But workers’ health and wellness were already suffering long before the pandemic. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine found that deaths among people of prime working age – that is, ages 25 to 64 – have been steadily on the rise since the 1990s. Worse still, relative to their counterparts in other wealthy nations, more Americans die before reaching age 65, according to the academies’ 2021 report.
This was primarily a result of drug overdoses, alcohol, suicides “and cardiometabolic conditions,” including diabetes, heart diseases caused by high blood pressure and more. They called for “urgent policy actions in light of this crisis,” including anti-obesity efforts and mental health services.
Increasingly, mental health problems are hurting businesses and entire economies. The World Health Organization says 12 billion working days are lost to depression and anxiety each year – or $1 trillion in lost productivity. In the United States, mental health problems are estimated to cost $47.5 billion in lost productivity due to unplanned absences alone.
Government actions are part of the answer to improving wellness, and policymakers must do more to support mental and physical health. But more than ever, it’s also up to businesses to do their part. The research is clear: The greater the overall state of well-being in the workforce, the more successful businesses are. When people are thriving, they’re more productive, collaborative, innovative, engaged and satisfied.
There’s also another reason that today’s businesses need to help employees improve their wellness: Workers expect it. Many will only work at organizations that make employee well-being a real priority.
My company, Gympass, works with businesses around the world to provide their employees with a network of gyms, classes, personal trainers and wellness apps – all in one subscription. Last year, we conducted a global survey of employees in a variety of industries, including healthcare, hospitality, technology and manufacturing. Seventy-seven percent told us they would consider leaving a company that does not focus on well-being; 83% said their wellness is as important as their salary; and 85% said they’re likely to stay in their role if their employer focused more on well-being.
The bottom line: Improving employee wellness is now a business imperative. Employers like me must confront the crisis head-on.
Understandably, many businesses have been wary of investing in well-being initiatives. This is due largely to widespread confusion about how to determine the return on investment, a crucial metric in business.
So we conducted a new study to provide some answers. Surveying more than 2,000 human resources directors, managers, vice presidents and C-suite leaders, The Return on Wellbeing lays out a formula for businesses to follow. It boils down to a simple equation: Productivity increases + talent management savings + health care savings – wellness program costs = ROI.
Ninety percent of companies that measure their wellness programs see a positive return – the same number that see positive returns from their other benefits. This makes sense, since overwhelming majorities saw reductions in their costs for health care, recruitment, retention and/or engagement – and all the HR leaders said their wellness programs are important to employee satisfaction.
To make these programs work, employees need to know that they genuinely are free to engage in wellness activities – even if that means flexibility in a schedule when possible. One of the most powerful things executives can do is demonstrate this by not just giving lip service, but setting an example ourselves.
As a CEO myself, maintaining wellness is a struggle I’m familiar with. Working long hours and missing quality time with my family left me experiencing high levels of stress and generally feeling unhealthy – both physically and mentally. Once I made a real commitment to well-being – through visiting our partner gyms and studios, starting meditation and playing tennis – my life and work transformed. Not only did my relationships at home improve, but I saw greater results at work and received better feedback from employees.
As more of my employees have made similar changes, their lives and work have undergone similar transformations. So the message is clear: A company’s investment in its people’s well-being is a direct investment in its business. Executives who understand this will lead their organizations to greater success in the long run – and those that overlook the importance of employee well-being will, inevitably, fall behind.