Health and Wellbeing as a Positive Business Strategy

In May 2017, I attended the Positive Business Conference hosted by the Center for Positive Organizations at the University of Michigan. There were a broad range of professionals in attendance including organization development, human resources, and other strategic business functions. I was in “growth and learning heaven” as speakers shared stories ranging from KPMG’s success through helping employees see deeper purpose and meaning in their work to Dr. Mehmood Khan, Vice Chairman; Chief Scientific Officer at PepsiCo, talking about their intensity of focus on innovating for sustainability as a business strategy.

While none of the presenters labeled their presentation “employee wellbeing as a business strategy”,   I couldn’t help but feel each was directly related to and supportive of the idea that taking care of your workforce and the environment they live and work in, is a positive business strategy that is essential to long and short-term organization success.  The more I look around, the more I see evidence that some companies understand this at their core (e.g. Menlo Innovations and Owens Corning).

Many HR professionals chose their professions because they are people people and multi-taskers who get things done.  As a result, we often spend our days focused on the tactical pieces of the puzzle.   Due to the immediate need to keep the wheels on the bus moving it can be tough to find time to consider why the bus is moving in the first place and what role the humans on the bus play.  Even if there is time to think strategically, leadership might not see the Human Resource function as a part of business strategy beyond the tactical necessities.

In an organization where strategic focus tends to be placed heavily on priorities such as quality, customer satisfaction, and growth how can HR play a role in elevating the care and nurturing of the workforce to a strategic level that garners attention and buy-in?  Consider the following…

  • Find out what keeps leaders and other key stakeholders up at night. What do they worry about? What problems do they need help with? I often hear organizations say they don’t like to survey because they fear their inability to give people what they want.   If we don’t take time to seek to understand, it will be difficult to find common ground – an essential starting point to strategic partnership. It will be easier to build interest in workforce wellbeing as a business strategy if you find out what they care about and work your way from there.
  • Be the change you wish to see in the world. Develop a strategic vision for your health and wellbeing strategy that is inspiring and provides direction for your team. Clearly tie vision to the mission and priorities of the organization (i.e. we will support the development and growth of the business by supporting the health and wellbeing of our workforce).  Share it with leadership and employees.  If leadership isn’t ready to pronounce to the world their belief that caring for the workforce is essential to organization success, lead by example and get the snowball rolling.
  • Overcome the fear that taking care of your workforce necessitates a budget, head count and doing more. You are likely already offering a number of resources to support the physical (health plan), financial (401K), emotional (EAP, PTO), social (team building activities), professional (training & development), & community wellbeing (time off to volunteer). Inventory the benefits you offer. Market and highlight the value you provide to your employees – promote them on your website and in internal communications. Show them you care before and while they are working for your organization.
  • Be sure your wellbeing strategy is focused on supporting not “getting” employees to be healthy. Being there for your workforce rather than doing things to your workforce is an essential component of health and wellbeing as a business strategy. Don’t have time/resources for a survey? Ask employees every chance you get – Which of our benefits/resources do you value? What other benefits/resources might you find valuable?   Having an opportunity to provide input gives the employees a feeling…the company cares.

Ask a leader if they are interested in being a successful business in the long run and I’d bet 99% of them would respond with a resounding “yes”.   In reality, human beings are wired for near-term focus – it’s a defense mechanism left over from ancient times (and being ready to fight off random saber-toothed tigers).   As a result, we humans tend to focus on short-terms gains over investment in a healthy future.   The great news is that leadership won’t need to give up the short-term focus, the better news is that through leading by example, expanding your organization’s view of the employment value proposition, and investing in the care and wellbeing of your workforce, business sustainability is strengthened and employees win too – a positive result all around.

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About Marsh & McLennan Agency – Marsh & McLennan Agency LLC, a subsidiary of Marsh, was established in 2008 to meet the needs of midsize businesses in the United States. MMA operates autonomously from Marsh to offer employee benefits, executive benefits, retirement, commercial property & casualty, and personal lines to clients across the United States.