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Holistic Well-Being Was a Hot Topic at #HRTech2018 (And it Should be in Your Org, Too)

I first came across the term “The Wellness Effect” in an investment article discussing the symbiotic relationship between employee financial wellness and financial returns for employers. Since then, there’s been an explosion of research showing the direct correlation among overall employee wellness and reduced healthcare costs, improved productivity and retention, and lower absenteeism.

The data are convincing. Harvard University found that medical costs fall approximately $3.27 for every dollar spent on wellness programs, combined with a $2.73 ROI for every dollar spent due to decreased absenteeism. According to the CDC, productivity losses related to personal and family health problems cost U.S. employers an average of $225.8 billion each year. There’s also evidence that instituting workplace health programs can reduce the average sick leave, health plan, and workers’ compensation and disability insurance costs by approximately 25%.

As a result, corporate wellness programs have become an $8 billion industry in the United States alone, a figure that’s expected to grow nearly 10% by 2021. 90% of U.S. organizations offer at least one wellness initiative, and 60% of U.S. businesses offer employee well-being programs that go beyond traditional benefits.

Yet, despite these impressive ROI markers and substantial corporate investment, holistic workforce wellness, particularly when it comes to stress management, doesn’t seem to be improving. In fact, two-thirds of all full-time workers experience burnout on the job and three-quarters of employees believe that workers have more on-the-job stress than they did one generation ago.

Employee wellness was certainly top of mind at this year’s HR Tech, a highly-anticipated Las Vegas conference and exposition spotlighting the latest in HR trends and technologies. Throughout the conference, I was struck by how the conversation continued to circle back to holistic wellness – in keynotes, breakout sessions, and conversations with attendees.

Randi Zuckerberg – Mark’s older sister – spent much of her keynote session urging employers to help their employees maintain a healthy tech balance and to encourage unplugging from work to rest, recharge, and de-stress.

These insights were echoed the next day by Arianna Huffington, who discussed the worldwide epidemic of burnout due to the pressure to “have it all.” She maintained that exhausting ourselves never helps our organization and theorized that, while we’re living in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, our societal obsession with machines and productivity is reminiscent of the original Industrial Revolution. She warned that while automation can be a great thing, we’re headed down a dangerous path if we don’t simultaneously prioritize human health and well-being.

In recent years, a shift has occurred in the way we view overall well-being. While wellness could be defined as a non-smoker with a healthy BMI, well-being is much more complicated than that. Thanks to the “always-on” workforce, increasingly blurred lines between work and personal life, the uncertainty surrounding Social Security, and vanishing of company pensions, today’s workforce is dealing with a variety of stressors that go far beyond (yet certainly contribute to) chronic disease.

The limited scope of first-generation wellness programs is no longer enough. Employees crave holistic well-being. In addition to health insurance, employees are seeking customized health coaching, incentives, and interactive support. Along with a retirement-savings account, employees want access to counseling or educational resources to ensure they’re making the right financial choices for themselves and their families. Beyond paid vacation, they want the right to disconnect on nights and weekends. Besides job security, they want to play a role in career development.

If this seems like a lot of “wants,” remember that the proven ROI of employee well-being is improved business performance. Workplace culture sets the tone for employees, and supportive work environments powered by sound wellness strategies lead to healthier and more engaged, motivated, and productive workforces.

When your people thrive, your business thrives. Take good care of them.