The stakes are too high not to prioritize well-being in the workplace

Editor's Note: The following is a guest contribution from Steve Alavi, CFO of HealthFitness.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently announced that life expectancy in the United States has dropped in the last year, from 78.9 years in 2014 to 78.8 years in 2015. This 0.1 drop may not seem like much, but you should know that this is the first time life expectancy has decreased for the entire U.S. population in a decade.

So why am I telling you this?

Because I believe workplace well-being is one of the most effective and important ways we can improve our nation’s overall health and help prevent the leading causes of death on the CDC’s list from continuing to increase across our population. And I also believe workplace well-being programs contribute to the strong employee engagement and work cultures every business is on a mission to achieve.

Many of today’s leading causes of death in America are, in large part, preventable and linked to our everyday behaviors and overall well-being. By well-being, I’m including physical health as well as the emotional, social, financial and environmental dimensions – what those of us in the industry refer to a whole-person view of health.

And I’m suggesting that employers take a major role in helping—even ensuring—that employees build healthy behaviors into their lives at work and at home, because our jobs and careers contribute quite a bit to our well-being as a whole. Work shouldn’t be an excuse for people not leading a healthy lifestyle.

Let’s start with time: we spend nearly a third of our average week working. Gallup has reported that full-time U.S. employees spent an average 47 hours per week working, and that nearly four in 10 work at least 50 hours per week. And when it comes to our mental and physical health, a recent Harvard study found that nearly half of working adults say their job affects their overall health, with only 28% saying the effect is a good one.

As an industry, much of the discussion about the value of workplace well-being has centered on quantitative ROI—will it decrease a company’s insurance claims? This is a crucial question to ask and to be able to answer for workplace well-being initiatives. But in addition to reducing claims and helping to decrease the rate of preventable illnesses hitting our friends, family members and colleagues, there are many other substantial business-related benefits that come from prioritizing well-being in the workplace. Here are just a few:

Stronger job performance and engagement

There is a close link between positive well-being and job performance and engagement—Gallup’s research has shown that those with high well-being have excellent performance at work. And considering that Gallup’s recent engagement report found that just over 30% of the American workforce calls themselves engaged, and 17% actively disengaged, I’d say there’s opportunity to concurrently amplify both wellbeing and engagement. Wellbeing initiatives have the potential to contribute to a thriving workplace that performs at its top capacities when employers focus on helping employees create and sustain healthy behaviors across all dimensions of their health.

Better adaptability and focus amid change

 Again, Gallup’s research has shown that employees with strong well-being are 45% more likely to be adaptable in the presence of change. Given the pace of change in today’s business landscape and world economy, it is critical that employers and workers are adaptable and agile if they are to remain competitive and grow their businesses. Unfortunately, 28% of U.S. adults are not thriving in any dimension of their well-being, whether those elements are physical, emotional, social, financial or environmental.

More supportive company culture

Research suggests that employees want well-being to be a priority for their employer, and in fact, report that the presence of such a program communicates that their employer cares about them. Employees view their well-being as an opportunity to connect with other employees with similar health goals and interests. Providing employees with opportunities to connect and bond over health-related goals can help to create a more authentic, supportive culture and stronger sense of community among employees.

As someone who spends their days weighing priorities and investments, I’m here to tell you that the stakes are too high to wait and see if these illness rates continue increasing in the years ahead without taking action. Employers can and should play a major role in helping their employees manage and prioritize their well-being, especially given the outsized role of our jobs and careers. Integrating healthy behaviors and habits into our jobs is crucial if we want to be healthy, happy and engaged in every area of our lives over the long run.

Filed Under: HR Management Comp & Benefits
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