Significant progress in employer attitudes has been made over the last decade, with increasing numbers of organisations in the USA, the UK, Australia, Canada and parts of Europe in particular, attempting to prioritise workplace wellbeing. An increase in reporting of mental health issues and levels of absenteeism and presenteeism have been key drivers of efforts during this period, while at the same time, organisations have begun to recognise the value of improving employee wellbeing to the organisation as a whole.
Our experience suggests that this increased focus on workplace wellbeing has been driven partly by the rapid expansion of the personal wellbeing / wellness sector, valued at $4.5 trillion in 2018. Employees are now more aware of the importance of looking after their own wellbeing and have greater expectations of their employers in not only supporting this but actively contributing to it too.
Today, workplace wellbeing initiatives look well beyond traditional health, safety, and rehabilitation programmes, with offerings commonly including fitness promotion; healthy eating; weight management; stress management; health screening; smoking cessation; free fruit; subsidised gym memberships and cycle to work schemes.
However, initiatives continue to focus heavily on health promotion and on individual wellness rather than integrated workplace wellbeing. Sadly, as a result, wellbeing is too often perceived as a cost centre and not a key investment to overall organisational performance.
Many of the individual wellbeing interventions described above have been studied, trialled, and independently piloted as part of academic efforts to better understand workplace wellbeing. We frequently see the results of these studies used to ‘sell’ similar individual interventions to organisations. For example, a study on the impact of smoking may lead a company to evolve a smoking cessation intervention. Whilst this should not be discouraged, the approach is piecemealed and reactive which will limit the possible impact it can have across a whole organisation.
Research into workplace wellbeing has not been limited to the academic domain. Indeed some leading organisations such as Unilever and SAP have invested heavily in wellbeing research, as they seek to understand the issues faced by their workforce and the effectiveness of their workplace wellbeing strategies.
While the body of research into workplace wellbeing has provided some insight into the effectiveness and returns of certain types of interventions, it has not provided a holistic understanding of how the components of wellbeing fit together. This decade of apparently strong progress could be said to have delivered more heat than light, and in some ways the misdirection of focus and spending has increased scepticism that real and sustainable returns on wellbeing investment are achievable.
However, as our whitepaper shows, a focus on strategies that reflect the truly integrated nature of wellbeing in the workplace and align with wider strategic goals (including financial performance) have been shown to deliver extraordinary results. That is why this more integrated approach – Workplace Wellbeing 2.0 – will be the focus for WellWise and other leading workplace wellbeing practitioners and researchers over the next decade.