BITC health summit: Take action on workplace health

A worldwide survey of 3,000 employees by consultancy Right Management in 2009 showed people were 1.5 times more likely to stay for at least five years if they thought their organisation cared about their health and wellbeing.

Right Management’s organisational effectiveness survey showed an organisation is four times more likely to lose talent in the next year if its staff take an unfavourable view of the employer’s attitude to wellbeing.

“At the moment, a lot of people are staying put because of external economic factors. As soon as the upturn takes off, there is going to be rapid turnover. Companies that can put in place now steps and strategies for workplace wellness are going to keep their talent,” says Alistair Dornan, head of wellness and productivity management at Right Management.


Worse still, the most engaged and talented performers may be the ones most likely to leave. Research based on consultancy Towers Watson’s Global Workforce Study of 2007-08 showed high employee engagement does not necessarily equate with high staff retention. Employees with ‘unstable engagement’ – where their effort is not sustainable and having a negative impact on their wellbeing – are most likely to leave when the jobs market picks up.

Employers will be debating these issues in May at the Work and Health Summit, organised by the corporate responsibility body Business in the Community (BITC).

BITC’s Business Action on Health model is based on evidence from business leaders, and is focused on four principles: better physical and psychological health; better work meaning a happy and engaging work environment; better relationships; and better specialist support.

“The relationship between wellbeing and engagement is mutually reinforcing in fostering sustainable performance,” says Louise Aston, national director of BITC’s Business Action on Health campaign. “When this virtuous circle is broken, high performance becomes unsustainable and, as a result, productivity declines.”

The evidence shows employers still have a long way to go in linking wellbeing to engagement or in achieving employee engagement at all. A survey of 300 managers by Right Management in February showed only 18% of organisations use employee engagement strategies to a great extent, and 63% to a fair extent. Almost half (44%) said employee engagement was decreasing during the recession.

Managers understand the benefits of an engaged workforce, with 60% believing this significantly affects an organisation’s performance, and 73% believing health and wellness have a direct impact on employees’ levels of engagement. But managers are complacent about the level of engagement within their own teams, with most thinking they are less affected than the organisation as a whole.

Less than half of companies promote health and wellbeing in the workplace, and fewer see it as a strategic tool that can improve company performance, the research shows. The answer is to redefine what is meant by ‘wellbeing’, says Dornan.

“Organisations at strategic level don’t understand what wellbeing is all about,” he says. “Their assumption is that it means mung beans, gym membership, health days and fruit on Friday. The wellbeing agenda ends up with junior or disempowered members of the HR team with no budget or strategic link with the organisation. Then when the organisation looks at the key performance indicators a year later, it’s no wonder they cannot see links between wellbeing initiatives and employee engagement and performance. There’s that complete organisational disconnect.”

The solution is to take a systems-wide approach and link wellbeing to strategy, says Dornan, who presented the evidence to the independent World Economic Forum last month.


All the experts agree senior management commitment is essential. Charles Fair, senior consultant at Towers Watson, says employee wellbeing should be reflected in a company’s employee benefits, training and development, work-life balance policy and the way managers interact with employees.

A company’s culture must change so that line managers recognise “pressure points” and act when high performers are at risk of leaving, says Fair. At the same time, they must address presenteeism, when disengaged staff hang on to their jobs without making any discretionary effort.

“It’s about having the right culture where you can have a discussion about it,” Fair says. “I’ve seen City institutions where talking about life outside work is taboo. Most of the problems are down to life outside work and non-work-related things.”

The benefits of linking wellbeing and engagement are clear. Right Management’s research shows that when wellness is actively promoted, employees perceive that organisational performance increases 2.5 times, and employee engagement nearly eight times.

BITC Health and Work Summit

11 May 2010 – Kings Fund, central London

Sickness absence costs UK employers £8.4bn a year, but £15.1bn a year is lost through reduced productivity at work (presenteeism). Presenteeism accounts for 1.5 times as much working time lost as absenteeism.

Organised by employers for employers, this one-day conference is focusing on practical solutions for building employee wellbeing and engagement to maximise the productivity of your organisation.

For more information, call Sarah Barnes on 020 8652 3233 or e-mail

The summit is sponsored by the Food and Drink Federation and the National Business Travel Network.

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