A senior minister has recently banned employee wellness programmes from his department for encouraging “wokery”. Richard Kelly asks how sympathetic are senior leaders about sponsoring wellness in the workplace? And what do we need to do as a learning and training community to continue to boost its value?
Recently appointed Business Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg, who made headlines earlier this year by calling for a rapid return to the office, is back in the news. He has carried out his threat to scrap 265 wellness, inclusion, and diversity training programmes for civil servants. Characterising them as “unnecessary” and “indoctrinating”, he believes training programmes should “actually help people in their daily work”.
This attitude will not surprise seasoned HR and learning and development professionals who, for many years, have faced scepticism towards workplace programmes that promote ‘soft’ healthy mindsets rather than ‘hard’ technical skills. Studies such as a recent CIPD survey report claiming that 75 percent of leaders endorse wellness programmes have been encouraging. There was hope that the historic mindset versus skillset division had been finally put to bed. It seems to have been ‘awoken’ by Jacob Rees-Mogg.
Workplace wellness is a serious business.
Workplace wellness, a market predicted to be worth $80.64 billion by 2027 is defined by the Global Wellness Institute (GWI) as “employer expenditures on programs, services, activities and equipment aimed at improving their employees’ health and wellness”. It is part of the employee value proposition (EVP); it also benefits the organisation’s bottom line. Here are four compelling reasons to encourage business involvement in wellness programmes and initiatives.
1. It is supported at the coalface.
Dismissing workplace mindsets as “unnecessary” reveals more about the senior leader than the training. Some senior leaders may view workplace wellness as fluff and woke, but experienced learning and development professionals base their decisions on the business need rather than senior leaders’ opinions and prejudices. Employee learning and development strategy is part of a cycle that starts with consulting with the business and undergoing a business needs analysis to understand the training need. Wellness is important because it is consistently flagged in business and wellness assessments. Research shows that workplace wellness is enhanced if supported by senior leaders, but their individual whims and assumptions should not drive the training need.
2. It gives a healthy Return on Investment (ROI).
Research into organisational ROI from workplace wellness initiatives has been carried out since 2010. Berry et al. conducted research in this area with large corporates, which was published in 2010. They concluded that workplace wellness programmes are not a nice extra but a strategic imperative with irrefutable hard dollar returns. Their findings found that every $1 invested in wellness initiatives yielded $6 health care savings. A 2016 US Chamber of Commerce report, Winning with Wellness, cites research exploring ROI for organisations who have invested in workplace wellness initiatives and calculates a ROI of between $1.5 and $3. Wellness is not wokery; it offers a substantial return on investment. It increases morale, provides cost benefits, and can lead to greater productivity.
3. It drives up engagement, loyalty, and talent retention.
HR practitioners are aware of the rise of disengagement in the workplace and the employee and business impact of low engagement. Gallup has just released its State of the Global Workplace 2022 Report. Only nine percent of the UK workforce is engaged at work, with a notable increase in quiet quitting. This is partly attributed in the report to the demise of wellbeing at work. The report identifies a five percent decline in wellbeing in Europe. There is a direct correlation between workplace loyalty and retention and workplace ill-being Unhealthy workplace cultures feature in the top five reasons why people quit, according to recent research. Companies realise that millennials, who are known as the “wellness generation”, make up the workforce majority. For this reason alone, adopting a wellness policy makes good business sense.
4. It helps promote organisational resilience and reputation.
The platitude that organisations are only as good as the people it employs never ages. Healthy and resilient workers who feel supported by their employers will be in the best shape to adapt and respond to an uncertain and volatile business environment and build organisational resilience. Moreover, workplace wellness creates an image of a caring organisation, which, in turn, makes employees brand ambassadors and reputation builders.
Keep woke out of wellness.
There is nothing new in assumptive senior leaders dismissing workplace initiatives that focus on behaviours, attitudes, and mindsets. It is surprising, however, that a senior UK cabinet member seeks to diminish the importance of wellbeing when the government’s own research indicates a national mental health and wellbeing deterioration during the Covid-19 pandemic. The HR and L&D community need to do more to prevent workplace wellness from becoming caught up in the ‘war on woke’. The bottom line is that workplace wellness makes sense. It creates an EVP for a population recovering from a pandemic. It supports the values of millennials and digital natives, who comprise most of the workforce. And studies show it benefits organisations and constitutes a healthy ROI. There are times when we need to be politically savvy in organisations and seek to understand senior leaders’ agendas and manage them. There are other times, however, when you simply shrug your shoulders and focus on the needs of employees.
Richard Kelly is the Founder of Swarm Business Solutions.
Richard Kelly has a behavioural science background and has spent over 25 years as a leadership and organisational development specialist. He currently works as an independent consultant advising organisations on how to create more engaging and collaborative working environments. He is the author of two books. His first book, Constructing Leadership 4.0: Swarm Leadership and the Fourth Industrial Revolution, was published by Palgrave Macmillan. His new book, The Nature of Business Transformation: A Swarm Intelligent Approach to Reinventing Organisations, is published by Routledge.