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Yoga Me Well Blog

The Big Business of Being Well

Ten years ago, it was the triple bottom line – People, Planet, Profit. Now, the Corporate World is strategising over Wellness. What is it and how to deliver it?

Culture Shock

Working in the media for 20 years, I commonly found workplace cultures that bred low morale and chronic illness. There were simply too few people doing too many jobs under relentless pressure. Staff were treated like oranges to be juiced and tossed because the allure of media endures, though it frazzles many a young enthusiast.

Enter Wellbeing Programs

In recent years, I worked for a bank that offered “high performance mind” sessions to executives. That’s corporate speak for “meditation”. It gave me hope. Now big business is offering movie vouchers and belly dancing to keep staff happy.

The trend toward corporate wellness programs, like the triple-bottom-line before it, is here to stay. Wellness, it seems, now begins at school (Stephanie Alexander’s school gardens project) and at work, rather than home. And corporate wellness providers are everywhere. From entrepreneurial individuals to broad spectrum organisations offering preventative health measures to help us yoga, meditate and work/life balance our way back to sanity.

Improving corporate wellbeing programs

Michael Stone was well before the crest of this wave in 2003 when he founded the Holistic Services Group Australia (HSGA). He is still there in his acknowledgement that tailoring services to individual employee needs is the next challenge for this nascent industry.

HSGA’s service range is extraordinary: clowning, drumming, tarot reading, iridology, office feng shui and healthy cooking (much in demand thanks to Masterchef) beside traditional offerings of health education, corporate wellness events and stress management and relaxation workshops. It has collated several hundred contractors around Australia to service about 500 clients in seven years.

Organisational psychologist Joanne Abbey of Grow Corporate Wellbeing echoes Stone’s view about personalising services. Companies need to deliver what employees truly value. While massage at your desk is great, a supportive environment that cultivates healthy work relationships is better.

“Culture is the main obstacle to improving wellbeing at work. The first step in a change program is to accurately identify what wellbeing means to employees. From there, initiatives can be targeted and results can be quickly measured,” says Abbey, who is researching wellbeing in the private sector. “Wellbeing is more about the quality of connectedness.”

What do staff really want?

So how do companies find out what employees want?

Australian Unity’s Sharon Beaumont, group executive for human resources, runs regular engagement surveys which ask some 1400 staff what’s working. The company recently launched a 50 per cent subsidy on health insurance for staff who sign-up for approved health products 0as part of its wellness offering and extended paid parental leave.

Stone says that self-managed employee assistance programs are also a good way to gauge what’s hot.

“Ideally, these are funded by the company or subsidised. AMP established a slush fund where staff contribute between $5 and $8 a month and they choose what services they want. It’s completely staff managed and driven, with a participation rate of about 82 per cent,” he says.

Moula or massage?

Sometimes, money talks, says Stone when IBM offered a $150 cash rebate to employees who attended the company’s physical activity programs. Participation rates soared from 10,000 to 100,000! But not always.

When Delta Airlines offered staff a $45 cash incentive to take a health risk assessment, the response was underwhelming. But raffling 25 gift certificates for a year’s health insurance had them scurrying to the doctor’s suite.

Why it goes wrong

A study by Monash University for TravelSmart Victoria, “Measuring the Benefits of Corporate Health and Wellbeing Initiatives”, found that corporates were implementing programs because it was the “right thing to do”. But they often failed to monitor and evaluate the value of initiatives.

On this point, Abbey agrees: “It would be very difficult to measure wellbeing because it’s not conceptualised [that is to say]. . . how do you measure something you don’t know how to define?”

The study also found that: “Rigorous scientific studies have failed to prove reduced absenteeism and increased productivity are direct (and measurable) benefits of health initiatives, but the weight of evidence suggest that they do contribute to these goals.”

Implement thoughtfully, improve productivity 

Enter Stone, with a battery of research that shows wellness programs are making quality inroads.

A Harvard Business Review study into workplace wellness found that work/life balance programs were returning between $3 to $5 on average for every dollar invested. Coca Cola attributes savings of $500 per year per employee.

Stone also quotes research from PricewaterhouseCoopers Health Research Institute, done in conjunction with the World Economic Forum, which discusses how employee wellness bolsters the bottomline. It says that the economic case for prevention “is overwhelming”.

In the future, employees who refuse to take ownership of their health through preventative measures may well find employers forcing the issue.

Stone says companies in the US are beginning to reject applicants who smoke or have a high health risk, and legislation currently allows it.

Liv Mitchell is a hatha yoga teacher, relaxation instructor and freelance writer/editor specialising in holistic wellbeing.

Liv Mitchell

One response to “The Big Business of Being Well”

  1. Lisa Mitchell says:

    >Thank you Adesola. I'm glad you found it of some value. Cheery, Lisa.

Liv Mitchell is a senior teacher of yoga, mindfulness and a freelance writer.

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