Wellness has come a long way from its early introduction. The first known example of worksite health promotion was with the Pullman Company in 1879. George Pullman had the most profitable rail car companies in the area and created its own town believing this would lead to better work and profits. The Pullman Athletic Association was created and provided athletic activities in the belief that a society that benefits from the company succeeding would work harder to ensure that company continued to succeed. And he was right. Other companies soon followed suit by adding gyms on site, and offering lunch and snack breaks into the work day. Each looking for health related ways of improving their own productivity.
Today’s health and wellness is reaching new heights in proving that a company’s bottom line is intertwined with the health and wellness of its employees. In the West the ROI is approximately 10 dollars for every 1 dollar spent on worksite wellness and in the UK the ROI is 6 pounds for every 1 pound spent in worksite wellness.
With chronic illness plaguing both the UK and the US in billions every year, are businesses becoming “health smart” in providing health and wellness in the worksite for their employees?
Recent studies suggest that even though many companies now understand that wellness can benefit the workplace, very few employers have a thorough understanding of how wellness affects their workforce, but they know they need it.
In the US employers have moved past just key health clinical screenings by understanding and incorporating other motivational factors of employee productivity because of the interaction of the state of mind and quality of work. Some of these measures are mandatory work defined weeks called protected weekends. This ensures that time away from the job is spent not working. Employees leave on Friday and cannot return to the worksite without approval until Monday for example. Still other companies incorporate onsite mindfulness leadership that trains the mind to become more focused. Yet other companies pay their employees to create their own health profiles for wellness. And another company purposely staffs to accommodate their employee’s flexible working needs, such as being a parent and an employee. And the giant of industries, the financial industry is also making notable leaps in the area of health and wellness. The financial industry historically invented employee burnout and has been riddled with suicides. They have begun to reform their practices noticing that burnout has devastating effects on the quality of employee decisions. Employees are now advised to take their weekends off. Junior bankers have a “no more than” consecutive days of work before they must take time off. Even though work flexibility will not change overnight and some positions cannot be made as flexible as another, every effort should be made to make it as flexible as possible to prevent employee burnout.
Still other companies are incorporating contemporary and alternative approaches to employee health and wellness with onsite meditation, yoga, relaxation methods, massage, acupuncture, fly fishing, birding, and even dodge ball.
So how does the UK compare to the US in health and wellness approaches?
One must bear in mind that there are differing health care schemes between the UK and the US that affect employers in different capacities. However, when it comes to the health and wellness built into the approaches the UK is still in the clinical approaches to wellness and health based on the types of approaches offered. This is evidenced by the health screenings and assessments offered by service providers outside of the company itself. It is as though the employers themselves do not understand that the wellness and health of any organization’s employees comes from the health and wellness culture and attitude demonstrated by the company from the top down.
The health and wellness approaches in the UK currently are from outside providers that offer an array of clinical screenings and only a few health lifestyle “packages” with outside provider generated health consciousness of a “heart smart week” or “fitness day” type. While all of these are beneficial, there is still the missing element of health and wellness that is generated from the employer and incorporated into the organization’s culture and absorbed by the employees. The offerings of health and wellness in the UK today are “health packages” from external sources, which is an effort in infancy towards the billions of pounds spent in sick days and long term absences, chronic illnesses of employees, and the millions spent by employers on employee claims. There is no doubt a long way to go towards understanding just what health and wellness truly is in the UK and the US.