The I in illness is isolation, and the crucial letters in wellness are we

Author unknown, as quoted in Mimi Guarneri, The Heart Speaks: A Cardiologist Reveals the Secret Language of Healing

One would have to be living under a rock to avoid the recent and growing fascination with wellbeing.
However, far from being the Emperor’s New Clothes, there’s an increasing awareness that the link between health risk factors and the associated medical costs can no longer be ignored. Least of all by the government. With Gordon Brown vowing to deliver an NHS which will prevent illness rather than treat it, he made no bones about throwing the gauntlet squarely at the feet of the individual, i.e., your health, your responsibility, start doing something about it – or to quote directly;

“(the NHS)……….will be based not just on what it can
do for you but what you can do for yourself and your
family.”

Followed by the launch of Healthy Weight, Healthy Lives – the £372 million cross-government strategy developed to support the creation of a healthy society – the government was making it clear that obesity was now very much on their radar.

Last year’s Foresight report on obesity indicated that based on current trends nearly 60 per cent of the UK population will be obese by 2050. The stark reality is that if left unchecked, we’re facing an obesity epidemic with associated deteriorating health and spiralling health and social care costs. Throw in an ageing workforce, rising illness and ever increasing absence costs and it’s clear that health in the workplace becomes not only a matter of macro social responsibility, but has a direct impact on competitive advantage, productivity and retention levels in micro environments.

Dame Carol Black’s recent review of the health of Britain’s working age population,” Working for a healthier tomorrow”, reiterated the need for employer support. Revolving around three key objectives: prevention of illness and promotion of health and wellbeing, early intervention for those who develop a health condition and improvement in health of those out of work, it specifically focussed on what employers can do in the workplace to support their staff and bolstered the earlier conclusions of the over arching Health, Work and Wellbeing strategy.

What’s clear is that employees with more health risk factors are more likely to have higher absence rates and lower productivity and that a well designed wellbeing programme promoting and fully supporting positive lifestyles can effectively combat this. Research amongst Unilever staff (UK)1 demonstrated that the test group exposed to health risk assessments, health promotion and behaviour change (including stress, pain and sleep management) improved their work performance by around 8.0% – which equated to approximately £600 per participating employee per year. Add to this that 25% of healthcare claims costs are caused by modifiable health risk factors, there’s a concise and clear argument to utilise programmes combining health promotion, health risk assessments, health assessments and health coaching.

You can lead a horse to water – but you can’t make it drink? Well – what if we turn this analogy on its head?
Crucially, it’s not about forcing outcomes and measurement with wellbeing programmes – it’s about supporting behaviour change, providing access to coaching and training programmes and a proactive communication strategy that encourages open and honest engagement.

One thing is certain – far from being a buzzword, wellbeing is becoming an increasingly intrinsic component of viable long term economic, social and cultural growth and stability.

And everyone has a role to play.