The words health, well-being, and wellness are showing up everywhere.
At my local grocery store, the health foods aisle has been re-branded to “Health & Well-being.” And you can now take your pooch to a Pet Wellness Centre for acupuncture, massages, and other alternative therapies.
In the corporate world, employee well-being is trending up. Organisations like SAP are investing significant time and money into innovative and non-traditional employee benefits like corporate mindfulness programs.
It’s important to understand that well-being is related to, but different from, healthcare
Healthcare is focused on medical services provided by physicians, pharmacists, dentists, etc. Well-being focuses on behavioural and mental health practices such as stress management, exercise, nutrition, and sleep. It’s about developing positive behavioural habits and emotional states.
The rise of the chief wellness officer
Titles like chief wellness officer or employee well-being manager are becoming more common as organisations realise that a holistic approach is required to attract, retain, and engage today’s best talent.
Traditionally, these kinds of roles have been part of the occupational health and safety function, which (for better or worse) has focused much more on safety than health. However, today’s emphasis on employee well-being goes beyond reducing healthcare costs and preventing accidents to take a more holistic and long-term view.
To be of real value, corporate well-being programs must provide more than fruit in the kitchen and reduced gym membership costs. They must address the full spectrum of physical, mental, and emotional well-being.
With 63.4% of Australian adults overweight or obese, the cost of obesity on Australia’s health system has been estimated at close to $50 billion. For organisations with a largely office-bound workforce, sitting has been called “the new smoking” in terms of its impacts on physical health.
Life spans have nearly doubled in the last century and people born today can expect to live to 100 or 110 in many countries. That means people will be working into their 70s, 80s, and beyond – which will require new ways of working and a different emphasis on health at work.
Untreated mental health conditions cost Australian workplaces around $11 billion per year according to Beyondblue’s 2014 State of Workplace Mental Health in Australia report.
The World Health Organisation has called stress the global health epidemic of the 21st century.
One in five Australians have taken time off work in the past 12 months because they felt stressed, anxious, depressed, or mentally unhealthy. That figure jumps to 46% among those who consider their workplace mentally unhealthy.
Happy employees perform better and are more productive. And because emotions are contagious, there’s a ripple effect; happy and healthy employees positively affect the culture, reputation, and brand of the organisation.
An extensive study by Google found that the best performing teams are those that demonstrate psychological safety – where the team culture is “characterised by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves.”
The impact of an unhealthy workforce or workplace culture goes beyond the employee because people tend to take stress home with them. In our “always on” culture, and with one-third of Australians regularly working from home, improving employees’ lives at work will have a positive impact on partners, family, children, and society.
What’s the role of mindfulness in employee well-being programs?
That’s because mindfulness practices have been shown to increase well-being, creativity, and collaboration, while reducing stress.
For employee well-being programs to be truly effective, they must provide people with simple tools they can use every day that are easy to build into their routine. Mindfulness practices don’t need special equipment, are available to anyone anytime, and require minimal training.
What about the role of technology?
There’s no shortage of technology to support and enable corporate well-being programs. In Bersin by Deloitte’s list of the top 10 HR technology disruptions for 2018, number seven is the “exploding” well-being market.
Most wellness programs on the market today fail because they strictly focus on the physical health and do not address the needs of the whole person.
There’s also a risk that technology can contribute to, rather than mitigate, the sense of overwhelm at work by adding even more devices, systems, and apps.
If it’s to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem, technology needs to be simple, easy, non-intrusive, and relevant to the individual.
This is just the beginning – expect much more in 2018 in ways that human capital management technology can be used to support employee health and well-being, and ultimately help people be happier and healthier at work.
To learn how affective computing can help your organization, read the feature story Empathy: The Killer App for Artificial Intelligence.