Beyond a Return on Investment

Why employee well-being is essential to business success

By Elena Fanjul-Debnam
Tuesday, January 17, 2017

An old adage says that a professional sports team is only as good as its players. Well, the same is true in the business world. A company can only be as successful as the employees that make, sell, manage, and move its goods and services. This is a basic idea, but it’s the core concept behind a global movement toward employee well-being. Companies around the world are figuring out that small investments in the emotional and physical health of their employees can translate into big results in terms of employee productivity, cost savings, and a whole lot more.

Let’s take a look at Indonesia’s workforce, where lifestyle-related diseases are becoming a nationwide health epidemic, as an example of how this can work. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that 49 percent of all deaths among working adults (age 30-70) are caused by cardiovascular disease, repertory disease, or diabetes. Employers have a very real opportunity to impact – and protect – the health of their employee population through employee well-being efforts.

The best protection against and treatment for each of these diseases is healthy lifestyle changes – psychological support, diet and exercise advice, tobacco cessation, etc. If employers provide the tools that employees need to help them make these changes, then companies can significantly reduce the impact that these diseases will have on their workforce – and in turn, the business as a whole.  

Employee wellness and well-being strategies are not a new concept, but they are relatively new to Indonesia. Ten years ago, these programs barely existed for much of the Asia Pacific region. But as global businesses have become interested in ways to make employees more productive and more engaged, interest in employee wellness has taken off and become much more common.

A big point of discussion about employee well-being is finding a good way to measure the results that the programs generate. Many of the outcomes are subtle, or appear over the course of years rather than months, but that is not to say that the positive impact they can bring to an organization are not immediate. Most companies measure the relative success or shortcomings of their wellness programs is through a monetary figure that represents return on investment. This approach is fairly straightforward – just compare the monetary resources spent on the program with metrics like a change in healthcare costs among participants, insurance expenses, number of missed working days, etc.

While this is the most commonly used evaluation method, it’s also one of the most inaccurate. To a large degree, the qualitative benefits of employee wellness are more important than the quantitative, and these can start appearing on day one when a program is initiated. The ultimate goal of wellness plans is to create a healthier, happier, more productive workforce. To really evaluate success on that level, you have to look beyond healthcare cost savings and absence rates.

Three of the most overlooked, and undervalued, benefits of wellness programs are employee engagement, employee retention, and employee productivity. Here is a short summary of how wellness impacts each – and the real value that these three often neglected benefits of employee wellness can bring to an organization.

Employee engagement

Employee well-being programs are a primary vehicle that companies can use to show employees that they are cared for and important. They are also a great way to promote and foster connections within any given workforce. The value of this is that when people feel valued and connected to the company they work for and the people they work with, they feel more engaged in their work.

And what’s the value of an engaged employee?  There are a variety of statistics to tell that story:

Right Management found that 70 percent of engaged employees indicate they have a good understanding of how to meet customer needs, versus only 17 percent of non-engaged employees who said the same.

A study out of London found that engaged employees took an average of 2.69 sick days per year. The disengaged took 6.19.

And a multi-year international study from Gallup famously found that companies with high levels of employee engagement improved 19.2 percent in terms of operating income over the length of the study – while companies with low levels of employee engagement declined 32.7 percent over the same period.

The list goes on, but the point is the same. More engaged employees are an incredible benefit for any business – and wellness programs are a prime method of creating and sustaining employee engagement.

Employee retention

A 2012 survey of global employers from the Prinicpal Financial Group found that 45 percent of employees around the world agreed that an employer-sponsored wellness program would encourage them to stay in their current job. In addition, 62 percent of the employees surveyed believed that such programs produced positive results of improving employee health and reducing personal health risks.

Another survey from a global staffing agency found that an organization is four times more likely to lose talent if its employees have an unfavorable view of its wellness efforts.

Companies spend an inordinate amount of time and resources into finding the right people, hiring them, and putting strategies in place to keep them. For organizations that are interested in becoming or remaining global employers of choice, wellness programs are not a consideration – they are a necessity.

There are few costs that can frustrate and stagnate a growing business quite like employee turnover. Wellness programs can be part of the solution. By giving employees the resources and support they need to be mentally and physically well, companies can go a long way toward providing they incentive they need to stay with the company rather than looking for opportunities elsewhere. When employees feel that their employer cares about them as individuals, they tend to want stay where they are valued.

Employee productivity

While many companies think of well-being programs as tools to reduce health care costs, there is a growing body of research that shows a direct connection between physical health and professional productivity.  

When employees aren’t feeling well, either physically or emotionally, their productivity declines. Consider the difference between an employee who rolls out of bed and drags in to work versus an employee who exercises and arrives at work with a high energy level. Physiologically, exercise produces natural opiates or endorphins in the body, both of which increase energy, enhance mood, and promote overall wellness. So what does that mean for businesses? That healthier employees will likely show up to work with more energy and enhanced positivity.

This seems simple, but it translates into a host of benefits for employers. If an employee interacts with customers, it could mean better customer satisfaction. If they interact with co-workers, it could mean the generation of new ideas or solutions to business challenges, a more positive working environment, and more value produced by each employee, all of which positively affect the company’s bottom line.

The point of this is simple – the total perspective of how employee wellness impacts a company is often shortchanged. While the concrete savings from reductions in health care costs and employee sick leave is a good method for calculating return on investment, the additional benefits achieved by improving employee engagement, retention rates, and productivity should not be ignored. The additional contributions made by employees who are “well” could potentially bury the return on investment estimated by the hard cost-savings by a very wide margin.

Want more information about the benefits of employee wellness? Contact the author of this article – Elena Fanjul-Debnam, Director of Emerging Markets, Workplace Options: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Workplace Options is the world’s largest integrated employee support services and work-life provider. Global service centers in North Carolina, Virginia, Washington, Canada, Singapore, Indonesia, India, Japan, Ireland, Portugal and the United Kingdom support more than 48 million employees in over 56,000 organizations across 200 countries and territories. To learn more, visit


Usage of the AmCham Indonesia website states your compliance of our Terms of Use