Simplifying the case for investing in workplace health

Workplace wellness has gained a considerable amount of momentum in the Canadian marketplace. A lot of organizations have already implemented programs to promote employee health with many more are developing strategies. Still, there are those employers that continue to resist in this area, on the basis that the return on investment is not clear.

Quantifying wellness
There have been many formulae developed in Canada in an attempt to quantify the financial return that can be expected from workplace wellness. These formulae focus on the potential to reduce healthcare costs and worker absence. Productivity gains are mentioned but these are difficult to quantify, due to the somewhat intangible nature.

It’s equally challenging for the employer to measure the investment in employee health when a large part of the return is realized in reduced costs for Canada’s public healthcare system.

This work is worthwhile and important. However I also think we are missing the bigger picture. I fundamentally believe that the business case for workplace wellness is far simpler than the outcomes achieved by trying to quantify the benefits plan cost savings.

Simple questions
My business case for workplace wellness can be distilled into two questions. Depending on how the organization answer these questions, the business case for workplace wellness is either made—or not.

  1. Do you need people to run your business?”  For most organizations, ‘yes’ is the obvious answer.
  2. Do you want a profitable and/or efficiently run organization?”  Again, the answer to this question for most entities is likely ‘yes.’

By answering yes to both of these questions the business case for workplace wellness has been made, in my opinion. It’s that simple. You need to invest in employee health.

Labour shortages and health concerns
Now let’s put some context around these questions and why I think the business case for workplace wellness is so obvious.

There is an expectation that the country will soon face a large shortage of skilled workers. According to the Conference Board of Canada, close to one million jobs will go unfilled by 2020. And the labour shortage is not specific to a small number of industries nor is it geographically centered. It is across Canada and across the board. Employers will find it increasingly difficult to find new employees so it will be doubly important to keep the employees they have healthy and working for longer.

Research has shown that high performing organizations have engaged employees. And healthy employees are far more likely to be engaged (and present) than unhealthy employees. Healthy, engaged employees also serve clients better and drive superior organizational results.

Within the current employee population there are staggering rates of chronic disease. As the population ages,  we can expect further increase in chronic disease and associated healthcare costs. Once again, within the context of our labour market challenges, employers need to address employee health if for no other reason than keeping people in their seats longer.

Benefits plan costs are already increasing at rates that most employers find unacceptable and there is little good news on the horizon. These costs will continue to escalate in part due to employee ill health.
The good news in all of this is that many of the chronic diseases that are keeping people away from work and driving benefits plan costs are manageable and potentially avoidable through behaviour change and addressing environmental (workplace) issues.

So the next time you are challenged by your executive team to justify an investment in workplace wellness, ask them to answer the two earlier questions. If you elevate the discussion and put it within the context of your ability to run the business in a profitable and efficient manner, you may have a different (and hopefully better) conversation.