Sick of Wellness

May 10, 2016

There's a lot of chatter in HR and management circles on this topic - the latest flavor of the month or is it a worthwhile management tool? Our view is that in almost any business when appropriately applied the concept can add value.

The theory behind employee wellness is that improving the health and general well being of employees will lead to lower benefit costs, absenteeism, and increased engagement.

There are three contexts in which the term is used most frequently:

Employee Benefits - like most "new" ideas wellness is not new and has its origins in the early days of high medical inflation when employers first attempted to contain specific costs through prevention e.g. smoking cessation, exercise, weight loss, and more recently stress reduction.

Insurance companies and other providers saw an opportunity with both domestic and overseas workforces to introduce global solutions. While these have the advantage of demonstrating equitable treatment it is questionable whether universal application is focused enough on local practice to produce real benefits. ROI for example would be perceived to be less in locations with socialized medical systems. Employees too have not perceived an attraction with disappointing enrollment levels.

Engagement - demographics are shifting and millennial employees entering the workforce bring a greater awareness of the benefits of good health and seek customization to meet their personal needs often outside the constraints of an employer's plan.

The millennial workforce view work as a commodity and are more likely to have concurrent multiple employers or a series of short term engagements and perceive only frustration with healthcare tied to an employer which in time, is likely to lead to employees seeking to establish benefit arrangements detached from their employer. 

In overseas markets the "millennial effect" may not yet be as pronounced but other less complex factors can have a greater effect on wellbeing. 

Productivity - we are all familiar with legislation that dependent upon the country to a greater or lesser degree requires employers to protect the health and safety of their workers. The benefits are visible and tangible. Wellness in this context needs to be thought of in the same way; changing employee work environments that may cause absenteeism but more importantly, cause employees to be less productive while at work. In some markets these can be as simple as the timing and frequency of bathroom breaks.

While employee benefits costs and engagement will also benefit wellbeing initiatives should be unrelated and aimed at productivity. Benefits can be found in work conducted in offices as well as factories or mines and whether work is sedentary, physical, or repetitive. 

These are fact based analyses that can produce significant results. Indicators that a study is necessary are productivity and engagement being less than expected, but maintenance reviews may also prove beneficial when there are no indicators. Proven experts such as Lisa Beichl at Transparent Borders need to be involved. Her remarkable case studies can be viewed through the link with solutions that transcend traditional insurance company offerings.

Next time, before you zone out on this topic consider the tangible and intangible benefits that might stem from a well-workplace review. You are going to need data and deeper than employee benefits claims, but results could head off a broken workplace and improve performance. Happier and healthier employees better situated, will help grow your business.

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