The business and sustainability case for employee well-being
We all know that businesses thrive when employees are happy, healthy and engaged. While attraction and retention of talented employees is one measure of profitability, companies inevitably face the growing challenge of rising health care costs. Often, employer-sponsored health care as it exists within the U.S. health care system, means that companies bear the burden of rising insurance premiums and health care costs—especially if the company is self-insured. As such, employer concern for the health and well-being of employees is a business necessity.
For the past few decades, companies have increasingly offered wellness programs geared toward reducing the risks for chronic disease as a way to manage rising health care costs. While this intention is a good one, the impact of these programs on the prevalence of chronic disease is widely disputed and the return on investment is difficult to prove. The value of wellness programs is debated, in part, because they focus on disease management, a lagging indicator of human performance, and are tightly dependent on the uncertain quality, cost, and utilization of health care services.
Businesses are learning that, rather than focusing on disease management, determining the state of well-being and engagement of workers, when measured effectively, can help to address both health care costs and drive performance. Workers’ perceptions of their state of well-being and engagement captures up-to-the minute performance information that is predictive of future work and health outcomes, and offers more opportunities for the employer to make a difference in how well individuals and organizations will thrive. By imparting meaning and purpose, learning, skill development, and social connection, in addition to evidence-based health and wellness programs, management can use the workplace experience as an important lever to improve workers’ state of well-being and engagement.
The logical connection between employee well-being, engagement, and productivity is the reason that companies are moving from a containment model for disease and health care costs to a strategy that aims to improve engagement and, ultimately, a thriving employee population. This is the new model of sustainability that cares for people and lends to the sustainability of the planet. In fact, many believe that building resiliency into our workforce enables people to care about the planet because, when individuals’ needs are met, they are better able to care for others (see Maslow’s hierarchy of needs)! SHINE is excited about undertaking research to establish the evidence that healthy and engaged employees are much more inclined to care for the environment and advance the sustainability mission of their organization.
What role does SHINE play in the issue of well-being?
If well-being and engagement are to be the guidepost, then how do we know when we’ve arrived at the goal? How do we know where to steer the course? And how do we manage the work experiences that foster human growth, health, and well-being across a diverse workforce?
The first step toward answering these questions requires developing a metric that accounts for well-being and engagement. This metric needs to consider a systems view of the inputs in order to understand how to improve well-being.
A couple of years ago, SHINE took on this challenge with the help of Johnson & Johnson and devised a Well-being Index that benchmarks the culture of health, the work experience, and employee well-being and engagement. The vision was to create a standard that could be applied across industries and work environments to communicate socially responsible performance in this area. In addition, these metrics would be used by SHINE researchers to generate knowledge about ways to improve health and performance under a diverse set of conditions and among different work populations throughout the supply chain.
A new guide for sustainability: Innovating work-systems for well-being
SHINE works with partners to tackle a number of questions about the work experience and well-being. For example:
- How do flexible work schedules impact well-being across diverse work settings (e.g., offices and factories) and diverse workers (e.g., younger and older workers)?
- What are the main predictors to well-being at work?
- How does family caregiver-support impact employee well-being and productivity?
- How can companies influence the well-being of workers in the supply chain?
- What work experiences best predict mental health in the workforce?
- How do environmental conditions, such as building conditions, impact well-being at work?
- How do companies make well-being a centerpiece of their sustainability strategy?
Companies may engage with SHINE to apply the Well-being Index. SHINE researchers collect information from employees confidentially through on-line and mobile device-readied surveys. Once data is collected, SHINE researchers aggregate results to benchmark employee well-being and engagement, propose new research questions, and communicate advances for sustainability reporting.