The Global Wellness Summit identified key shifts in wellness, including…A move from workplace wellness “programs” to total cultures of wellness at work 

New research from the Global Wellness Institute’s (GWI) “The Future of Wellness at Work” forecasts that investment in workplace wellness (now $40 billion globally) will “explode in the next five to 10 years.” (Today, the GWI estimates that only 9 percent of the 3.2 billion workers worldwide have access to workplace wellness initiatives, with the U.S. way out in front at 52 percent). 

An intensified focus on creating healthy workforces is inevitable because of facts such as these: The average Fortune 500 company spends a staggering 80 percent of its after-tax profits on employee medical costs - and “unwellness” at work costs the U.S. alone $2.2 trillion each year.

But the current “program” mentality (run by HR departments with siloed, limited, reactive initiatives that focus on health issues experienced outside of work, rather than tackling the effects that workplace stress has on health) will ultimately go away. Why? Because they’re not working well enough. A new U.S. employee survey conducted by GWI and Everyday Health reveals that 87 percent of employees feel disengaged at work, with 38 percent experiencing excessive pressure. And while more than half have a wellness “program,” only three out of 10 actually use it. A cynical one in 10 think it actually improves their health.

Workplace wellness approaches will also evolve beyond “programs” because work itself will undergo radical changes in the future. For instance, people will increasingly be replaced by computers/machines for analytical and specialized work, as well as for routine and repetitive tasks. The swelling global army of remote/virtual workers will bring changes we’ve not yet begun to grasp. And in the coming work scenarios, people will need to bring to work a full set of human qualities related to wellness, such as intrinsic motivation, creativity, energy, intuition and empathy.

Workplace wellness will become more absorbed into the company zeitgeist and get more “real.” Fewer companies will preach wellness to employees while demanding grueling 12-hour workdays. And work-culture-wide initiatives will tackle everything from physical to emotional to financial wellness: fair pay, healthy workspaces, inclusion of families/communities, less hierarchical management structures and better approaches to work-life management (like mandating people take vacations and unplugging them from always-on, wired work). As Dr. Fikray Isaac, chief medical officer at workplace wellness leader Johnson & Johnson, argued, workplace wellness will expand far beyond lowering blood/cholesterol levels to helping people feel happy and purposeful at work, getting to how they “feel inside.”

Companies will also increasingly measure success not by ROI (bottom-line cost reductions), but by the total ROV (return-on-value), measuring the extent to which happy, healthy workers also drive recruitment, retention and profits. Companies will awaken to mounting research that doing right by employees is also good for business, like soon-to-be-released data presented by Dr. Pelletier that shows that companies that won KOOP Awards for outstanding workplace health improvement generated 200 percent greater earnings for shareholders over a six-year period. 

AuthorBeth McGroarty, Director of Research, GWI