above goes on to say…

“...make as much money as possible while conforming to the basic rules of the society, both those embodied in law and those embodied in ethical custom. Of course, in some cases, his employers may have a different objective. A group of persons might establish a corporation for an eleemosynary purpose—for example, a hospital or school. The manager of such a corporation will not have money profit as his objective but the rendering of certain services.”

See he wasn’t all bad. In fact, he frequently wrote about the benefits for all to alleviating poverty and his proudest achievement was his role in eliminating conscription in the United States.

However, most people remember him as the shareholder primacy guy.

Wellness in the workplace stages a comeback

In 2019 the Business Roundtable changed their policy. CEOs from 181 of their member companies the main focus of corporations is not just to serve shareholders, but “to create value for all our stakeholders.” You could argue in some cases, a little more than a year later and it’s hard to see what is exactly different. However, at the same time, the sentiment is there to be acted on. And, thankfully some companies have.

Some CEOs have been saying this for years. In 2009 General Electric’s legendary CEO, Jack Welch said that focusing on shareholder value as your core strategy is “the dumbest idea in the world.” Paul Polman, CEO at Unilever tried to do away with the quarterly shareholders meeting as he would be managing the company for the long term. He encouraged trades to shareholders looking invest for the long term and his company outperformed peers in the 2010s.

The willingness to do the right thing seems to be there, but it’s the companies and their CEOs that still seem to be benefiting. Since the last major crash and recession, stock markets and developed economies have hit new highs of growth and yet

  • Absence cost the Irish economy approx €490 million in 2018.
  • There has also been a 72% increase in mental health issues among Irish employees.
  • In the US 38% of employees said they suffered from excessive pressure in work.
  • This cost the overall US economy $300bn in the absence and medical care.
  • 61% of Americans cite work as their most prevalent cause of stress
  • 85% of employees worldwide are not engaged in their job.

In the face of these statistics, it’s hardly surprising that well-being in the workplace is moving up the agenda.

Enter Covid-19 and Working From Home

In the last decade, there has been massive progress in the fields of neuroscience and behavioural economics (among others). We now have a far better understanding of how we work as people and how we react to other people, our environment and stresses that external factors cause.

Companies have been increasingly bringing these learnings into the workplace when analysing employee performance. There was an acknowledgement that managing people performance involved more than just measuring their output during work hours.

The idea that people bring their whole selves to work is starting to be appreciated in HR processes. Workplace wellness solutions had begun to play a role in managing this balancing act between personal and professional lives.

The global pandemic has fast-tracked the need for a lot of companies to consider more seriously their position on workplace wellness. Prior to Covid-19 employee engagement was already an issue. This problem was compounded with lockdowns, social distancing rules and some companies being forced to have employees working from home.

We’re fed up hearing the stock phrases new normal, unprecedented times and now, more than ever… In truth, things are still finding their equilibrium. It’ll be different but that doesn’t mean it’ll be worse.

And the wellness industry, having grown substantially in recent years as you’ll see below, will be one of the biggest beneficiaries of this change.

How much is the wellness industry worth?

According to the Corporate Wellness Market - Forecast (2020 - 2025) Report by IndustryARC, the global corporate wellness market revenue is $48.41 billion by 2020 and forecasted to grow at a CAGR of more than 5.5% during 2020 to 2025.

As workplace wellness is a relatively new industry, the sector is dwarfed by some of the more established wellness activities like personal care and beauty ($1.1 trillion) and physical activity ($828 billion). You’ll see from the bubble graph below from the Global Wellness Institute that the total global wellness economy is highly interconnected.

The Global Wellness Institute produced the Move to be Well: The Global Economy of Physical Activity report in October 2019. In the report, the Institute outlined how

  • The industry grew by 6.4% per annum annually from 2015–2017, from a $3.7 trillion to a $4.2 trillion market
  • This was nearly twice as fast as global economic growth (3.6% per annum annually, based on IMF data).
  • The total wellness industry now represents 5.3% of global economic output.

With the advent of wearables, technology is a massive driving force in the physical activity economy. The ability to give realtime feedback on movement and work rate is providing companies with new business models and opportunities in the area of wellness.  

Even though the industry is growing faster than the broader economy, the Global Wellness Institute estimates that only 10% of the global workforce have access to workplace wellness programs and services. Naturally, a high concentration of this coverage is the more mature markets of North America and Europe.

While the growth has been impressive, in the general context of people, we’re just treading water. Again, the Global Wellness Institute estimates that chronic disease, work-related injuries and illnesses, work-related stress, and employee disengagement is costing the global economy approximately 10-15% of GDP each year.

What you should do now

If you’re still reading (we hope you are 😉) you’re clearly invested in the idea of wellness for your people and your organisation. And we think you’re on the right track.

Why not take a look at our approach to making workplaces better for everyone - PepTalk Product Overview.

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