Getting the board on board

09Apr 16
Mid adult African American businesswoman is smiling while attending business conference. She is listening to speaker in seminar while she sits in a row with other diverse professional businesspeople. Woman is wearing business casual clothing and is taking notes. She's drinking a cup of coffee.

How do you get the board to 'buy in' to health and wellbeing? Kamwell's managing director, Kirsten Samuel, shares her five top tips for convincing the top dogs

Health and wellbeing as currency in the corporate world is gaining in value. It’s a new source of competitive advantage for lean businesses running out of ways to squeeze out efficiency savings.

Many companies are also starting to realise and demonstrate the link between a healthy workforce and enhanced engagement, productivity and company culture. But — and it’s a big but — to make a real impact on organisational performance, wellbeing should be integrated into business strategy with buy-in and engagement at senior levels.

That means open dialogue with senior leaders, a strong business case backed up by evidence, and the means to measure ongoing impact. Thereby enabling the set-up of that virtuous circle of investment, results and proof for further investment.

Too often HR is restricted to introducing one-off projects and initiatives. These may lead to some glimmers of benefit, but aren’t necessarily going to deliver on the scale and impact required to energise a workforce and truly embed wellbeing into the culture of an organisation.

To make a solid case to the board, you need to:

  1. Provide upfront evidence of specific needs

Hard data is critical. If your organisation provides occupational health services, employee-assistance programmes or health screenings, then get access to valuable anonymised data on trends and issues. Put time into gathering feedback from staff about their interests and needs in terms of health and wellbeing too. Then you can ensure subsequent initiatives are relevant, targeted and have the greatest chance of being embraced by your employees.

  1. Don’t think in terms of a one-size-fits-all approach

Demonstrate your commitment to getting results by focusing on particular needs and how they can be addressed. That might be by geographical location, culture, type of work, age or gender. Many organisations have a diverse range of staff, so understanding the make-up of your workforce will make a meaningful difference.

  1. Focus on metrics

Again, it’s all about the data, and any health and wellbeing programme needs to have its own metrics (remedial and preventative). These should be identified at the start of the programme, tracked and measured periodically or by intervention. It’s crucial to provide evidence to the board of ROI, in terms of reduction in sickness absence, and increases in engagement, productivity and staff retention.

  1. Think holistically, not just about physical health

The Kamwell model we use with organisations defines physical health in its broadest terms (movement, sleep, nutrition, recovery) and considers mental wellbeing (psychological, emotional and spiritual) to be just as important. The model also measures wellbeing in terms of the security of finances; the enjoyment of careers; the quality of relationships; and the contribution employees can make to the community and environment.

  1. Invest the time to a develop a wellbeing strategy

Join the dots between what you’re already doing, what you want to achieve and industry best practice. Share key highlights regularly with senior leaders so that there’s awareness at the highest level.

Line-manager support and engagement is also a real differentiator in building a successful wellbeing programme that is felt across the whole organisation. Create great role models from your leaders, by involving them in your initiatives and also encouraging them to share their personal stories — we’re all human after all.

Most importantly, ROI from wellbeing programmes doesn’t come from one-off events or initiatives. The best results come from having a well-planned strategy, ongoing employee research, a robust communications plan and a long-term focus on integrated initiatives and culture change.

One example of how a large employer turned an initial project, a Wellbeing Fair, into a global wellbeing programme with major board backing is Reed Business Information (RBI) and its Living Well programme.

Working with Kamwell, RBI carried out extensive research, including voluntary employee-wellbeing surveys, which had response rates of over 60%. They undertook health assessments and screenings to understand and identify key concerns and health risks to their staff — such as obesity, musculoskeletal disorders, mental health problems, cancer and heart conditions.

Through Living Well’s regular wellbeing interventions, campaigns and in-person events — all supported by the board — RBI has since then successfully engaged thousands of employees, all around the world.

Crucial to the success of Living Well was Lawrence Mitchell, RBI’s global marketing director, who also became the company’s global wellbeing sponsor. Having a senior, driven individual to spearhead such a programme is an enormous asset. He captured and maintained the buy-in of the executive team by sharing regular updates with them, and providing them with that all-important hard data.

A management information dashboard was created to measure and track metrics linked to their objectives and to assess ROI. This showed how sickness absence, occupational health referrals and global staff turnover decreased in 2015.

Moreover, the results from RBI’s regular Employee Opinion survey improved by 10%, which contributed to an increase in employees referring personal contacts for vacancies. Last but not least, the number of staff involved in wellbeing events doubled.

The success and tangible results from this multi-national health and wellbeing programme make it an excellent case study for anyone pitching to their own board.

An earlier version of this article first appeared on

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