We asked wellness thought leaders around the world for their views on the current state of workplace wellness, and their thoughts on the future. While there are expected similarities, we found different regions and different cultures can influence perspectives significantly.
The benefits of Health and Wellness programs are still seen by the majority of European employers as primarily efficiency-related. But a change may be in the works. In Ireland, where unemployment is almost non-existent, many feel that health and wellness programs should be an almost mandatory part of the employer offering.
Brian Crooke, founder of Office Worker Health, a corporate wellness company, stated that in such a highly competitive labor market, senior management's engagement in wellness programs will significantly increase in the next three years. "Employers will need to offer well-being programs and flexible work options in order to attract and retain talent," predicts Crooke.
Kevin McPartlan of Ibec, Ireland's largest lobby group representing Irish business and founder of the KeepWellMark national workplace well-being accreditation program, commented that "retention" is currently the top health and wellness priority.
He adds that corporate momentum for wellness programs however, will be dependent on the realization by senior managers that return on investment from well-being initiatives is not just about reduction in sick-absence, but also includes "increased employee engagement and commitment to the employer, improved corporate reputation, enhanced employer of choice status, reduced staff turnover, and a more motivated team."
And he's positive that the rate of increase in senior management interest in wellness programs shows no signs of slowing, "Investment of time, energy, effort and resources on workplace well-being is increasing year on year."
In Mexico, the top health and wellness priority for employers is "prevention", followed by "engagement" and then "cost savings".
Fernando Nunez, Operations Manager for Brain Move, a Mexico-based wellness provider, feels that although there is a general interest in health and well-being in the more established professional community, there is a need to help companies understand that benefits can be measured.
But more importantly, to increase senior management engagement in wellness programs, a shift is needed to "help companies understand that they have a direct responsibility for their employees' well-being."
Many North American corporate leaders seem to understand the need to incorporate "wellness", but often lack the commitment. Surprisingly, the top health and wellness priority for employers in the US was listed as "saving on healthcare costs", followed by "productivity".
Laura Putnam, CEO and Founder of Motion Infusion, a US-Based wellness company, states, "There are exceptions but generally speaking, some leaders don't truely care if their employees are healthy and well." But she acknowledges there are some positive developments with some American companies.
"Scott McGohan of McGohan Brabender offers a corporate environment where employees are engaged. He genuinely cares about his people and people are engaged as a result."
Putnam's optimism gets a boost from two trends. She's noticed growing awareness about the importance of culture, where people are asking "Am I healthier because of my work? Or less?" In addition, she mentions the growing awareness that "wellness is more than stopping smoking, losing weight and biometrics. It's about helping people to live a better life."
Pamela Dempster of Dempster Wellness, a Canada-based wellness company, also points to the issue that the top employee health and wellness priorities are "engagement" and "costs". She believes Senior Management have a genuine interest in employee well-being but that in the future, more information and education will be required to help them understand the importance of further developing Employee Wellness Programs, especially those offered onsite.
The other side of the coin is that a greater understanding of "employee motivation" will need to be realized if there is going to be a shift in the future. "Managers may think that offering Wellness Portals or discounted gym memberships is employee wellness. Life usually gets in the way of good intentions."
According to Dempster, developing and offering onsite wellness services and programs ensures that the employees are not only receiving health and wellness information, but taking advantage of those sessions and services, as well.
In Australia, it's encouraging that corporate leaders are increasingly concerned about creating a workplace that is mentally healthy, and subsequently, free of injury. According to Kristina Dalgleish of Health at Work, a leading provider of innovative corporate health and well-being services in Australia, senior management is becoming more involved in employee well-being programs, due to increased pressure from management and employees.
"This pressure is a win-win as senior management are motivated to become more involved, looking at courses and workshops on how to improve employee wellness and incorporate programs that work. They do this because it's becoming increasingly more competitive to be ranked as an 'employer-of-choice'," says Dalgleish.
In the Middle East, the top priority for health and wellness for employers was listed as "engagement", followed by "retention" and "prevention". However, the momentum in interest is a response to initiatives by the government and insurer initiatives that promote prevention and tackle chronic disease.
According to Robin Ali of Consilient, an advisory services firm and wellness manager in the United Arab Emirates, "take up is low, skepticism is high, and there is a fixation on costs rather than savings." Even a slightly optimistic outlook is cost driven, " as some insurers promote (wellness) schemes as a means of containing health insurance premium increases."
Ali feels that one of their biggest obstacles is mobility of the workforce, as expatriates account for up to 85 per cent of the region's employee base in the UAE and around half in other countries. As a result, "this leaves employers little incentive to invest in health and wellness of their employees for the long term."
So where is wellness now? While cost savings is still included in the top three priorities from some of our global respondents, the need to retain employees is shifting focus onto employee satisfaction and engagement.
In some areas, there's still a stubborn desire on the part of senior managers to measure the success of wellness programs with traditional financial models, avoiding less tangible metrics such as workplace satisfaction and employee well-being.
But a change in boardroom attitudes toward wellness is seen as inevitable worldwide. As Putnam so aptly sum it up, " There are too many serious mental health crises impacting everyone. It's real and happening at every level. This will force leaders to focus on mental health, and wellness."
About the Author
Anne Marie Kirby is the founder and CEO of CoreHealth Technologies - a leading corporate wellness platform trusted by wellness providers for 3+ million employees worldwide.