Business of Well-being

Advancing Healthy Workplaces Globally: Learning from Global Awards Winners

Corporate wellness has been growing significantly on a global scale over the past decade. While the drivers differ between regions more and more, employers are implementing programs to improve the health and productivity of their employees. The Global Survey on Health Promotion and Workplace Wellness Strategies (Buck Consultants) has documented a steady increase with regard to employers offering programs from 2007 to 2014 using data from 45 countries.

The workplace wellness field has a long tradition in the United States (US) and programs are widespread. Other regions are adopting wellness concepts rapidly, especially in Asia, and further growth is anticipated in the coming years. However, the growth in activity does not always transfer into quality and sustainable programming. For too long specialist disciplines related to workplace health have worked in silos with minimal impact.

This comes at a time when physical workplace hazards, (e.g. asbestos or polluted air) are progressively better monitored and controlled, and therefore health services in the workplace are moving from a traditional occupational health (OH) model to more preventative and lifestyle-related services.

Programs remain fragmented and are not embedded in a business strategy. Especially concerning is the lack of evaluation in order to document effectiveness as well as improve programs. The 2014 edition of the Global Survey showed that only roughly half the respondents measure specific outcomes related to programming efforts.

Global Healthy Workplace Awards

The Global Healthy Workplace Awards program set out three years ago with the goal of promoting healthy workplaces via a systematic and integrated approach (modeled after the World Health Organization Healthy Workplace framework[i]). This includes:

  • Physical work environment
  • Psychosocial working environment
  • Personal health and well-being
  • Corporate social responsibility (CSR)

These areas need to be integrated and advanced by an engaged leadership as well as involved employees. Enterprises from more than 50 countries have applied to the awards program over the last three years, documenting their efforts in the implementation of comprehensive health promotion programs. The global pool of good practices underlines that quality programs can be found across the globe, including Africa and Southeast Asia.

The 2015 Winners & Finalists

Out of applications from 25 countries, six finalists with the highest scoring programs were invited to come to the Global Healthy Workplace in Florianpolis, Brazil in order to present their program to a panel of judges (representing five continents) and to the Summit attendees.

The Summit was co-hosted by the Global Centre for Healthy Workplaces and FIESC/SESI, a non-profit organization whose mission is to promote industrial competitiveness of Brazilian companies and enhance the quality of life of industrial workers in the state of Santa Catarina. The competition this year proved to be particularly stiff and the differences between winners and runners-up were minimal.

The 2015 Global Awards winners are:

Small-Medium Sized Enterprise: Lan Spar Bank, Denmark

Since launching their "Bank in Motion" program in 2009, their revenue has more than tripled, customer satisfaction has improved, and employee sick leave has been reduced from 8 to 4 days per year.

Large Enterprise: Unilever Brazil

Unilever Brazil has adapted Unilever's global health strategy to meet the particular needs of their workforce with great success achieving a positive ROI (return on investment).

Multinational Enterprise: GlaxoSmithKline, UK

GSK introduced the global leadership expectation to release energy, which directs all leaders to accomplish their objectives in a way that fosters healthy, energizing, and inclusive ways of working that do not compromise well-being.

The esteemed runners-up were Naya Jeevan of Pakistan (Small-Medium Enterprise), Vanderbilt University of the United States (Large Enterprise), and Chevron of the United States (Multinational Enterprise).

Challenges for the Future

While hearing from these successful employers is extremely encouraging and useful for other enterprises to learn from challenges abound on a global scale. A global panel of 20 experts from private enterprises, government, international aid organizations, and NGOs at the Global Summit in Brazil identified the following global challenges and trends:

  • The global perspective reflects a broader value proposition

          Employers outside of the US do not have a myopic healthcare cost focus, but are motivated by other drivers such as employee morale, engagement and performance.

  • Healthy workplaces enhance market success

          Investors are beginning to look at the strength of a company's human capital and related health risks as a key metric predicting a safer, more profitable investment.

  • Leadership support is necessary for programmatic success

          This support is needed from C-level executives and top leadership, as well as line managers, who are often the implementers or gate-keepers of employee health and safety  .           programs.

  • More employers need to measure health promotion program outcomes

          With the relevant metrics, employers can find the interventions that work and that work quickly. Numerous metrics to document positive outcomes exist beyond ROI.

  • An enhanced focus on the mental well-being of employees via comprehensive approaches is needed

          A joint report from Buck Consultants and the Global Centre for Healthy Workplaces showed that addressing employee stress is the number one priority for employers across  .           the globe. Individualistic approaches like stress management and resilience programs have limited effectiveness and organizational approaches towards psychosocial risk  .           management are necessary.

  • Physical disabilities often result in mental health issues

          Employee safety and employee health are inextricably linked and corresponding programs need to be integrated.

  • Promising opportunities to improve employee health and safety in emerging markets exist

          Inter-sectoral partnerships across different ministries in the government, private companies, and NGOs can form a powerful advocacy group for worker health and productivity           that leads to synergistic gains in the success of these programs.

About the Authors

For more information on the Global Summit (including slides, videos and profiles) as well as the Global Centre for Healthy Workplaces go to

Wolf Kirsten is co-Director of the Global Centre for Healthy Workplaces and President of International Health Consulting (

Samantha Attard, PhD is a Wellness Coach & Nutrition Consultant based in Washington, DC (


[i] Although the Global Healthy Workplace Awards (GHWA) is currently based on the Healthy Workplace Framework and the Healthy Workplaces Model for Action developed by WHO, WHO has not been associated with the creation of the GHWA in any manner whatsoever and therefore disclaims any and all liability and responsibility that may arise as a result of or in connection with the organisation and hosting of the GHWA, including the assessment of the applications and designation of the finalists and winners thereof. The use of the WHO Healthy Workplaces Model for Action does not imply endorsement or recommendation by WHO in any manner whatsoever of any of the organisers, sponsors, participants, finalists and winners and does not imply expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of WHO on the content of the GHWA.

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