Should we focus on our wellbeing or buying toilet paper? Harry Bliss of Champion Health gives us the lowdown on addressing workplace wellbeing, one sheet at a time.

Health and wellbeing is everyone’s business, quite literally.

If there’s anything that 2020 has taught us, it’s that our most important asset is truly our people.

However, what if I told you that the vast majority of organizations in 2019 spent more on toilet paper that proactively keeping their employees well? Although it’s alarming, this has been the reality for too long. In this article, we’ll explore the business case for investing in your team’s wellbeing, as it’s no longer a ‘nice to have’; it’s a ‘need to have.’

Firstly, every single area of your health and wellbeing influences your daily performance levels. It is the same for every single member of your team too. Surely this is enough to make the business case?

If my mood is low, I’m less creative. If I’m tired, I’m more likely to make mistakes. If my back is causing me agony, I cannot concentrate. But, let’s move away from the anecdotal and quite simply painstakingly obvious comments. Let’s use data to establish a business case. Hard data that cannot be disputed throughout all levels of the business.

The Gold Standard in Workplace Wellbeing

Early in 2020, Deloitte published their second report on mental health and wellbeing in the workplace entitled ‘Refreshing the Case for Investment.’ They pulled together all of the gold-standard research papers on workplace mental health initiatives into one easy-to-understand report. Once again, this had a damning conclusion: workplace health initiatives, on average, return the investment by x5. When the initiatives are proactive, the returns are as great as x11. Let me explain.

The report broke down the average cost of poor mental health to every sector. The average cost is £1,652 and £1,716 per employee per year, respectively, for the private and public sectors. Let’s put that into context. For an organization within the private sector, with 1,000 staff members, the average cost of poor mental health is £1.65 million annually. It sounds ridiculous. This cost could be more or less in your organization, but you’d be guessing without running analytics yourselves. However, even if it is half of that, that is still £800k p/year. Let’s break down where these costs are.

The Costs of Wellbeing

Firstly, there’s absenteeism. We’re all aware of it, and we often use this as the prime measure of wellbeing. However, absence isn’t the primary issue. Absence data is a lag indicator and is regularly misreported. There’s then staff turnover. Oxford Economics stated that the average cost of staff turnover for an employee earning over £25,000 per year is higher than £30,000. With staff turnover closely linked to employee wellbeing, there is a high cost to organizations. However, the highest cost is presenteeism.

Presenteeism is working while we’re ill. It sounds strange; but, when we break it down, it makes total sense. How many times have we felt vacant on Zoom calls or felt tired at 2 pm? These are examples of presenteeism.

Champion Health’s data discovered that >40% of the workforce are working through illness; this has a monumental impact on business performance. To prevent your best salesperson from burning out, reduce the risk of data breaches due to tiredness. To stop your admin assistant’s back from keeping them off work for 6-months, we need to invest in our team’s wellbeing.

Unsurprisingly, workplace health initiatives provide a significant return on investment for the organization if invested wisely. The average return on investment for workplace mental health initiatives had risen in 2017 from 4x to 5x in 2020. Let that sink in. For every £10,000 invested in mental health initiatives, on average, this will return £50,000. Now for smaller organizations, it may be more applicable to invest £1,000 and for larger to be >£100,000, but the same principle still applies. On average, you’re likely to not only get your money back; you’re likely to get it back multiple times over.


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The Key to Maximizing Return

There are some key rules to maximizing your return:

  • Rule No. 1: You need data on what areas require investment. Is it anxiety? Is it back pain? Is it tiredness? Let the data decide, not our gut instinct.
  • Rule No. 2: Use this data to develop a proactive health and wellbeing strategy.
  • Rule No. 3: Ensure your strategy focuses on prevention and intervention at the heart of it.

Without using those three rules, you run the danger of reacting to issues when it’s too late or, even worse, misallocating resources to areas that don’t require attention and missing the areas that do.

The Deloitte data backs this up further. Initiatives that used data through an online health assessment at the start of their wellbeing program had an ROI between 7-11x.

A case in point is Unilever’s wellbeing program, which was researched by McDaid et al. (2012). The department had 500 members of staff. The cost of the intervention was £80 per employee, therefore £40,000 over the year. They did a health assessment to gather the initial data. Off the back of this data, they built a proactive strategy that included seminars and interventions tailored to the issues presented. This data returned a whopping £347,000 in just one year. The breakdown was a return of £110,527 for absenteeism and £277,195 for presenteeism.

Now, there has been one issue with what I’ve discussed with you today. It’s predominantly focused on mental wellbeing. I don’t want to make any bones about it: mental wellbeing is a vital area to focus on in your strategy. However, the return on investment is likely to be even greater when it is multifaceted and focuses on all areas of wellbeing, ranging from financial wellbeing to mental health. Back pain, poor sleep, colds, and flu are also huge areas that require focus and attention.

In summary

  • Employee wellbeing is an integral part of the performance of the business. It is not a ‘benefit’ or a ‘perk.’
  • The costs of poor employee wellbeing are now well documented for every industry.
  • When presenting the business case to the board, use the Deloitte statistics to underpin the rationale.
  • The return on investment has never been so well documented – the average ROI currently stands at x5.
  • To maximize your return on investment, use data, act upon that data to develop a proactive strategy that focuses on prevention and early intervention of all areas of wellbeing.


Deloitte., 2020:

Oxford Economics., 2020:

McDaid et al., 2012:

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