Are HR at risk of having the wellbeing agenda taken away?

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Wellbeing is big news and big business.

In the United States alone, $3.6Bn has recently been raised to invest in early stage wellbeing start-ups. A search of “wellbeing companies fund raising” yields 3,340,000 results.

In the UK, with Prince William and Prince Harry at the forefront of bursting the mental health taboo, and the Office for National Statistics having implemented a measure for our physical and financial wellbeing, the noise is becoming deafening. REBA research forecasts more than 80% of companies will have a wellbeing strategy in place by 2020 (albeit with a miserly median spend of between £26 and £50 per employee per year).

From the Economist to the Wall Street Journal, wellbeing is being reported as a major agenda point in global business. A study by the London Business School illustrates that companies with high levels of wellbeing outperform the stock market by 2 to 3% each year. The CIPD also reports financial wellbeing strategies will have an average 6:1 return on investment – split roughly 50/50 between companies and employees.

It is little wonder that after many years of noise, wellbeing is shifting rapidly up to the top of the C-Suite agenda.

Which leads me back to my initial question. Are HR and reward teams at risk of having the wellbeing agenda taken away from them?

Six months ago, I would have answered that question with a definitive no. Now I’m not so sure.

Between June and September this year, at least three major global businesses I have been speaking with (one in financial services, one in technology and one in telecoms) have seen their corporate wellbeing strategy being set, sponsored and controlled at board level, with my HR contacts supporting (but not leading) the implementation. At two of these companies the CEO is leading the strategy, at another the CFO.

On one hand the HR contacts I speak to regularly are delighted. There is now suddenly a budget to implement a wide-ranging and breath-takingly ambitious programme, which will positively impact the mental, physical and financial wellbeing of tens of thousands of employees.

On the other hand, they are concerned. They have had little say in setting the strategy and are being asked to act as transactional support for the delivery of wellbeing programmes. Something that for years they have been asking for, is no longer theirs.

When the board takes over, does this mean that HR and reward teams are being forced to retreat back to the bad old days of transactional “personnel”?

Or do HR and reward teams need to do more to be seen as strategic by their boards, so that when areas become high value for them, they are seen as the business partner to create and drive the strategy?

In the 20 years I have been working with HR people, the biggest macro shift I have witnessed in the reward world is from “choice” to “wellbeing”. In that same time I have seen a transition from “personnel” to “people”. The question I am asking myself is, has the high point of strategic Human Resources now passed, with a slow decline back to the days before anyone had heard of Dave Ulrich?

I certainly hope not.

However, I would urge my HR contacts to ensure they grab the wellbeing mantel before it’s too late.

Here are some tips to get you started.

  1. Why are you doing this?
    1. What are your objectives?
    2. How will you know when you succeed?

  2. Where are you now?
    1. Use data to understand your people
    2. What is your current offer and where are the gaps to fulfil the need?

  3. Get buy-in from your board
    1. Demonstrate what your Return on Investment will be
    2. Explain why HR are best positioned to lead and implement

  4. Launch, monitor, measure and maintain
    1. Get a senior leader to be the face of your campaign
    2. Measure your success
    3. Keep it fresh for new joiners

From strategic vision, to business case, to delivery and measuring ROI, the time to lead is now!