Ralph Waldo Emerson says ‘The first wealth is health’. Have you ever asked yourself: ‘What does it mean to me to be healthy?’ I certainly have, having struggled with a number of health issues over the years and taking my time to finally reach a point where I can say I feel healthy, I have often along the way, stopped to consider what it really means to be healthy. I have also been considering what is required in order to remain healthy!
I discovered that being healthy and remaining healthy require far more than just ‘being free from illness or injury’ – as the Oxford Dictionary defines health. It doesn’t only mean not having to go to the doctor or perhaps not having to take medication, it’s so much more than that.
Here’s where the World Health Organisation puts their finger on it. On their website’s frequently asked questions and in their report WHO and wellbeing at work, they clearly state that “Wellbeing is a keyword in the WHO definition of health: ‘a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.’
The Oxford Dictionary defines wellbeing as the “state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy.” I’m not sure why it should be either or! I feel that to be truly healthy is really to have all things in your life in balance and to be enjoying life, living it with a sense of purpose and passion (doing what you really want to do) each day, achieving goals that you set for yourself. It means being able to just have a good laugh at times, have fun and feel that real zest for being alive.
So, what does this all have to do with companies? Well numerous studies, including the Discovery Healthy Company Index, have found that when employees achieve a state of wellbeing they are far more engaged, work better in teams and naturally become more productive. And in order for employees to achieve this state of wellbeing they need the help and support of their employers. This is because employees spend such a large amount of their time working for their employers.
A recent report on The Future of Employee Engagement informs us that employee wellbeing programmes first started coming onto the scene in the late 1990s and early 2000s. They became almost a necessity in order to stop or slow down exponentially rising healthcare expenses. They just haven’t been all that effective but, instead of terminating them or writing them off, which may be a quick easily made mistake, we need to rather ask why they haven’t worked and start evolving them.
As Harvard Business Review pointed out ‘the success of wellness plans…comes down to how they’re designed and executed’. And in a recent article in the FT How companies can intervene to transform workplace health, we are shown how more and more organisations are placing a high priority on employee wellbeing because of the knock-on benefits they receive.
Here are just a couple of these benefits noted internationally:
• Wellness Councils of America, citied in Cloete (2015) reflected an average return on investment of approximately $3 US for every $1 spent.
• A UK study reflected a saving of approximately £60 000 per annum for an organization of 500 people.
In South Africa:
• The Discovery Healthy Company Index tells us that “South Africans suffer an 11.4% loss in working days due to suboptimal health, which equates to 25 working days per employee…When compared to the UK, SA employers have a 2.3% higher productivity loss rate due to employees being unhealthier and taking more sick days.”
• The report translates the cost of illness/injury per employee per year to be R10 000.
• iFacts who perform employee screening and vetting services say that to replace an employee can cost between 16 and 213% of the annual salary of that employee.
With great employee wellbeing programmes in place these costs could be avoided and greater productivity achieved.
There are definitely exciting developments taking place as we see with Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JP Morgan teaming up to disrupt healthcare and Apple setting up its AC Wellness Subsidiary.
The market is evolving from health and wellness to one of wellbeing. Great health is still a key goal, but so is being financially healthy, reducing stress and improving work-life balance. This new wave of emphasis is set to continue into the future as organisations start evolving their wellness programmes into wellbeing programmes, and start formally measuring and reporting back in fun and new ways on the financial benefits realised.
Wellbeing can become a fantastic “win-win-win-win” situation for investors, employers, employees and communities.