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Why A Wellbeing Strategy Demands A Board Level Priority

Why A Wellbeing Strategy Demands A Board Level Priority

Debate is rife that the 'Roosevelt' recession will soon become the 'Obama recession'. Whatever is happening at a political level there is still a real risk that the wellness, corporate health, HR Strategy, ProductivityUnited States can slip into the recession this year. Stagnating growth is demanding the most out of employers keen to prevent the economy from rolling backwards. Though, there is good news on the HR front. In May job vacancies has risen for more than three years. However the pace of finding the right candidate for the vacancy is the slowest known since 2007 when the sub prime crash began, according to an analysis of Labor Department data by economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, the Booth School of Business and the University of Maryland.

While finding a good candidate is a continuing challenge, employers can also expect job candidates will closely vet employers to make the smartest move. Job hunters who desire to switch roles, who have worked contracts or those millions who are moving from unemployment the need to flourish into the ‘right’ environment can often be just as vital as simply engaging in work. Candidates not only take into the wage available but also the company’s philosophy, proximity to family, philanthropic leanings and attitude to their health and wellbeing.

Equally, with firms of all sizes struggling to retain their edge in an unstable economy, more can be done by them to increase the perception and brand value of a company to staff, and of the staff to the company outcomes. Both the financial and psychological contracts conducted by each party have significant ramifications for business outcomes and long-term labour prospects.

Where there are poor working environments, unconvincing leadership and unethical management practices workers can turn from doing good jobs towards the risk of developing stress-related illnesses, depression and even burn-out. Those staff who silently suffer due to debt worries, lack of exercise or bereavement risk further pressures on their productivity. Unproductive or un-compliant staff present a corporate burden. The result is that the company suffers both through reduced productivity and potentially compromised contracts. Firms can also be hit with the costs associated with rehiring and potential medical law suits. Furthermore, the long-tail impact means the economy suffers.

Answer: tying in a wellbeing strategy in at a corporate board level could be the equivalent of invisibly increasing stock market prices. By locking in a supportive culture organizations provide themselves with a stronger staff retention net. With companies and managers adopting a new philosophy that they must all pull together to ride out the economic storm wellbeing as a concept is less about tactics traditionally found in employee benefits programs such as gym discounts, travel to work schemes and free fruit for staff.  

The 21st century C-suite must realize that a wellbeing strategy is closely linked the following strategic business drivers:

  • the war for talent
  • compliance and risk management
  • sustaining high performers
  • productivity and absence control
  • defining a wellbeing culture: part of brand 
  • the cost of ill health provision 

In a reverse virtuous circle a strong wellbeing strategy will not only protect staff but also means wellbeing is monitored and addressed in a structured and constructive manner. It will limit the affect from medical surcharges or insurance costs. It delivers better and tangible productivity levels which in turn support the economy. It’s about being proactive, and leading from the front. And there is already good news in that almost 70 percent of employers will provide employer sponsored healthcare when the Affordable Care Act starts next year.

Over the last decade organizations have proactively built a business case and embraced from the top-level down a wellbeing strategy to improve brand as well as promote a better workplace. A wellbeing strategy has become the ‘new normal’. Taking a pro-active senior management board perspective to wellbeing also stacks up against a set of compelling, yet alarming, set of macro health statistics. Back to the UK example.

The United Kingdom’s National Health Service is currently being scaled back. The latest figures show that 2.8 million people die of obesity every year. 80,000 people die as a result of smoking related illnesses. 1 in six UK staff have mental health problems. Worringly, nearly 50% percent of UK population is estimated to be obese by 2030. Already 33% is the percentage of smokers who feel too stressed to quit, and 12.3% the percentage of company locations able to give number of employees reporting stress. The effect is  £1.4 bn ($2.1 bn USD) cost of productivity losses lost in cigarette breaks. Overall the damage amounts to a  £30 bn ($40.6 bn USD) total cost to the United Kingdom’s economy. 

Taking into account these health figures the US is doing no better. Sixty-one percent of the country's adults are considered overweight or obese, and 70% are sedentary either at the home or worksite. The average American spends 600 hours a year in a car. The statistic accounts for about 7% of an individual's lifespan.

While it is usually integrated into an HR policy an occupational and wellbeing strategy must be shared by the board level members in order to communicate that it is part of a fundamental ethos delivered by a company which cares deeply about its reputation, its growth and its staff. Preventing staff wellbeing issues, as well as catering for them, is a proactive and responsible high level business strategy. 

Every company benefits from the right mix of people, by having a multi-talented and fully integrated team with reaches their full potential  - and can take the firm to greater levels of success.


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Laura Abrar blogs regularly on HR and business issues, and works alongside leading OH provider Corporate Health

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