This post continues the conversation that began with the “Wellness and Wellbeing” note last week. If you haven’t yet read that post, I suggest you click on the link and read it now, before proceeding with this one.
Here we pick up with Kate Lister’s overview of the biggest issues surrounding wellness and wellbeing in the workplace.
Kate Lister [Global Workplace Analytics]:
As I suggested earlier, there are two sides of this issue: the physical and the psychological. Not surprisingly, the organizations that are focusing most on wellness are those in the healthcare business.
The cost of absenteeism goes far beyond the direct costs which are estimated at about 6% of payroll. But when you consider the indirect costs, including insurance, the total is more like 20% of payroll.
On the psychological side, there are a variety of problems that impact employee performance such as addiction, depression, stress, and the like. And poor mental health often leads to poor physical health and vice-versa.
Then there’s the problem of “presenteeism,” where people come to work sick because they don’t et paid for sick days, they feel guilty about letting their co-workers down, or there’s simply a culture that frowns on taking time off, regardless of the reason. So what do they do? They come to work sick. They sit at their desk not getting much done. And they go home at the end of the having spread their germ among their colleagues.
Healthways recently did a wellness study for a Fortune 500 company. When they asked employees if they’d lost productivity due to working while they were sick, 86% said “yes.” The study also showed that people with wellness issues are less productive and more likely to leave.
The study reported that for each $1 of medical costs, the company lost another $2.30 because of reduced productivity.
Another survey addressed the impact of wellness on employee engagement. It turns out that people who are more engaged take better care of themselves – they eat better, for example. And people who are more highly engaged are absent 30% less, have 25% less turnover.
Wellness has also been linked to workplace safety, quality of work, customer relations, productivity, profitability.
The Gallup “State of the American Workplace” is a great source for this kind of data.
Michael Grove [Collabworks]: A couple questions really stand out for me. What about our current reality has caused us to get to where we are? What caused the lack of attention to this problem? Because the economic benefit could be so huge. I think a key aspect of this is how to position these issues in a way that people will see it and act on it.
Patt Schwab [FUNdamentally Speaking]: While Kate was talking I wondered whether anybody has done a study on the impact of furlough days. What I have seen with my clients is that people don’t like getting less money on furlough days, but they really liked the time at home with their families. They like the interaction in their communities. I was thinking that that has implications for several of the things Kate was saying we need to address.
Chris Hood [CBRE]: The U.S. government seems to be studying that in connection with Obamacare. If you listen to the arguments pro and con, it appears that people are, in some cases, opting to work a little less, or to work in different circumstances because they can now afford healthcare that they couldn’t before.
There’s war being waged on this argument in both directions, but the argument is that some people are making decisions based on quality of life. I think it’s a very interesting set of arguments: one of balance regarding where people would really like to position themselves if they could when many of the traditional barriers to optimal work-life balance decisions are moved out of the way.
Jim Ware: Chris, that’s really interesting. I haven’t been following that debate very closely, but it’s intriguing that there’s an expectation that some of the workforce will “vote with their feet” by choosing to work somewhat fewer hours, in order to achieve better health or work-life balance., or even start up a new business to realize a dream. That may open opportunities for other people.
Patt Schwab: A lot of these folks are older and would like to retire but can’t because they’re not old enough to get Medicare. The Affordable Care Act gives them a break, too.
Jim Ware: Several of you raised a question about what’s going to drive this? How do we know what kind of difference wellness and wellbeing is going to make? Mike was touching on the idea that it may make a difference on the bottom line. That seems to me to be the way we’re going to get the attention of business executives. I’m all in favor of positive social entrepreneurship and positive capitalism, but I think we have to start with what matters to the decision makers, which is that it’s good business.
Kate Lister: That’s why the emphasis has been on real estate for the past several years. Everyone’s trying to do more with less and, unlike wellness, buildings are very easy to point to and say yes, I saved money by reducing office space. I agree with you, if we want to convince employers of the advantages of wellness, we have to show them what it means to the bottom line.
Rodney Stone: You just suggested that businesses will do something because it makes sense and is good business, but there are a lot of things over the past 10-15 years that were good for business and the executives didn’t take any strong position or steps forward.
For me, it takes the people that work for those executives to push that position so that the executives realize that they have to do it because they want to retain people. Educating the workforce at large will be more of a business motivator than trying to convince the C-Suite to spend an extra million dollars.
Jim Ware: So senior executives have to be dragged kicking and screaming to avoid a problem rather than take advantage of an opportunity?
Rodney Stone: I think so, yes. That’s my point.
We will continue and conclude this conversation next week.