Measuring the link between employee health and company performance

Making individuals healthier and happier is one thing. Using workplace wellbeing to raise company performance is quite another. Young Lee explains how parallel data analysis might give wellbeing more impetus at the organisational level

Workplace health and wellbeing has become a popular agenda inside businesses. Some feel anxious pursuing it while others are confused over what they should listen to. However, few people have either a deep understanding of the subject or the capability to strategically incorporate it at the organisational level.

So, what is the true impact of workplace health and wellbeing and how can we measure it? Here we find a disconnect. The majority of workplace health intervention research has focused on individual health outcomes, whereas companies are more interested in indirect human outcomes related to organisational and economic performance – sickness, absenteeism, presenteeism, job performance, employee engagement, and so on.

Aligned to company goals

It is therefore more meaningful to provide information and make decisions around workplace wellbeing that is aligned with organisational goals beyond a simple HR drive to make employees healthier and happier. Currently, there is much non-scientific, anecdotal data available online and even ostensible scientific research has flaws and limitations when it comes to making organisational decisions.

The academic literature suggests that simple and easy metrics such as sickness, absenteeism or presenteeism alone are not meaningful measures as they don’t provide critical information for employers to establish directions at the organisational level. The literature also indicates that many health outcomes in research are inaccurate due to poor methodological quality. Such organisational outcomes as productivity, job performance, and employee engagement have been explored in more recent studies, but the relationship between workplace health and wellbeing and these outcomes remains unclear.

Return on investment

In particular, a high level of discrepancy is exhibited in reporting the return on investment (ROI) in terms of cost return among various studies. This is attributed to the fact that these concepts are complex to measure. Thus, subjective measures such as self- assessment are often employed to measure the health outcomes at the organisational level. However, there is a propensity among organisations to understand outcomes in a more objective way.

Here, I suggest a novel approach to conducting revelatory assessments of the impact of workplace health and wellbeing at the organisational level. I describe this as a ‘portfolio approach’ – it means conducting a comprehensive wellbeing assessment in the workplace to understand its overall impacts on various metrics to enlarge perspective.

Pairing different types of data

This can be accomplished by parallel analysis which links workplace health data to organisational performance data via a scientific and systematic way of pairing of various types of data (e.g. subjective vs. objective). This use of many types of data enables a comprehensive analysis and a better understanding of results, overcoming certain limitations associated with each type of data.

Workplace health and wellbeing can be evaluated by a set of prescriptive measures comprising features identified by research findings and expert opinions (e.g. what physical environmental features promote fitness activities). This can be coupled with objective sensor monitoring of the environment (e.g daylight monitoring).

When identifying which features to examine, it is best to categorise them under the three domains of health and wellbeing: Physical, Mental, and Social as per the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Seven Dimensions of Workplace Wellbeing – Fitness, Comfort, Nourishment, Cognitive Wellbeing, Emotional Wellbeing, Social Wellbeing, and Environmental Wellbeing – in the PROWELL model.

This allows examination of the impact of specific dimensions of workplace health and wellbeing against particular organisational outcomes that are more meaningful to individual organisations. The assessment of human analytics can look into various metrics related to human capital such as employee absenteeism, presenteeism, performance, job satisfaction, engagement, and loyalty through a survey with employees along with their health and wellbeing assessment. This can be paired with objective data from health-monitoring devices.

A caution is warranted here as defining certain human analytics metrics such as productivity can be fuzzy, especially for knowledge workplaces. These metrics can be referred by a set of representative proxies, or can be measured with simple self-assessment. However, consensus is that no one instrument or method is more reliable than others when it comes to measuring these complex, abstract constructs.

Comprehensive assessment

There is no single perfect way to measure the impact of workplace health and wellbeing at the organisational level – methodological quality will substantially affect the results. Thus, a comprehensive assessment is necessary through a portfolio approach utilising parallel analysis and pairing of various types of data. A good example is available from here.

Lastly, it is important to identify and implement high quality health and wellbeing features that are aligned with and specific to organisational goals. To yield further positive outcomes, workplace health programmes will have to develop multi-dimensional planning that can significantly influence and contribute to organisational outcomes.

Young Lee PhD is a Visiting Research Associate in the Institute for Environmental Design and Engineering at University College London, director of the Innovative Workplace Institute in New York, and a lead researcher on the open source tool PROWELL©.
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