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Wellbeing and its Strategic Role in Business Success

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When Napoleon Bonaparte (or possibly Frederick the Great) said that an army marches on its stomach, he was acknowledging an obvious truth – people operate more effectively if they are fit and happy.

And yet, in the intervening couple of centuries, large organisations have – in many cases – put their priorities in other areas. Productivity, output, added value: this is what is demanded of workers. Longer hours, more restrictions on time off, increased expectations.

But recently, there has been something of a collective epiphany.

Leaders and managers – those who have been through the mill and seen the impact of relentless overworking, and may even have experienced the burnout themselves – have started to really appreciate the value of encouraging their workforce to focus more on their wellbeing.

What is wellbeing, and how does it translate into better productivity?

Wellbeing is a multi-faceted expression of a person’s physical, mental and emotional health.

It encompasses their life balance (work to non-work), the exercise they take, the relationships they have with their family, friends and work colleagues; their level of contentment, their physical state, the way they view the world around them, the quality of sleep they achieve, the food they eat, the contribution they make to society and many other factors.

And many studies have shown that higher levels of physical and mental health translate directly into greater happiness, increased self-motivation and ultimately, improved performance and productivity.

How should business leaders apply this principle into adding value in a commercial context?

Added Value diagram

I believe there is a simple but meaningful circular process that makes sense of the way this should be applied to a business context.

This ‘virtuous circle’ starts with the assertion that value creation involves three parties: customers, shareholders and employees.

Logically, the only way to general value for the shareholders is to have enough of the right kind of customers. Only if you’re offering value to your customers, will the shareholders reap the rewards. And similarly, in order to create value for customers, we have to invest in giving value to employees.

It’s no coincidence that those organisations that engage with their employees the most have higher loyalty and retention levels, and there is a direct relationship between this and shareholder value.

On Henley’s Executive Management Programme (EMP) we speak at length about the need to engage with employees so that we gain their commitment, and not just their compliance. This fundamental difference is what increasingly separates sustainable from unsustainable businesses.

Having employees who have a shared purpose and are willing, able and WANT to go the extra mile is crucial in gaining a competitive advantage, and wellbeing is a key driver.

Treating your employees better will attract a higher level of talent too

Competition for the best new talent that comes onto the market each year is intensifying, and surveys of business owners are increasingly citing the acquisition of the right individuals as one of the top three factors for the future success of the organisation.

As the scramble for the top performers grows, the demands from the candidates take on growing value too, and most talented individuals are no longer prepared to accept terms and conditions that will lead them to burn out.

Therefore, the bar is being raised, and raised again. Employers are recognising the trend, and are making strenuous efforts to provide employees with flexible working (in terms of schedules and locations), healthcare screenings and insurance, mental health first aid, exercise facilities, better food options and nutritional advice, and specific areas designed for creativity or contemplation.

And some companies now define productivity expectations purely in terms of the output, rather than any set number of working hours.

What are the benefits of greater employee wellbeing?

The conclusion of all this is not just that healthier employees work harder for you.
The benefits extend to:

  • improved retention, and therefore less money wasted on training and recruitment
  • reduced absenteeism
  • reduced costs of healthcare for the organisation
  • an enhanced brand reputation in the marketplace, leading to greater attraction of higher calibre talent
  • a greater sense of community, higher morale and a greater capacity to grow.

Delivered by business experts, academics and practitioners, the Henley EMP is designed for anyone rising from a functional or operational management position into a role with greater responsibility across the organisation.

As well as helping to boost self-confidence of participants, we challenge their thinking and enhance their business performance. We help people to increase their ability to engage with their peers, their teams, clients, suppliers and other stakeholders. We empower them to inspire the people around them, and influence them in ways they could not have believed possible.

And by doing so, we ensure that they are better equipped to see the big picture, make sound judgements and be a part of a winning team.

To learn more about Henley's Executive Management Programme, click here.

Narendra Laljani

Narendra Laljani is a management educator, consultant and CEO coach with 25 years' experience in leadership development and helping organisations to become more effective. He has worked at board level with international corporations and has also taught on several leading MBA programmes. He is Director of The Henley Partnership and the Executive Management Programme at Henley Business School.

Published 24 August 2021
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