How a holistic approach to wellbeing drives elite performance

Are your employees happy? Considering that studies show that happy workers are more engaged, more productive, and more likely to stay at their company, you’d better hope so.


Evidence is mounting that suggests that maintaining a happy and healthy workforce isn’t just good for employees, but good for the business as a whole. Economists at the University of Warwick found that happiness is correlated with productivity – those considering themselves happy saw a 12 percent increase in productivity compared with those that were unhappy.

Increasingly, to help bolster this “happiness”, which seems to translate to overall success and sustainability of an organisation, businesses are prioritizing employee wellbeing. After all, if employees are happy and well, it’s likely that customers will be too.

But wellbeing goes far beyond just staying fit and healthy, although that is an important part of it. Making sure your employees are mentally well, socially stimulated, and financially cared for is every bit as important as looking after their physical wellbeing.

In Depth

Corporate attitudes towards employee wellbeing are changing. Shifting age demographics and generational expectations mean that workers are demanding more and more from their employers.

The first wellness programmes were driven by organisations’ desire to lower insurance costs and focused on three P’s: preparation, prevention and performance. According to Gary Fearon, Healthcare & Benefits Lead at Aon, Johnson & Johnson was among the first to move into this space with their “Live for Life” programme in 1978.

In nearly four decades since then, studies have revealed that improved employee performance is about more than physical health. A limited fitness-based view of wellness has given way to an integrated experience of wellbeing, which adds emotional, financial and social aspects that contribute to overall balance and happiness in employees. So what are the elements of a holistic approach to wellbeing and what can organisations do to provide better experiences for their people?

Physical Wellbeing

Insurance and medical costs have a huge impact on companies’ balance sheets, both when providing coverage plans, and when dealing with lost productivity from sick days.

Physical wellbeing should be one of the most straightforward issues to address around workplace wellbeing. Prevention, after all, is better than a cure, and workplaces are ideally positioned to act as frontline promoters of healthy lifestyles. “Change the work experience, the culture, the environment,’ says Gary Fearon, Health & Benefits Lead at Aon, “and you can make health part of the work day.”

Psychological Wellbeing

Psychological wellbeing is just as important as physical wellbeing when maintaining healthy, happy and engaged workforces. And the opening up of conversation around mental health issues, particularly among millennials, means that employers should have better insight into its prevalence and impact and how to devise approaches that help their employees get the help they need, should they need it.

Employers can address mental health challenges in a number of ways. It is important to train leaders to spot the early warning signs of an employee who might be struggling with depression, how to identify opportunities to offer support, and how to direct employees to services that can offer professional help.

It is also important to evaluate the work environment to identify and address issues that could negatively impact employees’ mental health. Creating an emotional health strategy to raise awareness, reduce stigma, foster a trusting climate and boost participation in mental and emotional wellbeing programmes can then follow. This can be accompanied with on-site classes or seminars to teach stress resilience, mindfulness techniques and other coping skills.

Social Wellbeing

Engagement with a company is crucial to nurturing a productive workforce, and people are more likely to engage if they like the people they are working with.

  • 50 percent of employees reported stronger connection with the company if they had a best friend at work, according to a 2012 Gallup poll.
  • 1 in 3 people have met their best friend at work.
  • And having a best friend counts ­– those who reported having a best friend at work were 27 percent more likely to report engagement with the company mission.

Building social elements into workdays can be as simple as calling town-hall style meetings or just making the effort to talk to colleagues one-on-one, rather than via an email server. Team bonding exercises and casual get-togethers can help to achieve this.

Financial Wellbeing

"Like physical, emotional and social health, financial health is fundamentally key to leading a happy and successful life. It’s a part of overall wellbeing that is finally getting the recognition it deserves," according to Rachael Ingle, Managing Director of Aon's Retirement & Investment business.

Rachael defined financial wellbeing as the ability to confidently manage financial life today while preparing for the future and anything unexpected along the way. She pointed out that a great deal of employee stress is often caused by financial issues.

“We are getting better at talking about emotions and feelings but nobody wants to talk about financials,” she said. “Because of a cultural taboo against talking about money, people avoid discussing something that can have a great effect on how they think, feel and behave."

Money troubles can be a big driver of stress for individuals and typically go beyond an individual’s actual compensation. Financial security isn’t just about pay – it’s also about making sure that employees understand how to manage that money. Programmes such as financial assistance and retirement programmes can help with alleviating financial-related stress that employees might encounter.

Moving towards a happier workplace

For example, when organisations are prioritising wellbeing programmes, they tend to focus on diet and exercise. We’re seeing that employees are saying that they need more sleep and less stress. With this mismatch of priorities, it’s clear that organisations won’t see the results they are looking for because they are offering programmes that employees don’t really want.

According to Gary Fearon, “building a culture of wellbeing means understanding what’s important to the organisation and its workforce, and understanding how you can drive business results… if you want to drive change, it actually has to be a cultural change. It has to be a grassroots effort that infiltrates the experience. It can’t just be telling people what to do and telling them when to do it,”

Although not all-encompassing, such philosophies are essential to creating a culture that prioritises the wellbeing of their employees. This is not just because of the correlation with customer satisfaction, but rather that it’s the right thing to do.

Click here to download Aon's Whitepaper - The Era of Wellbeing