By Thierry Malleret, economist and founder, Monthly Barometer
By Thierry Malleret, economist and founder, Monthly Barometer

A wellness issue to watch is workplace wellness. In the U.S., workplace wellness programs have become a strategic priority. A recent survey reports that 35 percent of U.S. employers have come to the conclusion that such programs are effective at controlling health costs, compared with 22 percent saying the same about disease management and 20 percent about consumer-driven health plan design.

In addition, a growing amount of anecdotal evidence shows that workplace wellness is gaining a lot of traction globally. Nestlé, observing that absence caused by ill health costs 2.5 percent of the company’s total payroll, and Unilever, claiming that it recoups €6 for every € invested in health programs, are two among the many global companies now arguing that it is their duty to help people stay healthy and promote healthier living.

The benefits are indeed manifold: (1) it improves productivity, (2) it decreases the cost of absenteeism and presenteeism, (3) it leads to higher staff retention, and (4) may even improve investor confidence and stock market performance (according to some studies).

Contrary to the past when wellness programs were very directive and focused on managers telling their employees what they needed to do, the trend among employers is now to take a more holistic approach to their employees’ wellbeing. Holistic means that wellness programs now combine physical wellbeing, emotional wellbeing, mental wellbeing, financial wellbeing and even social wellbeing, with a strong emphasis on mindfulness.

A related issue to which global companies and public organizations are increasingly paying attention is presenteeism: employees coming to work while being unwell, and therefore, not performing or under-performing. For obvious reasons, this is something very difficult to measure, but insurance companies tend to conclude that it is much more common than absenteeism in every economic sector. According to a British study, in the UK media industry, 0.6 percent of time is lost to absenteeism versus 7.4 percent lost to presenteeism. In the UK public sector, the figures are respectively 1.4 percent and 12.3 percent. 

2 thoughts on “Workplace Wellness is now a Strategic Priority in the U.S.”

  1. I completely agree with you, Lee-Ann. I often say that it does little good to support individuals in adopting healthy behaviors at work if they just go back into a toxic work environment! Key factors of wellbeing are found in the workplace culture and operations, workplace design, the mission/vision and values of the organization, the leadership, teams … So a holistic approach–one that includes factors from multiple levels, i.e. individual, workgroup, and organization–is vital for advancing wellbeing at work.

    Last year, the Global Wellness Institute sponsored significant research along these lines. You may find the resulting Future of Wellness at Work report useful; (See the first report at this link.)

    And, you can find highlights from the report here:

  2. This is great to see however it appears to lack a comprehensive approach to employee health and wellness. You cannot just focus on individuals. A comprehensive workplace approach also considers how the physical work environment impacts health (from a health & safety perspective as well as construction and design perspective) along with organizational culture, policies and practices. Most people know that they need to eat healthy, be active, not smoke, have adequate sleep, save for the future, etc. but if you are working in a call centre located in an industrial area with lots of traffic and little nature, where you are seated all day in a room with poor ventilation and no windows, the cafeteria serves fries, burgers, soda and other high fat calorie rich foods and there are no fridges or microwaves to support staff to bring their own food to work – those staff will have many more challenges and barriers facing them because they work in an unhealthy environment. Holistic wellness programs is just one component of a strategic approach to workplace wellness.

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