Josh Bersin on the rise of the wellbeing market (and what really matters for HR)

Over the past several years the corporate wellbeing market has exploded

While the corporate wellbeing market has boomed in recent times, Josh Bersin says it is important for HR to focus on the most important factors for creating healthy and productive workforces

Over the past several years the corporate wellbeing market has exploded. The Global Wellness Institute estimates that it’s already worth more than US$43 billion worldwide and growing at almost twice the rate of inflation.

Many factors are behind this growth. For instance, it’s well documented that employees who exercise frequently take fewer sick days off. About 50 per cent of medical costs are related to illnesses or conditions that could be avoided with minor lifestyle changes. In many countries, employees are just working too many hours, often under stressful conditions. US workers average about 41 hours per week and 20 per cent work more than 45 hours. The estimates are even higher in the United Kingdom.

We take work home and we email and check messages at nights and on weekends. And being “on” for so many hours doesn’t necessarily contribute to productivity. According to new research I just conducted with LinkedIn, approximately 20 per cent of our time is wasted on messages and communications that don’t directly contribute to our jobs.

5 insights into the wellbeing market
After a year of studying this market, I can offer some insights. First, the wellbeing market has expanded in multiple ways. Companies are spending over $75 per employee per year on health, fitness, yoga, and other traditional health-related benefits.

“In many countries, employees are just working too many hours, often under stressful conditions”

Additionally, the scope of wellbeing programs is expanding to include offerings on financial wellness, mindfulness, and stress reduction.

  • Every major hotel now has fitness centres, and common workspace providers such as WeWork now offer fitness rooms. A startup called Soothe just raise over $70 million in investment to bring massages and fitness coaches to client companies.
  • Open offices are a big fad, but so are quiet places to chill out. A startup called Room now offers soundproof phone booths.
  • Mental health services are becoming easier to buy and more focused and private than ever. A company called Spring Health uses a mobile app to diagnose your problem and help you find just the right therapist online by tapping into the enormous global network of psychologists. And tools such as Whil, Headspace, and Shine deliver courses and education on focus, sleep, and mindfulness.
  • Corporate fitness apps are the new rage. VirginPulse (the market leader), Limeaid, Castlight, and even SAP are now offering end-to-end wellbeing apps that deliver coaching, education, fitness tracking, and even employee feedback in one integrated platform.
  • Companies are incorporating financial wellbeing into their offerings. For instance, ADP just launched a product called Wisely that can let any of ADP’s 40 million+ payroll users automatically set aside small amounts of cash for different budget needs. Vendors such as MyMoneyMove offer online education, tools, and education to help employees reduce debt and lower financial stress.

Wellbeing programs at work
I believe this market will continue to grow in size. My research shows that the stress and burnout issues at work are only increasing with the always-on work environments we have created in this new digital age.

“It’s important to recognise that a wellbeing program likely will not solve major workforce challenges and pressures”

Wellbeing programs are also appearing in emerging economies. I was recently in Russia and found that almost all the major companies have health clubs, fitness programs and flexible work hours. In fact, one of the largest Vodka manufacturers in Russia gives its employees finely-tuned health and fitness programs, exercise coaching and even alcoholism treatment programs. When I was in India this past summer, I saw dozens of health and fitness programs focused on the needs of that market.

What’s in wellbeing for HR?
It’s important to recognise that a wellbeing program likely will not solve major workforce challenges and pressures. HR executives and professionals should look to see if employee stress might be caused by managers pushing people too hard. Or, perhaps they are not clear about goals and expectations? Is your company willing to focus on productivity-related tools to make work easier? Or do senior leaders just expect people to work more hours when productivity problems arise?

In today’s always-on digital work environment, the limit to business growth is now the health and fitness of the humans in your company. Just make sure you’re also focusing on the real design issues with work, as well as the right management practices. Often, these the most important factors for creating healthy and productive workforces.