Healthy @ Work - New trends in corporate well-being programmes


Are employers caring for the mental wellbeing of their employees? If not, perhaps it’s time to reconsider well-being programmes and extending them from yoga classes and smoothie bars. Latest reports from the UK and Germany show, that the majority of sickness absence in organisations are motivated by psychological or mental health issues, rather than physical sickness. A 2017 study in Germany by the AOK, the federation of social security secretariats, has shown that out of 12.5 million employees that took a sick-leave following a life-event, 79% had to take time off work due to mental health and emotional problems. In the UK a staggering 70 million work days are lost each year due to mental health problems, costing employers approximately £2.4 billion per year.

Corporate wellness strategies and workplace well-being programmes have skyrocketed in recent years, with significant contributions being made by technological developments, supported by an increased global interest in health and well-being in general.

We observe some exciting trends on the rise, which we consider will elevate companies’ employee well-being initiatives to a whole new level. These might as well create organisational well-being newcomers the possibility to benefit from exciting new initiatives, as focusing on physical fitness is gradually becoming business as usual.

What is well-being?

Before we dive into the latest corporate trends of 2018 let’s clear the air on two very important concepts; what is well-being, and what is a workplace well-being programme.

Subjective well-being is the general evaluation of one’s quality of life, according to Ed Diener (Subjective Well-Being: A General Overview, Ed Diener and Katherine Ryan, South African Journal of Psychology, Vol 39, Issue 4, pp. 391 – 406), one of the most internationally recognised researchers of this subject. This concept includes 3 key components: 1) life satisfaction; 2) experiencing positive levels of pleasant emotions 3) experiencing relatively low levels of negative moods.

#Wellbeing includes 3 key components: life #satisfaction, experiencing positive levels of pleasant #emotions and experiencing relatively low levels of negative #moods. Click To Tweet

Consequently, a workplace well-being programme refers to an organisational level initiative that aims to improve the health and well-being of its employees. These innovative programmes could encompass activities related to physical activities, financial wellness, stress management, sleep, healthy diet, fitness and exercises, and much more.

What exactly are the objectives of such initiatives? Do they really work? To enhance employee productivity and accommodate contemporary social norms companies are investing massively in this area. No wonder this tendency has elevated the strategic role of company well-being programmes to new heights.

At the same time, the discussion about the effectiveness of these initiatives are heating up. How are the impact and effectiveness of these initiatives being measured? How do these programmes alter employee’s behaviour? At what level do they contribute to productivity? In fact, a recent research, that was run by University of Illinois researchers and has used a control group to measure the impact of iThrive, has found that workplace well-being programmes don’t necessarily save money for companies or make employees healthier. Clearly, the lines are blurred when it comes to deciding on the actual effectiveness of such programmes.

In any case, to provide pointers to such important and sometimes disruptive trends, what we just love getting into on the Zukunft Personal Europe blog, here comes a look at the most influential workplace well-being trends you should be paying attention to, or get engaged with, in 2018 and beyond.

Explosion of the digital well-being market

Between 2014 and 2016 more than 2 billion USD (The Future of Wellness at Work, 2016 Global Wellness Institute) from venture capital funds have been invested in the digital health area, generating a tsunami of online platforms, applications, educative videos and countless tools to support, raise and guide all relevant areas of well-being. Fuelled by these developments the corporate well-being market is expected to reach 11.3 billion USD by 2021 in the US.

Propelled by a global fitness and diet obsession, backed by venture capital, vendors such as Virgin Pulse, Limeade, Welltok or ShapeUp, are now offering all-inclusive platforms through which users can get access to a huge variety of individualised employee well-being solutions. As expected, these companies don’t shy away from using the latest technological developments such as AI or machine learning to cater to users with tailored support, advice, analysis and content. Virgin Pulse, part of Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group empire, for instance, has successfully integrated Amazon’s Alexa in its platform so to provide users with reminders, advice and support on when to go to bed, what distance they need to cover after a long sitting meeting, or stand up after staying behind their office desks for too long. These developments are also turning digital well-being tools into personal fitness instructors, able to supply users with individualised health strategies and consultations.

Not surprisingly, we are very very keen to learn more about these developments at the Zukunft Personal Europe this September, where Virgin Pulse will be sponsoring the Special Expo on Corporate Health.

Succeed in Permanent … Data

Our fascination with data continues. Nowadays wearable tech gadgets and devices include smartwatches, fitness and activity trackers, smart eyeglasses, chest straps or optical wrist sensors, just to name a few. The pick-up or integration of consumer-grade wearable well-being programmes has the potential to simplify and create more engagement around certain initiatives, also provide organisations with actual data about their workers.

