HEALTHY WORKSTYLES : Wellness – The Tangible Business Benefits

Smart business leaders today recognise the increasing importance of health and wellbeing, not only as an important component of their HR and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) agendas, but as core business issue.
In order to ensure its ongoing success, being able to demonstrate clear return on investment to senior management will be crucial. Like any aspect of business, you need to be able to show that investing in staff health and wellbeing is going to deliver tangible business benefits, as opposed to it simply being ‘the right thing to do’.
The key to success is ongoing and effective measurement. So when investing in workplace wellness initiative – regardless of its size – you need to decide up front what success looks like to your business and how you will measure it.
Before conducting formal assessment, you might already feel improvements could be made to areas within your organisation. For example, you may notice an increase in staff sick days at certain stressful days of the year, or staff attrition may be higher than desired.
To figure out whether these trends are related to the health of your employees, one of the first things to do is undertake needs analysis. This can provide snapshot of the current health of your organisation, and establish KPIs to compare against future performance.
KPIs could be anything from absenteeism, physical health indices such as body mass index and blood pressure, behavioural indices such as smoking cessation rates, feedback from training and internal communications and staff surveys which cover employee engagement and satisfaction scores.
Once you have done this, you may want to clarify the initial objectives for the programme, and prioritise those you want to address immediately versus the less pressing issues which you may want to consider in later years.
Once the programme has been implemented, ongoing measurement, analysis and communication of achievements and outcomes is crucial in demonstrating return on investment and ensuring key stakeholders recognise its value. It also enables you to constantly fine tune the programme to ensure it continues to meet the needs of those it was designed for.
At Southern Cross, increasing staff engagement was our initial objective. Three years ago we thought we had good culture where our employees were happy, yet our attrition rate was higher than we wanted it to be and this was in time when the labour market was tightening. The penny dropped for us when our internal climate survey told us that employees were unlikely to recommend Southern Cross as great place to work.
Our success as an organisation and our ability to provide services and great products to our members is reliant on our ability to attract, retain and motivate our employees. Given the high levels of attrition we were faced with across the organisation, we knew we had to do something to address immediate and long-term employee engagement, motivation and retention.
We also realised there was disconnect between our external branding and our internal practices and perceptions. Southern Cross is about quality health and wellbeing for our members, and so we were determined to introduce an employee initiative that would reflect these values.
This began as series of pilot activities from early 2006 including on-site health checks, Weight Watchers groups on-site and team-based walking challenge. After each pilot activity we evaluated staff satisfaction and engagement, how motivated the staff were to continue the activity and carefully scrutinised the cost and time it took to resource each activity. Through discussions with staff we could also gather more detailed feedback on how these activities impacted on their wellbeing and engagement with work.
The success of these initial pilots led to comprehensive workplace wellness programme ‘Switch2Well’ to build engagement, satisfaction, motivation and productivity, and to reduce absenteeism and staff turn­over. This programme focused on encouraging employees who were already investing in their wellness outside work as well as those who needed some help in getting started or finding better work-life balance.
We monitor against set of KPIs on an ongoing basis, and the return on investment speaks for itself. At the end of year two there have been 4439 less sick leave hours which for our business equates to increased resources to achieve important business outcomes:
• 68 more members signed-up through telesales consultants.
• 212 more members signed up through field sales consultants.
• 2242 more calls taken in the contact centre, reducing wait times.
• 1098 more calls taken in prior approvals, reducing wait times.
• 2497 more claims processed, reducing turnaround times.
• Up to 107 members retained who would otherwise have cancelled their policies.
Probably the most telling statistic for us is the percentage of staff who agree with the statement ‘This organisation cares about the well-being of its people’.
We have been asking this question through our annual culture and climate surveys since 2006 and have seen steady increase since Switch2Well first started – from 71 percent agreeing in 2006 to 82.5 percent agreeing in 2009.
Exit interview data also shows exiting staff are very positive about how they perceive Southern Cross cares about the well­being of its staff, ranking this at an average of 4.15 out of possible 5.
For us these are very useful measures. For your organisation it may be something completely different. But regardless of whether yours is comprehensive wellness programme, or two or three simple initiatives – evaluating and measuring the impact on business will be crucial to the ongoing success of the programme.

Measurement and reporting
• Establish Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to track success – these can be anything from specific health measures such as body mass index, behavioural measures (such as smoking cessation), performance measures (through employee reviews) and engagement measures (through staff surveys).
• Develop KPIs that go beyond regulatory requirements, tracking wider health and safety and wellbeing trends.
• Decide which areas are most important to your business and prioritise. Some can be ‘parked’ for consideration in later years.
• Understand what the cost of absenteeism is to your business.
• Measure absenteeism by underlying causes and track this over time.
• Benchmark performance against peer organisations.
• Use employee surveys to measure job satisfaction and perceptions of the company. Include exit surveys too to analyse why staff are leaving.

Peter Tynan is chief executive Health Insurance, Southern Cross Medical Care Society.

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