Employee health and safety has been at the forefront of corporate concern for decades. Yet in today’s interconnected and digitised world, where the line between work and home life is increasingly blurred, wellbeing now represents a significant concern for organisations and their people. However, research suggests that while organisations are investing in wellbeing initiatives for their staff, there is a gap between what organisations are offering and what current and prospective employees are looking for.

The need to shift from wellness to wellbeing

The age of digital technology has created an expectation of the ‘always on’ employee, with research suggesting that people now check their phones up to 150 times a day. Work no longer ceases when people leave the office and employees are increasingly faced with an abundance of information. It is now more important than ever for organisations to cater to the wellbeing of their people. The 2018 Global Human Capital Trends Report indicated that wellbeing is a top concern for New Zealand organisations in particular, yet many existing corporate wellness schemes are founded only on health and safety considerations. While these play an important role, they no longer cater to our multifaceted understanding of wellbeing, which has expanded to include mental, spiritual and financial wellness. As many as 53% of New Zealand organisations surveyed in the Human Capital Trends Report indicated they only offered wellbeing programmes focused on safety, employee assistance or medical assistance programmes. These programmes lack a holistic element and fail to meet employee expectations. Additionally, 7.5% of New Zealand organisations did not cater to wellbeing at all.

Why should businesses care?

Traditional wellness schemes are premised upon reducing medical costs associated with health and safety but research suggests that the cost of lost productivity at work is 2.3 times higher than medical and associated costs. Catering to a holistic notion of wellbeing shifts the focus from employee benefit to an effective business strategy by enhancing performance. Evidence suggests that wellbeing acts as a driver of performance, and New Zealand organisations agree, with 89% of New Zealand respondents in the Global Human Capital Trends Report stating that wellbeing is an important factor in driving productivity. When people are both physically and mentally well, it is unsurprising that their performance is enhanced.

Productivity is not the only motivating factor organisations should consider when increasing their wellbeing focus. Good and effective wellbeing initiatives are becoming an expectation amongst employees considering whether to join, stay, or leave an organisation. The recent 2018 Global Deloitte Millennials Survey detailed that an organisations’ actions strongly influence the length of time millennials intend to stay with their employers. Of New Zealand millennials surveyed, 22% indicated that wellbeing programmes and incentives are one of many important considerations when looking at prospective employers.

Despite the growing awareness of the importance of well-being, research suggests that many wellbeing programmes offered by organisations do not currently meet employee expectations. For example, 70% of New Zealand employees indicated that they would find telecommuting highly valuable or valuable as an employee wellness programme, yet only 19.5% of New Zealand organisations surveyed had one in place.

This trend towards holistic wellbeing is not only being seen within organisations in New Zealand. The recent 2018 State of the State Report detailed how the New Zealand Treasury is increasingly turning its attention from using a purely fiscal lens to measure New Zealand’s prosperity, by introducing a wellbeing framework into their analysis and subsequent policy advice.

Holistic wellbeing is becoming an increasingly important concern for employers who wish to recruit and maintain talent within their organisations, and boost performance. The growing and changing expectations on well-being at work also means many existing wellness programmes are no longer meeting expectations. It is imperative for organisations to re-think and re-define their approach to well-being at work and diversify their wellbeing initiatives to cater to changing employee expectations.

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