Health and wellbeing as currency in the corporate world is gaining in value. It’s a real source of competitive advantage for lean businesses running out of ways to squeeze out efficiency savings. Many companies are also starting to realise and demonstrate the link between a healthy workforce and enhanced engagement, productivity, performance and company culture. But – and it’s a big but – to make a real impact on organisational performance, wellbeing should be integrated into business strategy with buy-in and engagement at senior levels. That means open dialogue with senior leaders, a strong business case and evidence, and a means to measuring ongoing impact, in order to set up that virtuous circle of investment, results and proof for further investment.

Too often HR is restricted to introducing one-off projects and initiatives, which may lead to some glimmers of benefit, but aren’t necessarily going to deliver on the scale and impact that’s required to energise the workforce and truly embed wellbeing into the culture of the organisation. 

To make a solid case to the board, you need to:

1. Provide upfront evidence of specific needs. Hard data is critical – and it’s important to put time into gathering feedback from employees on both their interests and needs in terms of health and wellbeing. If your organisation provides occupational health services, employee assistance programmes or health screenings, then getting access to anonymised data on trends and issues can be useful – to ensure that any initiatives and interventions are relevant, targeted and will have the greatest chance of being embraced by your employees. 

2. Don’t think in terms of a one-size-fits-all approach. Demonstrate your commitment to getting results by focusing on particular needs and how they can be addressed. That might be by geographical location, culture, type of work, age or gender. Many organisations have a diverse workforce so understanding your different audiences and their needs is important to make a meaningful difference.

3. Focus on metrics. Again, it’s all about the data, and any health and wellbeing programme needs to have its own metrics (remedial and preventative). These should be identified at the start of the programme, tracked and measured periodically or by intervention, and they should be relevant in terms of providing evidence of ROI, e.g. reduction in sickness absence, increase in engagement and staff retention. 

4. Think holistically, not just about physical health. The Kamwell model we use with organisations considers physical health in its broadest terms (movement, sleep, nutrition, recovery) and mental wellbeing (psychological, emotional and spiritual); the security of finances; the enjoyment of careers; the quality of relationships; and the contribution employees can make to the community and environment.

5. Invest the time to a develop a wellbeing strategy that will join the dots between what you are already doing, what you want to achieve and industry best practice. Share key highlights regularly with senior leaders so that there is awareness at the highest level. Line manager support and engagement is also a real differentiator in building a successful wellbeing programme that is felt across the whole organisation. Create great role models from your leaders both involving them in your initiatives and also encouraging them to share their personal stories – we are all human after all. Most importantly, ROI from wellbeing programmes does not come from one off events or initiatives. The best results come from having a well thought out strategy, ongoing employee research, a robust communications plan and a long term focus on integrated initiatives and culture change. 

One example of how a large employer turned an initial project, a Wellbeing Fair, into a global wellbeing programme with major board backing is Reed Business Information and its 'Living Well’ programme. Working with Kamwell, they carried out extensive research for the business, including voluntary employee wellbeing surveys (with a 60%+ response rates), health assessments, health coaching and health screenings to understand and identify key priorities areas and health risks (such as obesity, musculoskeletal disorders and risk of diseases such as cancer and heart conditions). Through regular wellbeing interventions, campaigns, and in person events – all supported by the board – RBI has successfully engaged thousands of employees across the globe. A management information dashboard was created to measure and track metrics linked to their objectives and to assess ROI. This showed how sickness absence, occupational health referrals and global staff turnover decreased in 2015; the Employee Opinion survey results and satisfaction improving by 10%, contributing to an increase in employees referring new staff for vacancies; and a doubling in levels of staff involvement in wellbeing events.