Why employee well-being is the new bottom line

By Jack Bekhor, CFO of LifeWorks

Technological change, consumer expectations, increased workloads and tighter margins have made the workplace more complex, demanding and stressful.  Combined with personal factors such as lifestyle, financial worries and family issues, poor employee health is something, sooner or later, all companies face.

Put this in the context of the new workplace reality where the lines between work and personal life are increasingly blurred and employers can no longer think that providing health benefits are a nice-to-have optional extra.  Far from it.  There’s a growing mountain of evidence, which business leaders can no longer ignore, that links good employee well-being to improved employee engagement and business performance.

Traditionally, employees are seen as a company’s biggest cost.  They are in fact their biggest asset and profit centre.  A business cannot be competitive if its employees are not fit for work, engaged, focused or productive.  According to Gallup, companies with highly engaged workforces outperform their peers by 147% in earnings per share.  Properly supporting employee well-being is an investment in human capital.

Whilst some forward thinking companies are doing it and reaping the benefits, it’s still a minority. CIPD research earlier this year revealed that just 8% of UK organisations have a standalone well-being strategy that supports the wider organisation strategy, with 61% of organisations being reactive rather than proactive in their approach to well-being.

The majority of businesses are focusing only on employee wellness and not total well-being. They are different; wellness focuses on physical health, whereas total well-being is holistic, integrating the physical, emotional/mental, social and intellectual needs of an individual.  Businesses must change the way they view their employees and see them as human beings, supporting them in both work and life. People’s needs and challenges don’t disappear when they walk through the office door.

Supporting employees’ health is not about free fruit and yoga classes in the office: you need good work practices, management, culture and proactive well-being programmes embedded at the core of a company’s operations for employees to feel valued and supported for their optimum well-being.

The CIPD research referred to a ‘stubborn implementation gap in UK workplaces which is threatening individuals’ health and long term business sustainability’. The cost of this inaction is high – UK companies lose £57 billion in productivity annually due to poor health and well-being.  They also experience 137 million lost work days, 70 million are due to mental health issues alone. Could this be why the UK is trailing at the bottom of G7 and G20 countries on productivity per capita?   And so the evidence mounts.  Only 35% of employees consider themselves fit and healthy.  Some 87% blame their workplace for making them ill and 51% of full-time staff have experienced anxiety or burnout in their job.

Managing employee well-being is risk management. In other parts of the organisation we analyse and address risks to make sure we achieve our business objectives and this should be no different.  Well-being is now a bottom-line issue.  Don’t think cost avoidance, think value creation and it’s time for the C-suite to take charge of it. The most successful organisations are seeing it as a way to gain financial and competitive advantage and integrating it in day to day operations.

The business case for good employee well-being is not new. Think George and Richard Cadbury and their Bourneville Estate.  The fact is that employees thriving in all elements of well-being are healthier, happier, more present and more engaged.  Investing in well-being pays back through better productivity and performance, loyalty, retention and lower sickness absence costs.