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Organisations confuse wellbeing with wellness

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Wellbeing at work focuses on mental as well as physical health of employees

Organisations should not confuse ‘wellbeing’ with ‘wellness’ said Paul Litchfield, chief medical officer for BT Group.

Speaking at the Reward and Employee Benefits Association (REBA)'s Employee Wellness Conference, Litchfield explained that the two terms have very different definitions. “People use wellbeing and wellness interchangeably, but they originated very differently. Around 15 years ago the wellness movement grew out of the US where employers bear the brunt of healthcare costs for their employees.

“Companies found themselves caught in the perfect storm; with the number of people with chronic diseases rising and people living longer. This meant more people with diseases in the workplace, so there was a growing focus on physical conditions," he continued.

“However, on this side of the Atlantic the bulk of treatments are paid for through taxation so the impact of treatment costs matters less to employers. As a result wellbeing is more prominent, with a focus on mental health as well as physical.”

Shaun Davis, group director of safety, health, wellbeing and sustainability for Royal Mail, warned that many businesses do not comprehend the huge potential scope of wellbeing initiatives. “The number of people that think wellbeing is providing a bit of fruit and water is incredible,” he said. “When implementing a wellbeing programme you need to treat people like adults rather than imposing rules on them. We use surveys, feedback, and town hall meetings to understand the issues they are facing.”

Phil Hayne, co-founder and director of REBA, said that REBA's Employee Wellness Research 2016 report found only 30% of employers had a full wellness programme in place. “What surprised me is the amount of [large and medium-sized] companies planning to change that,” he said. “Out of the roughly two-thirds that do not have a wellness programme a third expect to implement one within a year.

“We could see, by 2020, around 70% to100% of medium to large firms with programmes in place – a really high number."