Workplace Wellness - Healthy People and Healthy Business

06 April 2017

Kimberly McKay is a Human Resource Consultant with BDO Central (NI).  She has extensive experience assisting both small and large employers with all aspects of their HR needs.  BDO Central are Chartered Accountants and Business Advisors, with offices in Napier and Palmerston North.  BDO is able to support clients with a comprehensive suite of accounting, information systems and HR services.  The firm is an independent member of BDO New Zealand and part of the global BDO network.

I recently attended a workplace wellness conference and learnt some new jargon – “compression of morbidity”. Apparently this means in the future there will be more of us that are older and sicker for longer. It’s a gloomy forecast at both a personal level and in terms of the economic burden.

Another very obvious but disturbing thought is ‘personal decisions are the leading cause of death in the western world’. This is not just referring to people who choose to do blatantly risky stuff like base-jumping, mountain climbing, swimming with sharks or smoking. This is the fact that we all know we should eat well, drink very moderately, exercise regularly, and get enough sleep and relaxation to manage our stress - but of course we don’t! Most of us routinely make very poor lifestyle choices.

A further, very strong message was that businesses should support having employee wellness programs for compelling business reasons in addition to the point above – i.e. people are not very good at this left to their own devices.

Business Reasons (ROI):

  • Reduces absenteeism    
  • Improves productivity
  • Improves performance
  • Improves recruitment and retention


  • It’s the right thing to do
  • We want people to be healthy
  • We want people to be happy


Most importantly research shows a clear linkage between a culture of wellness and employee engagement. It makes sense that when people believe the employer cares about them they are more engaged.  This means they are more motivated to perform, stay longer in the job and will recommend the workplace to others.

For many businesses the new health and safety legislation has prompted a review of policies and systems, often with a strong focus on safety initially. The health aspect of health and safety can get less attention unless you are in an environment with obvious health risks such as working with hazardous chemicals or harmful noise levels.

We should think about wellness in the broadest sense and not just in terms of physical health. The World Health Organisation definition is “a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

Traditional wellness programmes have tended to focus on physical fitness such as sports teams and gym memberships. These certainly have value because another cheery thought is that physical inactivity is the 4th leading risk factor for global mortality. Many large organisations also have an Employee Assistance Programme to provide counselling and support the mental health needs of their staff.

Comprehensive wellness programs consider the whole person. Research into societies around the world where people live longest identify having a sense of purpose and community as vital for wellbeing. Within organisations that means connecting people to your organisation purpose so they know how they contribute and helping them to see how their values align with organisation values.

Other types of initiatives that you might consider for your wellness programme can be very wide ranging and these examples may give you some new ideas:

  • Pleasant work environments that invoke positive feelings
  • Lifestyle seminars, addiction support, neuroscience education
  • Community involvement – volunteer day, gifting to charity, fundraising events
  • Financial personal trainer/advisor, retirement planning workshops
  • Environmental – sustainable commuting, bike stands, car pools, recycling, energy use
  • Health checks, flu jabs, eye tests
  • Meditation, yoga, massage
  • Nutrition advice, healthy food in cafeterias and at events
  • Technology – encourage device-free time, provide Fitbits
  • Supportive rehabilitation programmes after injury

The needs of your people will vary greatly so a flexible program that allows people to select the things appropriate to them is likely to get greatest participation. Regularly ask people what they need to keep your program relevant.

You don’t necessarily have to develop a completely new set of initiatives. You may already be doing a range of things in your organisation to look after people without labelling it a ‘Wellness Program’. You may want to consider packaging and branding what you are currently doing and creating a story around wellbeing that reminds your people what you offer.

Like any aspect of your culture, commitment to wellbeing needs leadership support to be effective and to be accepted as genuine by your workforce. Smart leaders will see the benefit of a wellness program that builds resilience, engagement and performance so people can deliver on the organisation brand promise. If you look after your people, they can look after your customers.