People, Technology, Workspace

The ROI of Workplace Wellness: Insights from the experts (Part 1 of 2)

Axiom Workplaces

Did you know that a majority of the world’s population (58%) spend one-third of their adult life at work?

If you do the math, it makes sense that wellbeing in the workplace is so important. After all, if your workforce is spending so much time at the office, making sure everyone is well-looked after means better productivity, performance and happiness at work, which then translates to improved revenue and retention.

Strong leaders acknowledge today’s ever-evolving workplaces, and are always looking for ways to shake up the traditional office space, factoring their people into the commercial design.

That’s why last week, we hosted a lunch and learn on the ROI of workplace wellness and discussed how to produce the best results for businesses through workplace wellness with a panel of experts:

  • Dr Debra Villar, Director at Complete Corporate Wellness, a company that provides health and wellness programs for the corporate sector.
  • Jack Noonan, Vice President Australia & New Zealand at International WELL Building Institute, which is leading the movement to promote health and wellness in buildings and communities everywhere through their cutting-edge WELL Building Standard™.
  • Annelie Xenofontos, Senior Workplace Strategist at Axiom Workplaces, who leads the strategic thinking process that creates intelligent workplace design outcomes for our clients.

So, how do you produce maximum productivity and performance in your people? Here are some of the insights our panel of experts shared:

What are three things organisations can change to encourage workplace wellbeing?

Workplace wellbeing goes hand in hand with a solid culture in the business. It’s not as easy as just getting a massage therapist in for a few days, as Villar explains.

The key elements needed for a successful wellness program are:

  • Leadership buy-in: It’s imperative that the leaders of a business are on board and driving wellness initiatives. HR leaders and managers then need to promote it around the business. It’s also a good idea to have a ‘wellness champion’ on-site to continually ensure that programs are carried out on the daily, and that employees have a point of contact if they are unsure of how to make the most of these initiatives.
  • Holistic mindset: A wellness program shouldn’t just be aesthetic, it needs to cover all the bases – nutrition, a healthy mindset at work, and continual learning.
  • Measurable data: No matter how your business defines ROI, you need to be able to measure data around participation rates, performance and productivity so that you can manage all pre- and post wellness initiatives and see real ROI. Villar recommends that organisations embarking on wellness improvements use just one provider to keep things constant. For example, if you’re getting a new office fitout to include a communal space for yoga classes, your chosen workplace design partner is best-placed to help you measure against the relevant metrics before and after the fitout.

What are some easy ways to improve the quality of your environment?

The first step to doing this is to ‘use data to understand where you’re at first,’ says Noonan; without knowing where you stand currently, you won’t know how much you need to improve. This includes tangible elements such as the building itself, and intangible elements like HR policies around issues like mental health.

Then, it’s about changing mindsets. How can we change the question around wellness to be less about ‘how can we do less harm’, to ‘how can we do more good?’.

Instead of focusing solely on minimising harm (with things like asbestos, poor lighting, and poor ventilation), Noonan says that businesses should also speak to occupants to learn what they actually want, and invest in people and HR policies. Combine these elements, and organisations can see a huge return on investment.

It’s not news that changing our environment can make an impact on staff wellbeing. But with a new project, businesses are usually thinking solely about the cost of the fitout – when in fact, 90% of the cost of your business goes to your people, according to Noonan. So investing in the fitout is part of investing in your people, and if you see improved staff performance, attraction and retention, then there’s your ROI.

Noonan also reports that some commercial fitouts pay for themselves through ROI in less than 3 months.

From a physical standpoint, what changes should business leaders implement in order to improve wellness in the workplace?

Over 50% of Australians have at least one prominent chronic condition, yet most organisations say that they have no budget for wellness initiatives. If you consider the cost of absenteeism (currently at $44 billion per year across Australian companies), it’s easy to see how a wellness program will pay for itself in the short- to mid-term.

Additionally, you don’t need a big budget to start implementing wellness-led activities in your business, even small things can make a big impact. For example, encouraging employees to take meetings outdoors, creating a walking club, providing healthy snacks in the kitchen and encouraging people to stand up and walk around every 15 minutes.

Noonan also encourages creating a supportive environment; allowing people to come and chat to you if they have an issue about their health. He also revealed that more than a third (39%) of potentially preventable hospitalisations are due to chronic diseases; however, only 1.5% of health spending goes to the prevention of chronic diseases. He opines that in relation to our buildings, there are so many ways to design our workspaces that can encourage physical activity and prevent chronic diseases. An example is to prominently feature staircases instead of elevators in a building design; if you make wellness easily accessible and inviting, people will want to take part.

How can organisations collect and use data to help them continually improve their wellness programs?

There are a few ways to measure your wellness programs:

  • Participation rates: How many people take part in your wellness initiatives? If the number isn’t too high, it could indicate that the programs aren’t relevant or difficult to access.
  • Health data and outcomes: If the wellness program is customised to the health needs of employees (through needs testing and health risk assessments), then metrics against employee health can be used, e.g. absenteeism due to falling ill with the common cold.
  • Satisfaction measures: For example, how happy the team is with services, worker’s compensation, sick days, stress leave and other data from HR.

In talking about data, it’s important to note that with certain programs, you might see immediate change, but no sustainable difference in the company. For example, after a physical challenge intended to promote health, you may see staff losing weight – but what about their health in the long-run? Noonan says that it’s important to also consider wellness initiatives that take into account long-term health and wellbeing, and that’s also how you retain staff for longer.

Want to learn more about wellness in the workplace? Download our eBook, The fundamentals of wellness and wellbeing in workplace design, which discusses the seven principles of designing for wellness and wellbeing at work, including agility in the work environment, the impact of technology and the demands of a multi-generational workforce.

And don’t forget to stay tuned for Part 2 of this blog, where we cover the experts’ discussion on industry trends relating to workplace wellness! Subscribe to our blog below to make sure you don’t miss out.

Free eBook: The fundamentals of wellness and wellbeing in workplace design

Axiom Workplaces combine your commercial fitout goals with our experience and expertise in evidence-based office design to create a thriving workplace for you and your workforce.

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