How to get sign-off for your well-being initiative

What’s more important to your organisation: a healthy happy workforce or bringing in the business results? My guess is that you’d answer “both”.

However, it’s a question that has been brought into sharp focus this week, with the publication of Aviva’s ‘Working Lives’ report, which highlights a strong feeling among employees that their welfare comes pretty near the bottom of the pile.

There’s no doubt that organisations have to pull off a difficult balancing act between ensuring the well-being of their people, while also making sure they hit their objectives – whether that’s delivering a great service, growing profitably or staying competitive. It’s one of the age-old HR paradoxes we talked about in last week’s blog.

And the evidence for investing in organisational well-being programmes is mounting. The Aviva survey, for example, showed that there are tangible benefits to taking a pro-active approach, with 77% of employers saying well-being initiatives were having a positive effect on their workforce. Happiness levels and employee morale were on the up, for instance, with 30% also citing a rise in productivity.

So if your organisation is still in the ‘unconvinced’ camp, what can you do to persuade them that investing in employee well-being makes sound business sense?

1. Assess the situation

HR departments are often sitting on a goldmine of data that would support their attempts to get sign-off on a well-being programme. It’s worth spending the time to pull all the hard facts and figures together so that you can present the board with a convincing case. If you have an effective HR software system, for example, it will give you accurate, up-to-date figures on absence across the business will help to pinpoint the key causes and highlight any particular hotspots.

You can also take into account things like the cost of occupational health referrals and health insurance claims—and perhaps reach out to HR professionals in similar organisations to see if their experience is similar to your own. Stats about employee ages, family responsibilities and churn can add to the weight of evidence, as will information on succession and skills gaps. Feedback from your latest staff survey can help to build your case, especially if they are showing a dip in moral or higher levels of reported stress.

2. Explain the benefits

Senior management may think the well-being programmes are just ‘soft and fluffy’ HR stuff. They see them as a ‘nice to have’ rather than a business imperative.

The key to making a compelling case is to demonstrate exactly how a well-being programme will fit with the organisation’s wider strategy – and vision for the future. Emphasise the clear link between well-being and productivity (a workforce that is well, works well), customer service (happy staff, happy customers) and talent attraction and retention (engaged employees stick around). If cost is a key issue, make sure management is clear about exactly how much sickness absence is costing your business and seek out relevant research. Johnson & Johnson, for example, has published studies about the impact their own wellness initiatives have had on employees’ health and productivity – and what this has meant in terms of the contribution to the bottom line. In the UK, the NHS has shared a list of documents and reports they’ve drawn on to shape their own thinking as an evidence base for other companies to use.

If you can make a sound business case for taking a different approach, as well as a moral one, it will be much easier to get senior management on your side.

3. Outline the approach

Senior management is often concerned that a well-being programme will turn out to be an expensive, time-consuming affair. But while a certain level of investment is necessary, it doesn’t have to be costly or complicated. There are numerous free resources on a whole range of physical and mental health issues which companies can draw on, as well as a host of charity awareness weeks and campaigns.

The key is to take a joined up approach, honing in on the real needs of the workforce are and prioritising the activities that will be of most use and are likely to have the biggest impact.

Start slowly, perhaps piloting an initiative in one area of the business where people are likely to be receptive or there is good practice already taking place. Build evaluation into the process right from the start. Collect information about participation rates, for example, and ask staff for feedback to supplement the hard measures (retention, engagement, productivity) you are already collecting.

If senior management can see the impact at an early stage, they are much more likely to make the necessary financial commitment.

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