Health and Well-being Special: Working well?

Happy employees not only create a healthier, more productive workforce, they also make a difference to a company's bottom line - that's the idea. Michelle Sturman takes a look at different research studies that back up these statements.


Global wellness and the economy

Research undertaken by the Global Wellness Institute (GWI), a research and education resource for the international wellness industry, estimates that the global wellness economy in 2015 was worth $3.7 trillion. Of this, workplace wellness makes up $43 billion, which includes employer incentives to address employee health risk behaviours such as smoking, stress, lack of exercise etc. Increasingly, GWI says, employee well-being is also becoming linked to fitness & mind-body (worth $542 billion) and healthy eating, nutrition and weight loss (worth $648 billion).

Scope for wellness plans

The current workplace wellness market is centred on the wealthiest nations and multinational corporations, and is concentrated in North America and Europe. It means that in these geographies there is plenty of scope for business opportunities in terms of providing workplace wellness programmes and services, designing and constructing healthy work environments, offering ergonomic furniture, etc. 

And there certainly appears to be a need for all of these. The Global Wellness Economy Monitor January 2017 report warns, for example, that, as the workforce ages, workers will suffer more chronic diseases. When disengagement at work, medical costs and productivity losses are factored in, costs to the global economy reach 10-15% in output. 

The report includes some sobering other statistics:

  • 18% of the labour force will be over the age of 55 by 2030
  • 52% of adults are overweight/obese
  • 76% of people are struggling/suffering with physical well-being
  • 24% of staff are actively disengaged in the workplace

Unsurprisingly, North America leads the way in the number of employees with access to workplace wellness programmes and services (52%), followed by Europe (24%). The rest of the world is significantly behind with Middle East and North Africa (7%), and Latin America and Asia-Pacific (both 5%), while sub-Saharan Africa offers just 1% of workers access to wellness programmes and services. Overall, GWI estimates that only around 9.5% of today’s global workforce is covered by any kind of workplace well-being provision.

In terms of expenditure, the US spends the most by a wide margin ($14.43 billion), followed by Japan ($3.37 billion), Germany ($3.13 billion), the UK ($2.34 billion) and France ($2.03 billion).

The figures for the US are high compared to other countries due to medical care, which is primarily paid for by employers through health insurance. This has led to the US developing innovative wellness services to mitigate the costs to business, with progressive companies expanding employee well-being to include mental health, unlimited holiday, sponsored community service, flexible working, work-life balance, etc. 

The good news is that wellness at work is gaining serious traction, particularly as businesses seek to stem the increasing costs of unwell staff. Eventually, GWI expects wellness programmes to be replaced by a more holistic approach to health and well-being that will become standard within companies. 

Accordingly, the projected annual growth rate of the workplace wellness industry is 5%, with an estimated market value of $55.1 billion by 2020.

For more information and the full report visit:

Incentivising healthy living 

According to the 18th annual Employee Health Benefits 2016 survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research & Educational Trust, which provides current details of employer-sponsored health benefits in the US, there is continued interest in encouraging employees to improve their health. 

Research found that many – mostly large – businesses now offer health screening programmes, including health risk assessments, along with incentive schemes. Biometric screening is offered by 20% of small firms and 53% of large firms. The survey also discovered that 14% of large employers tied financial incentives to employees meeting certain outcomes, such as a target cholesterol level. 

The majority of large firms (83%) and almost half (46%) of small companies offer a programme in at least one of the following areas to promote well-being: weight management, smoking cessation and behavioural or lifestyle coaching. Additionally, companies are looking at new avenues such as retail health clinics and telemedicine to cover well-being options in the workplace. 

For more information and the full report visit:

The cost of work-related accidents and illnesses

New information from the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work states that health and safety in the workplace is becoming increasingly important as work-related accidents and illnesses cost the European Union (EU) a minimum of €476 billion ($564 billion) on an annual basis. On a global basis, this rises to a staggering €2.7 trillion, or just under 4% of worldwide GDP.

The main factors responsible for almost 80% of fatalities caused by work-related illnesses and accidents across all EU countries are: cancers (25%), muscular and skeletal illnesses (15%), circulatory diseases (12%) and injuries (12%). 

For more details visit:

Work-life balance: an indicator of happiness

The fifth World Happiness Report 2017, written by a group of independent experts, is a landmark survey of the state of global happiness. It ranks 155 countries by their happiness levels – Norway came out on top, incidentally – and was released at a United Nations event in March that celebrated the International Day of Happiness. 

As people around the world spend so much of their life at work, it is important to understand the role employment and the workplace plays. As would be expected, those in well-paying jobs are happier with their lives and work, but there are other aspects at stake as well. 

Work-life balance is a strong predictor of happiness, as well as job variety, learning new things, job security and social capital. 

Conversely, health and safety risks and feeling disengaged at work were linked to lower levels of happiness. 

For more information and the full report visit: