As a rising HR trend, wellbeing serves to remind top executives of the biological and psychological needs of people in organisations. Both leaders and HR functions find wellbeing important but face solid barriers to introducing well-designed and long-term wellbeing programs. Considering business metrics such as the return-on-investment/value on investment (ROI/VOI) mix can help companies prioritise wellbeing and allocate resources to manage this field in a strategic and measurable way.
When I was studying in the US we had long discussions about the supremacy of communications over marketing and why public relations needed to have a seat at the C-suite table. The PR function – as incredible as it may sound – had been claimed to be the conscience of the organisation, existing to remind goal-driven executives of their impact on society, the environment and employees.
Which function today serves as the conscience of the organisation in its relations with employees?
The function which is traditionally responsible for employee relations is HR. There are nevertheless limitations to allowing exclusive ownership of wellbeing to the HR function. The first reason is that often it does not have a say in corporate decision-making, nor an ability to take company-wide transformative initiatives. Secondly, the HR profile requires skills in administrative work which radically differ from the competences needed to create visionary programmes. As it becomes obvious that there is a growing need to address wellbeing as a rising trend, the HR function faces work overload which makes it reluctant to take on any additional tasks. In one company, HR employees would lock the doors to their office to perform conceptual work and would not allow internal clients to be served on the spot. In another company, employees of the HR department fear that they would soon have to be “taken away in wheelbarrows” if they decided to undertake any one single action in addition to their basic work. Of course what they had to cut off was a wellbeing programme. In that very same company there had been two heart incidents due to pressure and overwork in the previous two weeks prior to my conversation.
Work overload and lack of C-suite leadership engagement in driving employee wellbeing may in turn create a temptation for HR departments to take shortcuts by selecting easy solutions like wellbeing applications or platforms. Even though this choice may be a first step in a noble direction, it cannot be considered sustainable in the long term as a stand-alone offering. Wellbeing 4.0 does not mean removing humans from the process of creating wellbeing, but supporting humans in performing it. Automated solutions cannot replace human interventions with the same end result. Instead, they’re perfect in supporting change sustainability.
Needs analysis and employee engagement in the co-creation of wellbeing programmes is crucial to their success. Without proper diagnosis, we do not know what problems or challenges we need to address with a wellbeing intervention, what results to expect, nor how to prove that we have achieved them with wellbeing. Consequently, employees may not be able to appreciate a given wellbeing initiative, as it simply would not respond to their deepest needs. And without understanding the business case behind wellbeing, company leaders may consider it as a unimportant perk and be reluctant to allocate budgets for addressing sustainable lifestyle and workstyle change.
The question about the business case behind wellbeing is really one about finding an answer to the 'why' we wish to engage in wellbeing and what outcomes we expect to get out of it. Among the multiple business metrics like cost-effectiveness or break-even analysis, there are two key points of entry in considering the implementation of an employee wellbeing programme from a business perspective. In one of them the end result is creating value measured with VOI, in the second – cost prevention measured with ROI. Value on Investment addresses the intangible value which contributes to overall corporate performance such as knowledge, skills, habits, engagement, retention or organisational culture. Return on Investment refers to the ratio of money invested compared to the money saved – on stress- or spine-related medical leave prevention based on pre/post intervention measurement and trend analysis. The first is value-driven, the second is based on financials. A comprehensive approach combines both metrics in defining the success of a wellbeing programme and ought to be addressed at its design stage. I highly encourage this C-suite level strategic thinking about wellbeing programmes and strategies. Measurement requires reflection and effort, while measuring intangibles has natural limitations, but adopting a business mindset seems to be necessary if we want to create well-designed and effective wellbeing programmes which bring sustainable and measurable change in people’s quality of life.
The rise of the wellbeing concept serves as organisational conscience in employee relations. It highlights the biological and psychological needs of people in organisations. In times of a vivid redefinition of what the modern workplace stands for, wellbeing becomes a boardroom topic for those companies which want to stand out and stay ahead of their competitors. For some – like in IT or where there is a predominance of Y and Z generations, addressing wellbeing may be crucial not only for the business to thrive, but also to survive. There is therefore a growing need for wellbeing to be owned by company leaders, not the HR function alone. Moving from one-off initiatives to wellbeing strategy is necessary to achieve extraordinary results and ignite cultural change which will benefit employees and the employer. To achieve this, it's necessary to deploy a mix of tools which will help create the desired result, without limiting the actions to equipping employees with a stand-alone wellbeing platform or application. Developing excellent talent attraction and retention rates, as well as outstanding work effectiveness through wellbeing provides savings and creates value which leads to improved overall corporate performance. Managing wellbeing means additionally being able to prove the effectiveness of wellbeing interventions through business metrics.