Rivo, a Sphera Company

Managing effective workforce well-being programs across your organization


Courtesy of Rivo, a Sphera Company


The commitment to well-being is a challenge for global business leaders, who see workplace well-being as one of the most pressing challenges to their future growth and profitability. Well-being is increasingly considered a core focus for companies to unlock value across workforces and supply chains.

Corporate well-being programs are increasingly designed with a holistic view in mind as managers seek to balance risk management issues with cost containment, and revenues with sustainability and quality-of-life.

Knowledge of which strategies will work for your organization can be surfaced with rigorous auditing of the workforce and supply chain. The processes of engaging your employees and measuring your success is however equally important in moving sustainability efforts beyond compliance. These questions matter as the corporate use of these programs continues to expand, with especially robust growth among mid-sized businesses.

Through systematic well-being efforts companies such as Timberland, Mars and Vodafone are realizing higher quality, lower absenteeism and higher productivity as well as receiving positive global PR for their efforts. Well-being really does impact the bottom line, but also with the consumer awakening in recent years, positive corporate responsibility is now hugely significant for corporate reputations. Awards have recently gone to multinationals like Unilever and American Express – each a member of the World Economic Forum Workplace Well-being Alliance, born at Davos.

Programs fit for purpose

A 2013 study found that 86 percent of corporate employers in the U.S. study offered programs, and spend an average of $521 per employee on wellness-based incentives. These programs fell into four main groups, the authors of the Fidelity Investments and National Business Group on Health survey said.

Some programs address lifestyle management issues, including weight loss or tobacco cessation. Some are focused on managing chronic medical conditions like diabetes or asthma. A third group focuses on risk management through incentives such as flu shots. There’s a lot of research out there – often conflicting, and therefore all the more confusing – but these programs appear to offer the greatest return on investment, measured as the ratio of health care scheme dollars saved per well-being dollars invested. According to information provided by the U.S. Society of Human Resource Management:

  • Average medical cost savings per dollar invested in well-being programmes was $3.27 USD, as found by a team of Harvard University health economists and published in the journal Health Affairs. The results were drawn from an analysis of more than 20 peer-reviewed studies on ROI.
  • The ROI was between $1 and $3 USD, according to a similar 2012 report by the nonprofit International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans
  • Lowering health risk factors to theoretical minimums would reduce annual health care costs by 18.4 percent per working-age adult (Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 2013)

The final group of well-being enhancements includes programs designed to foster well-being through environmental offerings: walking paths, bicycle racks, even games. The startup firm Keas, based in San Francisco, sells health-related social media games to human resource managers interested in boosting employee engagement, productivity and “presenteeism,” along with the protecting the bottom line.

A healthier, happier workforce

Keas recently released its 2014 survey of more than 100 human resources executives on their top priorities. More than 40 percent chose employee recruitment and retention as a top concern, with another 22 percent choosing the need for “creating a healthier, happier more productive workforce.”

Academics and analysts do an important job of quantifying and debating the value of workplace well-being incentives, but defining their success – or the need for improvement – is a more nuanced job for company management.

Measurable benefits

One research measurement, a Business in the Community/Workwell benchmark report completed by Towers Watson, suggests that “FTSE 100 companies that have robust arrangements for reporting on employee engagement and well-being outperforming the rest of the FTSE 100 by 10 percent.”

That reporting compliance may be one component of success. Beyond its obvious function in data collection – and the clear challenges to coding and recording the information – the companies who do are likely to be organizations with a corporate culture that inclines toward community well-being values.

These FTSE 100 firms may be measurably more productive because leadership – as in the continuum shift communicated by British Prime Minister David Cameron, or among HSE leaders focused on well-being – has prioritized prevention and well-being. Creating that culture requires significant investment and buy-in from the bottom to the top of the entire organization.

Harvard study authors acknowledge that well-being program costs often are front-loaded, while the benefits increase over time. Their research does not fully account for significant initial investment in training or rollout timelines, monitoring employee compliance or the outlay for information systems, which if not accounted for and managed effectively can result in significant administrative burden.

Nor does it offer insight on how to ensure that well-being programs are aligned with business strategy and the job expectations for both executive-level and mid-level managers.

Just as there are an ever-growing number of managers seeking the benefits of those investments, there are also more barriers to success than costly data systems and cumbersome reporting procedures. For one, too much data may prevent employees from signing up or staying engaged in the program later.

“As wellness professionals, we usually thrive on data,” says Todd McGuire of incentaHEALTH, a cloud-based company. “But there’s a very real risk of trying to get too much data. I’m not talking about overstepping privacy borders. I’m talking about enrollment forms that are just too long. You’ll know you’re guilty of this pitfall when you have to resort to incentives just to get people to sign up.”

Barriers to success

McGuire has helped to design and implement workplace well-being programs in the U.K. and elsewhere. Other barriers to workplace well-being success that he names among his Top 10 are:

  • Pull v. push structure. Busy employees just aren’t motivated to look up nutrition info on their mobile phones during a 5-minute break. Facebook, Twitter and other strong social-media “reach” strategies are more likely to connect with those choosing sports updates instead.
  • Stern, scolding marketing messages. “Health and wellness is as serious as a heart attack,” McGuire says. “Unfortunately, that doesn’t translate into how you should market your wellness program to your employees.” Workers are motivated for their own reasons, not the firm’s.
  • Incentives that fail to reflect that employee well-being programs are meant to have an impact on lifestyles over a lifetime. Design measurement tools to reflect real-life employee goals.

A success story

One Rivo client who has adopted the well-being banner and made it integral to their global operations is telco giant Vodafone. They created the Vodafone Well-being Challenge, which enables employees throughout their organization to partake in different sporting and leisure activities earning ‘Vodafone miles’ as part of a friendly competition to ultimately improve the health of the company. Using their intranet, league tables of the accrued Vodafone miles over time are recorded identifying the top regions and individual achievements. Last year, 8724 employees accrued 205,000 miles between them – the equivalent of eight-and-a-half times around the world. That’s well-being on a global scale.

A technology-led solution

Rivo Safeguard Well-being enables you to embed well-being programmes, end-to-end across your organisation and supply chain. By integrating audits and surveys to understand well-being levels and risk areas within your workforce and wider supply chain base, you can assimilate more effective programs and evidence for well-being initiative business cases. Safeguard is highly configurable and allows you to easily enter and distribute your own surveys/audits or we have a selection of well-being experts in-house and in our partnership network that are highly respected at embedding well-being programmes and thinking into major brands such as Timberland, Adidas and Vodafone.

The process begins there, and with Safeguard you can effectively manage and monitor change across our Training Management and Policy Management Solutions, ensure actions is taken where appropriate with integrated notifications and warnings. Rivo Safeguard Advanced analytics gives you the advanced visibility you require to monitor and report on Well-being either in isolation or together with other metrics, KPIs and KRIs across safety, security and sustainability in your business.

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