The Workplace Wellness Alliance: Investing in a Sustainable Workforce

By Jon KaplanMark LubkemanMartin B. SilversteinDave MathesonCarol Wildhagen, and Anja Gottschalk-Wenk

Two global trends form a vicious circle of dwindling workforce capacity and productivity: On the one hand, a talent shortage looms as demand for skilled workers outstrips supply. In Western Europe alone, a talent gap of up to 45 million employees is forecast for 2030. On the other hand, the existing labor pool is underperforming—its effectiveness is limited by both an aging population and the high incidence of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. Being absent from the job or underperforming while working is estimated to cause productivity losses worth US$389 billion due to cardiovascular disease and US$1.6 trillion due to mental health conditions. In a time when baby boomers are retiring and cannot be easily replaced, these trends create major economic as well as social problems.

Employers are uniquely positioned to improve health through the workplace, and workplace wellness initiatives can be part of the solution to the challenges to productivity. The initiatives help keep workers healthier longer, breaking the link between NCDs and aging while playing an important role in attracting and retaining talent. A recent Harvard-led meta-analysis identifies an average return on investment of US$3.27 for every dollar spent on wellness programs. Overall, The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and Healthways calculated that U.S. companies could save an average of US$ 700 per employee per year on health care costs and productivity gained if they address employees’ inactivity, stress, and harmful use of alcohol over five years. Although these savings in health care costs are specific to the United States, increases in productivity can be achieved across countries.

The Workplace Wellness Alliance, which was launched at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2010, is a consortium of companies committed to advancing wellness in the workplace. In this report, the alliance has collaborated with BCG to highlight the importance of a collaborative and fact- and value-based approach to workplace wellness. The report highlights benchmarking tools and metrics companies can use to institute wellness initiatives and measure their impact.

The original version of this paper was published by the World Economic Forum.