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Creating a New Seat on the Board - Chief Wellness Officer

13 Mar 2019

Orla Brennan

For any organisation, having a successful wellness culture is a vital tool in both recruitment and retention of staff. But getting to this stage means this attitude has to come from the top. So is it time for wellness to take a (metaphorical) seat on the board?

Two of the main questions candidates ask when enquiring about an organisation are: ‘What is the culture like? Do they have a wellness strategy?’
Healthier, happier and balanced employees cost less to retain and maintain in the new wellness culture we see exploding across businesses. People crave a sense of purpose, community, belonging and value in all areas of their lives. Wellness has been the driving force in employee loyalty and retention, with some organisations rewarding or subsidising employees for ‘self-care’ and ‘wellness’ initiatives that they include in their working lives. 
Findings from a Forbes report have shown that ‘88% of employees with higher well- being are engaged at work compared with 50% of employees with lower well- being; 98% of employees with both higher well-being and a higher perception that their companies support their well- being, state that they would like to work in the same company in a year’s time and recommend their employer as a ‘great place to work’. As wellness programmes are becoming part of every business and industry, some companies now have installed Mental Health First Aid officers along with the First Aid officers. Over half of 1,000 people surveyed by IBEC showed that employees would leave their employer if they did not seem to care about their mental health and well-being. Under the “wellness” umbrella, corporate wellness responsibility is not just focused on our mental health; it includes nutrition, exercise, meditation, stress management and personal projection.
Another positive to the ‘Wellness Culture’ is employment. Not only is it creating a healthier and more active society, corporate wellness is creating employment opportunities in the sector from a place at the board and influencing the business strategy and year on year projections. We are now seeing organisations striving for both Great Place to Work and Healthy Place to Work awards. IBEC have also introduced the ‘KeepWell Mark’ a workplace accreditation which allows companies to demonstrate their commitment to the health and wellbeing of all their employees.  With government and private industry alike making employee well-being a central focus in 2019, Ireland is keen to establish itself as one of the greatest and healthiest places to work in the world.
For employee wellness to be successful however, it has to be incorporated across all C-suite/manager/leader levels in the organisation. In difficult times, “wellness” programmes can be viewed as luxuries, as unnecessary in the commercial strategy of the company where the bottom line is king and cost saving is everything. However, this would be very short sighted and employers are increasingly recognising the importance of nurturing a company culture that incorporates a strong health and wellness programme. 
While there is no single formula for the successful development of a wellness culture, leaders from the CEO down are responsible for nurturing this culture amongst employees. Executives and management set the tone and pace of employee mind-set. If they’re doing their job correctly and saying and doing the right things, then they can be the biggest influencers in the company. For a wellness programme to succeed, then it’s not just a matter of providing healthy meals, subsidising gym costs or supporting team challenges. It’s a matter of ensuring that health and wellness are inherently woven into the cultural fabric of the organisation and that can only come from the top.  
Orla Brennan is a Partner in Brightwater Executive and specialises in the appointment of senior level C-Suite professionals across Sales, Marketing, HR and Accountancy.  She can be contacted on [email protected]