Recognizing the Value of Employee Wellbeing

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The emotional and physical wellbeing of the global workforce is in decline according to a number of benchmarks. The World Health Organization reports a global rise in the number of individuals being diagnosed with chronic, non-communicable diseases including cardiovascular diseases, cancers, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes.[1] Depression is now the leading cause of disability worldwide, with one study showing that the prevalence of depression increased by 54 percent between 1990 and 2013.[2],[3]

“Not only does poor physical and emotional health diminish the pool of available workers, it also produces hard costs for employers in terms of turnover, absenteeism, productivity and healthcare,” shares Dean Debnam, Chief Executive Officer at Workplace Options Inc., the world’s largest independent provider of employee wellbeing solutions. “Globally, companies are looking for ways to reduce costs associated with poor workforce health.”

In the UK, it is estimated that employers lose €33bn to €42bn per year to expenses associated with absenteeism, presenteeism and turnover due to mental health issues.[4] The CDC reports that heart disease and stroke costs U.S. employers $131 billion a year in lost productivity alone.[5]

A study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine Results revealed that employees at high risk for poor health outcomes had significantly higher medical expenses than did subjects at lower risk in the following categories[6]:

  • depression (70 percent higher expenditures than those at low risk)
  • high stress (46 percent higher)
  • high blood glucose levels (35 percent higher)
  • extremely high or low body weight (21 percent higher)
  • former (20 percent higher) and current (14 percent higher) tobacco users
  • high blood pressure (12 percent higher)
  • sedentary lifestyle (10 percent higher)

The good news is that a number of studies indicate that workplace wellbeing interventions, when successfully implemented, can have a positive Return on Investment (ROI) for employers. For example:

  • The 2007 Centre for Mental Health in the UK estimated that improving the management of mental health in the workplace, including prevention and early identification of problems could enable employers to save 30 percent or more of the costs associated with ill mental health
  • A Harvard University analysis found that medical costs fall by about $3.27 for every dollar spent on wellness programs and that absenteeism costs fall by about $2.73 for every dollar spent.[7]
  • The CDC reports that just a 1 percent reduction in the following risk factors—excess weight and elevated blood pressure, glucose, and cholesterol—has been shown to save $83 to $103 annually in medical costs per person.[8]
  • The Workplace Wellness Programs Study sponsored by the U.S. Dept. of Labor and U.S. Dept. of Health points to several studies that demonstrated workplace wellness program participants experienced increased physical activity, higher fruit and vegetable consumption, lower fat intake and reduced body weight.[9]
  • A Willis Towers Watson report found that companies with higher levels of wellbeing achieve per employee 22 percent higher revenue, 6.2 percent fewer days lost and employee engagement levels that are twice as high as other companies.[10]

In addition to reports showing a positive ROI, workplace wellbeing initiatives are often considered in terms of their VOI, or value of investment. This approach is a bit more subjective, and difficult to measure with numeric accuracy. It is based on the reasoning that well-supported individuals bring additional effort, energy, positivity and loyalty to their work and their organization. It involves logic that says “my employer cares for me and my loved ones, which motivates me to contribute more to the organization’s success.”

“It’s been our experience that employees working at their optimum level bring creativity to projects, energy to teams and a spirit of resilience in the face of change,” shares Debnam. “There is a great deal of organizational value found in these characteristics, because they can carry a ripple effect throughout the organization.”


[1] World Health Organization Noncommunicable diseases: the slow motion disaster

[2] World Health Organization Depression Fact Sheet

[3] World Health Organization (2016) Out of the Shadows

[4] Monitor Deloitte (Oct. 2017) Mental health and employers: The case for investment

[5] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Health and Economic Costs of Chronic Disease

[6] Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (Oct. 1998) The relationship between modifiable health risks and health care expenditures. An analysis of the multi-employer HERO health risk and cost database.

[7] Baker, Cutler, Song (Feb. 2010) Workplace Wellness Programs Can Generate Savings

[8] Centers for Disease Control (2018) At A Glance: 2016 Workplace Health Promotion

[9] Soeren Mattke, Hangsheng Liu, John P. Caloyeras, Christina Y. Huang, Kristin R. Van Busum, Dmitry Khodyakov, Victoria Shier (2013) Workplace Wellness Programs Study

[10] 2017/2018 Willis Towers Watson Global Benefit Attitudes Survey, U.S.; 2015/2016 Willis Towers Watson Global Staying at Work Survey, U.S.

Workplace Options helps employees balance their work, family and personal needs to become healthier, happier and more productive, both personally and professionally. The company’s world-class employee support, effectiveness and wellbeing services provide information, resources, referrals and consultation on a variety of issues ranging from dependent care and stress management to clinical services and wellness programs. To learn more visit