Health & Wellbeing News: Guest Blog: The ROI of Wellbeing

All being well

Rebekah Haymes, Health and Benefits Senior Consultant at Willis Towers Watson, examines the value investment of employee wellbeing initiatives and the health risk data that holds the key to their success.

“Employee health risks can come in many guises and measuring return on investment (ROI) for workplace health and wellbeing initiatives is far from an exact science.

This is particularly true for UK companies where the business drivers for such initiatives tend to be less defined than they are for many of their counterparts in other world markets, notably those operating in the US, Latin America or the Asia-Pacific regions.

This can present something of a challenge and a focus on measurable, bottom line, ROI as the principal catalyst for investment in wellbeing programmes can consequently be regarded as a flawed strategy – albeit one that is all too often adopted by c-suite decision-makers. While commitments to improving productivity and employee engagement are fundamental business tenets, for example, many factors can have an influence on these metrics.

The route to employee productivity and engagement

Ultimately, there is fundamental recognition that wellness supports sustainable engagement and that a healthy employee is a productive employee. This assertion has even been endorsed by the Government. In its report ‘Does workplace wellbeing affect workplace performance’ the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills tells of “a prima facie case for employers to consider investing in the wellbeing of their employees on the basis of the likely performance benefits”.

The assertion has been further supported by Willis Towers Watson’s research. Its Global Workforce Study has revealed employers that invest in supporting employee health and confidence in their financial well-being achieve a substantial return for stakeholders. Indeed, where it has been possible to successfully measure, the ROI tied to employee productivity, talent management and public image can be between two and four times higher for these organisations.

Companies that look to drive productivity improvements by increasing workloads and by putting staff under pressure to work longer hours can, ironically, achieve the opposite by creating higher levels of workplace stress, increased incidents of stress-related absence and reduced employee energy levels.

The study showed that workers who consider their employer to have a strong culture of health, regard them as also having a good reputation and are better able to attract and retain high-quality employees. In fact, the ability to hire highly qualified employees was considered to be almost three times more favourable.

Employees’ sedentary lifestyles, obesity, stress and health are inextricably entwined with healthcare costs and having a healthy workforce can give employers that all-important competitive advantage.

A spotlight on health risk data

The driver for any health and wellbeing strategy should consequently begin with an understanding of existing health-related business data. This data, which should include sickness-absence, benefit cost and claims metrics, holds the key to understanding organisational health risks and the extent to which these risks can be alleviated by changes in employee behaviour.

With such business intelligence at employers’ fingertips, initiatives can be carefully targeted where they are most needed and where they will most effectively support wider corporate goals. This is where the value investment for employee wellbeing truly lies.

According to Willis Towers Watson’s Staying@Work Survey however, a third (33 per cent) of UK employers cited a lack of actionable data to support targeted outreach as being a significant obstacle to bringing about behavioural changes among employees. It should also be noted that without such data to underpin well-defined goals, it will invariably become difficult to obtain leadership support, to set budgets and to obtain the necessary resources for a successful wellness strategy.

More often than not, health risk data will be available, but difficulties in accessing it can arise when it is held within silos across different parts of an organisation. This might be overcome by engaging all relevant business departments and stakeholders –  including the HR and finance teams, health and safety representatives, external service providers and intermediaries, physiotherapists, in-house occupational health physicians and communications professionals – within a ‘centralised’ health and wellbeing committee to share information.

An individual must ultimately be tasked, with taking ownership of employee wellbeing and for the data acquisition, collation and analytics. This will usually fall under the remit of HR.

There is no data ‘holy grail’. It’s about looking at what you have at your disposal and making use of it to paint a picture of where the business health risks lie. Time and resource demands on employers may call for specialist consultancy to help facilitate this process, to advise on the most appropriate approach and to help establish a sustained wellness roadmap.”