Employee Health: Why Wellness Works

Even when it works, physical health only takes you so far, he says. “When you’re approaching it with a broader ‘people agenda,’ people will be more engaged in taking care of themselves physically. And the interplay between mind, body and spirit really resonates. When they are into being at their best, they not only take better care of themselves, but they can really appreciate an organization that cares about them at that level.”

StayWell, a company that designs solutions for a range of company sizes, even those with just a handful of employees, posits that well-being encompasses financial security, professional development, social connectedness, emotional resilience and physical health. “These concepts interconnect and are mutually reinforcing,” says David Anderson, cofounder and chief health officer. “And as employers begin to think about the well-being of their employees more broadly, the connection with performance becomes immediate.”

It’s a simple enough idea: If your employees are healthier, happier and love to come to work, they’ll work harder with greater energy and stay longer at your company. That’s been Jeffrey Puritt’s view for years. The CEO of TELUS International, an outsourcing firm that employs just shy of 26,000 people in eight countries, estimates that he outspends his competitors two to one on facilities and amenities at his call centers around the world. In fact, the figure was so high relative to revenue compared with his public-company competitors that it caused some concern for Baring Private Equity Asia, which was looking to buy a 35% stake in TELUS last year. “They asked me how I justified that,” recalls Puritt. “I said, my growth rate is more than double—in fact, last year, four times higher than my nearest competitor.” Baring ended up coming in on the deal.

Puritt admits he was fortunate that TELUS began as a wholly owned subsidiary and that cost savings was not one of his charges; he was expected to deliver great levels of service to customers in Canada and given latitude to find ways to enhance that. “I’ve been spoiled in this role. Contrast that with, if you’ve been doing things the traditional way and you’re trying to figure out whether you can afford to divert budget and you don’t have the runway, as so many CEOs of public companies don’t have,” he says, referring to the short-term focus on quarterly results prevalent among public companies.

For Puritt, however, the math is simple. “In outsourcing, the holy grail metric is attrition,” he says. “If you can’t keep your team members long enough, they can’t get good enough, and if you have to keep rehiring and retraining to backfill high levels of attrition, your costs are unsustainable. So there is this vicious cycle where the single most important thing you can do after attracting the best talent is to retain them. The best way to retain them is to engage them, and in my view, the best way to engage them is to provide them with all the amenities that help to inspire them and that demonstrate you’re committed to them as individuals.”

He adds that TELUS’ engagement scores, most recently at 81%, are almost double that of its nearest public competitor and its attrition rates are half as high. “Those are not coincidence in my view—they are inextricably connected,” Puritt says. He acknowledges that plenty of CEOs are not yet sold on that, mainly because the numbers are somewhat “squishy” and a definitive causative link has yet to be found. But, he counters, it isn’t any more difficult to establish than the notion that, say, product sales are a direct result of a specific marketing campaign. “I would argue that that is just as specious a formula. It’s unfortunate that a lot of folks in my position continue to point to the absence of empiricism to defend or rationalize the failure to make these investments.”

The bottom line for Puritt, as it is for others who have had success with wellness efforts, is about making employees happy and proud to be with you, so they see no reason to look elsewhere. Healthy lifestyle, support programs, treating employees with respect and dignity and helping them to support their families, says Puritt, “those are all part and parcel of driving the levels of engagement that are a prerequisite to success.”

A recent study by HERO (Health Enhancement Research Organization) followed the stock performance of 45 publicly traded companies that were identified as following best practices in employee health and well-being from 2009 through 2014. This simulated portfolio of companies outperformed the S&P 500 in the following areas:

  • Appreciated 235% compared to 159% for the S&P 500
  • Outperformed the S&P 500 in 16 out of 24 (67%) quarters during the study period
  • Produced a comparable dividend yield of 1.97% by the end of the study period, compared to a 1.95% yield for the S&P 500

Read More: 5 Ways to Give your Employees a Healthy Start