Why a culture of health is critical to business

Rosie Warin
29th Oct 2019

As part of our work on the role culture can play in employee wellbeing, our CEO, Rosie Warin, spoke at the Sustainable Retail Summit in Berlin last week, an annual conference hosted by the Consumer Goods Forum that brings together some of the world’s biggest retailers and manufacturers to drive positive change. Here she explains why businesses need to move away from standalone wellbeing programmes and policies and towards a holistic culture of health.

Globally, things aren’t looking great for the health of the general population, particularly through the lens of the workplace.

The majority of the world’s 3.4 billion workers are classed as unwell with 52% overweight, 76% struggling with their wellbeing and 40% facing high stress in their jobs. And aside from the human cost of this, it’s also impacting businesses, with the financial cost of unwell workers representing 10% to 15% of global economic output – to put that into perspective, thats $2.2 trillion in USA alone. In fact, the World Economic Forum predicts that depression will become the leading global disease burden by 2030. 

But there’s an opportunity here; companies can play a pivotal role for the benefit of society and their business. An organisation that puts employee health and wellbeing at the core reports more motivated and engaged employees, a more productive workforce with less absenteeism and presenteeism, better retention and recruitment, and critically for the future, a workforce that is more resilient and adaptable to change. In our fast-paced, increasingly uncertain world, having a resilient, motivated and adaptable workforce is vital. Health and wellbeing is not a ‘nice to have’; it’s a strategic driver of business growth and should be a C-Suite and board-level priority.

It’s safe to say the importance of employee health and wellbeing is not going unnoticed. Amongst consumer goods companies, the intention to embed effective health and wellbeing policies is positive. A survey of Consumer Goods Forum members in 2017 found that 78% had implemented employee health and wellness programmes in their organisation, up from 57% in the previous year. And with members directly employing over ten million people around the world, the corresponding benefits these programmes can have, not just on the company and its workers, but on the communities in which they live and work is undeniable.

But while many members are leading the way, there is still more to be done to address the critical issues impacting today’s global workforce, most of whom spend the majority of their waking hours at work.

In conjunction with the Consumer Goods Forum’s Health & Wellness initiative, we undertook a piece of global research, surveying over 3,500 employees in seven countries and interviewing 18 business leaders and employee wellbeing experts.

The results, which will be released in full later this year, revealed that not only should health and wellbeing sit at the heart of a company’s business strategy and purpose, it’s now a make or break issue.

Most of the employees we surveyed agreed that they would be more likely to stay in their job if their employer improved their health and wellbeing programmes. What’s more, many said they had left a job, or knew someone who had, because their employer did not take their health or wellbeing seriously. And despite best intentions, businesses are still falling short in one key area: the culture of their workplace is not reflected in their wellbeing policies.

So our research shows that while the intent is there, businesses need to move away from standalone policies to fostering a culture of health that’s rooted in the everyday actions and behaviours of all employees. Quite simply, if reality doesn’t match rhetoric, your initiatives cannot succeed.

We’ll be releasing our report in partnership with the Consumer Goods Forum towards the end of this year, in which we’ll be outlining the proven steps organisations can take to embed a sustainable and effective culture of health.

The business case is clear. And the broader social impact of having happy, fulfilled and loyal employees is even clearer. Collectively, we have the power to transform the way we work for the better, and that’s something to be incredibly excited about.