employee well being and office wellness

The value of employee well-being, for offices that want to do well

“People are your most valuable asset” is an old saw, to say the least — but it’s one with new teeth, thanks to recent Gallup research. The new findings point to the critical importance of investing in your employees’ health and well-being if you’re going to attract, manage, and retain this critical asset.

Their health is your health

The physical health of your workforce is the logical place to start — and it’s also a major issue in the modern office. Ninety-percent of workers have at least one chronic health condition, resulting in a loss of 44 work days annually, per 1000 employees. This makes employee access to healthcare essential, with productivity gains helping offset insurance costs.

Chronic conditions aside, the common cold and seasonal flu are also major issues — particularly in open offices, where the lack of walls and close grouping of employees facilitates the spread of germs. As a result, absenteeism produces four missed days of work per employee every year, and “presenteeism” (coming to work when sick) exacerbates absenteeism while also undercutting productivity while in the office. Effective hand hygiene programs, including employee training and the provision of adequate hand washing and cleansing products, are an absolute must for preventing the transmission of germs and viruses.

But what does “well-being” really mean to your employees?

As the Gallup report found, physical health is just one dimension of the total well-being today’s employees desire. The study identifies five categories companies need to address: physical health, a connection to purpose at work, supportive relationships, financial stability, and sense of community at their office.

Employees actively look for signs that employers are addressing each area in a meaningful and integrated way. They respond positively to wellness-centered design, whether that means sit-stand desks, ample natural light or the ability to work (or take breaks) outside in pleasing, natural spaces. They take note of the quality of health insurance and the breadth of coverage, including mental health services. And they also look for formal wellness programs, which may include elements such as on-site fitness clubs, flexible scheduling, remote working (for work-life balance) and coaching in stress-reduction and mindfulness. Employees even consider professional training opportunities as part of their over-all well-being, as those contribute to their sense of purpose and satisfaction at work, along with a reassurance of job and financial stability via increased expertise or certification in new technologies.

Well-being provides a wealth of benefits

All of the above does come at a cost to employers — but these are better looked at as investments rather than expenses, the return on which can be found in:

  • Improved hiring: The Gallup report showed that “greater work-life balance and personal well-being is very important” to more than half of employees overall, and would be reason to switch employers, especially among younger workers
  • Improved productivity: It’s only common sense that when employees feel better physically, they concentrate better and can be more productive. But well-being can also produce uncommon savings; research from the WELL Building Institute shows that offices created in accordance with their wellness standards can yield as much as a 21% increase in productivity per worker
  • Improved employee retention: Nearly half of millennials are more likely to stay at a company that improves their career prospects via training. Companies with higher employee engagement see 59% lower turnover rates. Considering that replacing a salaried employee costs on average six to nine months salary, investing in well-being programs that improve these and other elements of retention is more than worth the money.

Wellness isn’t an initiative — it’s a culture

There is, however, one commonly missing piece that prevents wellness from becoming well-embedded in offices: the commitment to make it core to your culture, not just an HR program. This is a commitment that must start at the very top. As Gallup concludes, “Leaders have to create cultures that reflect the wants and needs of the modern workforce, regardless of job type or industry. They must give employees a reason to choose them, stay with them and perform at their best.”

Today’s employees want and need a true, holistic, satisfying sense of well-being. The winning companies will be those who provide that.

Work Design: Workplace trend predictions
Work Design: The Dollars and Sense of Well-Being
Forbes: Well-being initiatives that will boost engagement and productivity
Undercover Recruiter: The value of wellness in the workforce
Gallup: State of the American Workplace
Gallup: Employees need high well-being for high-performance