New trends in corporate health: Gadgets


As you might just expect, the wearable sector advances with hyperspeed with an expected 49.6 million users by 2022, according to latest predictions. In terms of the geographical distribution of the sector’s revenue we find China topping the list closely followed by the US, and Germany. Wearables tend to attract all sorts of sectors. For instance, reports suggest that wearables became so popular in the UK that healthcare workers wear them on their ankles, or put them on during breaks, even though they are not supposed to have smart devices on while on work, due to hygiene reasons. Employees would even defy or circumvent workplace rules to keep their wearable gadgets on.

These examples and market forecasts should please many HR managers, because they show how ready people are to sign up to such programmes with potential impact on their health and well-being. However, what we will see in this sector in the next couple of years is currently a little bit unpredictable, especially in the EU, where current data protection regulations (GDPR) restrict how companies can collect, store and use information and data about their employees.

Making well-being programmes work

As the well-being market has expanded over the course of the last years, so has leadership’s understanding of the critical role these programmes can play in defining an organisation. For instance, according to the latest Proprietary Research by Limeaid, two-thirds of organisations now state that well-being programmes are a critical part of their employment brand and culture.

Simultaneously, the importance of Health and Well-being Managers within organisations have grown. We all might have come across by now the story of Chade-Meng Tan, who famously started a class of mindfulness and emotional intelligence at Google, which later became his job title. Tan’s mindfulness for well-being initiative would later become the “Search Inside Yourself” course attracting thousands of coworkers. These classes aimed at helping employees at Google finding their inner peace, and supporting them with stress and negativity management techniques. The course turned out to be so successful that it eventually spread across the globe, and led Meng writing his best-seller book “Search Inside Yourself“.

As Tan’s example shows, corporate well-being programmes ideally could and should consist of more than the handing out of health gadgets, periodical health checks, gym memberships, spinning classes or reimbursements of certain health related costs. The key in any corporate well-being programme is to create individualised and tailored offerings, that not just mirror the needs of the employees, but are ingrained in the culture of the organisation.

The key in any corporate well-being programme is to create individualised and tailored offerings, that not just mirror the needs of the #employees, but are ingrained in the culture of the organisation. #corporatehealth Click To Tweet

The hospitality sector, which is known to be a rather demanding, day-and-night industry, has been deploying employee well-being initiatives for many years now, especially to attract and retain top talent, and keep up exceptional customer service. What companies from these sectors report is that for them to make these programmes work it was equally important to create a supportive culture on top of business as usual. It is great if a company can afford to offer fitness facilities, gym memberships or yoga classes, but if their employees are not able to take time out of their busy days to benefit from such arrangements (or, if they feel workplace peer pressure about doing so), they will simply not use it. Equally, if in a demanding hotel resort, staff are encouraged and incentivised to use alter habits and lose weight, but need to pull in double shifts and are not able to carve out time to develop a healthy diet, they will almost always fail.

People are motivated by different things, therefore well-being initiatives work best when participation is shared through joint goals or fuelled by hearty competitions. Accomplishing results, celebrating success are all fundamental in running successful well-being initiatives. They also need to be closely linked to the business strategies of organisations and tied to the company culture, mindset and daily operational model.

#Wellbeing initiatives work best when participation is shared and success is celebrated. #corporatehealth Click To Tweet


The most important message of this article to companies, that want to be ahead of the pack in terms of employee well-being programmes, is to follow closely these latest trends that might help you step up your health initiatives a notch. The coming years, with more and more organisations and stakeholders changing their focus to corporate health and wellness, might turn out to be the best years for employee well-being yet.

Organisations however should always monitor take-up by employees to understand what works, and what doesn’t. In a fascinating new study UNUM found, that in organisations women were twice as likely to come forth with their need to seek out wellbeing and health initiatives than men. Especially for mental health services and programmes, men were a tiny proportion of the users. Therefore there needs to be a sensitivity around the existing bias and perceived stigma men or women may experience about these well-being initiatives, who they “are meant for” and what can be the benefits.

To find out how your organisation can incorporate some of these new trends into actual programmes get inspired at the Zukunft Personal Europe this September, where stimulating presentations and market leader exhibitors will guarantee that you can keep your well-being initiatives fresh, appealing and useful for your employees.

Do you have anything to add to this article? Tell us in the comment section!

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