When last did you ask your employees any of these questions as a manager or employer? What can I do to make your work easier and better? How can I make your stay in this company more interesting and enjoyable?

I recently read a story about a startup where 21% of the employees resigned in the first quarter of the year. The great resignation happened just a few months after lodging the entire workforce in a 5-star hotel for a lavish team bonding and end-of-year party. You may ask, what could have gone wrong? Or why didn’t the owner see it coming? Was he blindsided? How heartless could the employees be? I can never be in those shoes; you may also tout. Even though the gesture to endear employees to the organization was cool, it changes nothing if the show of kindness is not etched into the fabric and nature of everyone in the organization, including the leaders. It also shows that a one-off act of kindness, a rare show of appreciation or a seasonal pat on the back can never right a multitude of wrongs. It takes a while for kindness, empathy, and commitment to be trusted, so a day or week event cannot do the trick. Just like the saying goes, becoming a healthy organization is not an event but a process which cannot be circumvented”.

Addressing not being blindsided is just one of the reasons every organization needs Workplace Wellness Strategists (WWS) either in-house or on retainership. These specialists’ work goes beyond feeling the pulse of employees as it covers a wider range of critical areas that cut across employees’ and the organization’s health, growth, and development. Other areas these experts cover include change management, organizational behavior and culture, CSR, occupational health and safety, productivity, DE&I, future trends, vendor, and volunteer management as they relate to their focus areas et al.

So, someone may say, “All stated above can be handled by HR, so why bother with a WWS?” Well! HR’s role may seem conflicted with some WWS roles, but they cannot compare. A simple pointer to the difference was what happened in the story above. To put this succinctly, HR personnel identify what employers want and communicate that to employees. In contrast, a WWS identifies and communicates what employees need to management to retain and engage acquired talents for business growth and sustainability. HR’s roles can never be deemed unimportant; neither can they be overemphasized as they cover talent acquisition, advisory, training, administration, and many more. However, employee retention for continuity and growth, stakeholders’ perception of endearment, and shareholders’ return on investment are the ultimate goals of being in any business, and these and much more are what a WWS brings to the table to complete the HR department.

Aside from the necessary expertise and experience required to identify patterns, predict trends, and prevent mishaps through targeted workplace wellness programme(s), there are other key benefits of engaging the service of a WWS or having one drafted into your HR department. These advantages have KPIs that aid in measuring their impacts or contributions to the bottom line. Moreover, HR is one of the departments in organizations that are described as cost centers simply because they don’t generate income despite their critical roles in bringing everyone together. This cost-center narrative makes them somewhat prone to downsizing even though they always know of such a plan first. So, one of the ways an HR director can add quantum value in this regard to protect the department is to allow WWS to serve in or alongside it. An HR department with a WWS will change the cost-center narrative.

The Financials – it is often said that the cost of doing nothing is expensive because unhealthy employees are more costly. These costs range from indirect ones like disability costs, workers’ compensation, and drug costs to indirect ones like absenteeism, presenteeism, labor replacement, and equipment damage. Opportunity costs are not left out, in terms of lost innovation, decreased quality, low productivity, poor engagement, and decreased attractiveness. As an employer, you need to be concerned about the effect of doing nothing and the financial savings derived from an appropriate program. The World Health Organization recently estimated that employers are beginning to realize 4 times ROI per dollar spent on worker wellness programs. To top this, is the Value of Investment (VOI) which captures growth and perception measured in other forms like in qualitative terms.

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Positive Organizational Profile – this is another key business driver for investing in workplace wellness programs. A well-executed and successful program will translate into increased employment satisfaction, customer impression, and ultimately, increased revenue. You will be amazed at how improved employee health and job satisfaction impact the quality of products, services, and customer satisfaction. One can then only imagine the causality of this process as against an event on the society in terms of improved health and quality of life of the people in the locality. These often dovetail into a big win for the organization with decreased costs (increased profit), increased productivity with creativity, brand awareness/loyalty, and ultimately improved business. As if that isn’t enough, the positive outlook makes it easier to be spotted by investors who can change the trajectory of any business through direct investment, partnership, or collaboration.

Legal Case – in any country, there are laws of the land that back its labor market. Therefore, Workplace Wellness Specialists ensure a safe physical and psychological work environment in compliance with these laws. They are also well equipped to track perfect legal storms which can adversely affect an organization. An interesting case to buttress this was Zorn-Smith vs. Her Employer. In this case, a long-term employee sued her employer for a wrongful sack after being driven into depression caused by an unreasonable workload and then got terminated while on disability leave. Ruling in her favor, the court stated that the cruel disregard for the employee’s wellbeing was deliberate and disgraceful. The court further justified its ruling with a prediction that the employee would suffer further burnout that would cause her more mental suffering sooner or later. The judge thereby found the bank’s conduct to be the primary cause of Zorn-Smith’s adjustment disorder with depression and anxiety. So, before assuming that the above judgment cannot hold sway here in Nigeria, see the call to action below.

Call to action

Did you know that in January 2023, former President Mohammadu Buhari signed the National Mental Health Act, 2021, into law? The law repealed the Lunacy Act of 1964 and guaranteed the fundamental human rights of persons with mental health conditions in the workplace. Does your HR have the capacity to track and prevent perfect storms like this and other trends for your organization? If I have been able to convince you and not confuse you with these few points of mine and would like to know how to engage the service of a Workplace Wellness Specialist, kindly send an email to [email protected].

Opaleye, a wellbeing specialist and corporate wellness strategist, writes from Lagos