Health and Wellness trends, borrowing from the past as well as from Science Fiction

By Dominic Burrows – Autumn 2018

I’m lucky in that my role involves constant engagement with senior HR leaders, and I can feel sea change coming around the Health & Wellness debate for employers.

Health & Wellness has emerged as the rather trendy subplot in the broader Compensation and Benefits debate.

Some of the latest trends in Health & Wellness now show a much more involved, proactive strategy to looking after staff, that are at last are beginning to reflect the working requirements of today’s talent pools.  As is often the case, its perhaps more driven by business necessity rather than genuine altruism, but it was ever thus.

As the title of the article suggests some ideas are cutting edge and others hark back to the industrial revolution.

The latest challenge for employers is the lack of viable accommodation for their new staff in some UK locations where house and rental prices are at a premium.  James Ashton in his recent article (30/10/18 – Times) reminded me that in Victorian Times enlightened employers like George Cadbury built Bourneville for his workers, as did Lord Liverhulme at Port Sunlight.

And what’s happening right now?

Facebook are house building in Silicon Valley like Wimpey Homes and Google, yes you guessed it, are building Googletown.  Deloitte UK a few years back offered subsidised Olympic village rental accommodation as part of their graduate recruitment scheme, and they continue to drive notable innovation across their whole People agenda, driven by some strong Talent leadership and a very capable in Human Capital Consulting Practice.

As usual I enjoyed the thoroughness of the recent Raconteur HR supplement in the Times (6/11/18).   Some great insight and data from leading lights (albeit some sponsored links), but personally I’m always left with the feeling of “are we still talking about these topics” and shouting out loud “there is a right answer to all this”.

Anyway, one good article in Raconteur by Helen Beckett flagged how Artificial Intelligence monitoring can help with staff retention.  This idea, coupled with recent news articles about companies in the US and Scandinavia implanting microchips in the hands of their staff, had me thinking how far this will all go and how quickly.

The chip implants in the news recently have embedded RFID tech and allow you wave your hand at a vending machine and hey presto, you’ve bought lunch.  Now I like many conspiracy theorists are not buying (excuse the pun) the story that this is what the chip designer, nor ultimately the companies have in mind with this tech.

Which brings me to another connected question, a really tough question for the HR community, as to why people do not reach their potential, given a largely improving and supportive work environment.  Could it be that we simply don’t know enough about them, in order to help them develop?

Can a Digital suite of “big brother watching you” monitoring Tech change this, accelerating performance and saving huge amounts of time and money?

It’s the Health & Wellness debate, but on speed.  Historically an employer has a duty of care for an employee at work and sometimes a genuine, humane interest in their overall well-being outside of work.

It is rare to find an employer who is forward thinking and brave enough to view Health and Wellness as a 360-degree, 24-hour contract of responsibility.

Now there as some long-established laws and precedents as to why employers cannot pry into the private lives of employees, but that said those people receiving RFID chip implants gladly signed wavers (for what exactly I’m not sure).

So, what could the end game be here in terms of monitoring staff for optimum performance?

There has long been a supposed correlation between the world of sports performance and how businesses can learn from it.   The conference speaker circuit is littered with ex-sportsman imploring the gathered audience to find personal inspiration based on their own rewarding experience of quickly hopping over some hurdles.  Certainly, the performance improvement in British Sport over the last 20 years has been remarkable, arguably having its genesis in the forward thinking of Clive Woodward et al.  Let’s not forget the mountain of lottery funding too.

The level of detail, the investment, “chasing the 1 percent gains” and such has been amazing to watch.   Performance athletes have every aspect of their lives monitored and assessed.  It’s very difficult to win the Premier league, a World Cup, an F1 championship, an Olympic gold medal, or Wimbledon, so why leave anything to chance?  Clive Woodward and Johnny Wilkinson didn’t, and Andy Murray and Lewis Hamilton don’t now.

So, we are all aware of how highly monitored and measured performance athletes are today.  But are employers missing a trick by leaving too much to chance by having very little visibility of the broader lives (the 360-degree Health & Wellness) of their staff beyond working hours?

But surely, we are a world away from being able to apply this level of performance management to the wider business world……. or are we?

Humour me here for a moment and imagine a cadre of employees signing a waver/contract to allow the level of monitoring and intrusion (see above for smaller precedents) that professional sportsman endure in return for all that money.  With the latest chip implants, wearable tech with heart monitors and motion sensors, it’s possible to track exercise, sleep and to a degree diet via blood, saliva, urine testing and a pair of scales.

Health & Wellness extends beyond the physical of course and great strides have been made recently recognising the widespread problem of mental health in the workplace.   With my proposed contract an employee’s mental health would absolutely be company business, a bit like in the hit US TV show Billions, where an investment bank has an on-site counselling for the traders.

So, in your role as an HRD, Sales Director or CEO, you will know that your staff are the key to the future financial success of your business.  Some of course are being targeted and measured in office hours as individuals from whom you want a winning performance.

Thinking with a harsh business logic, and looking at the 360-degree Health & Wellness Tech available now and certainly coming in the near future, why would an ambitious company leave key staff performance so far beyond their control? (albeit with a nod to the aforementioned historic legal and cultural precedents).

I’m coming to the end of my slightly tongue in cheek rant, but as someone close to the Talent challenge of attracting and retaining the latest generation of global, digital, high potential employees, might perhaps a few companies be tempted to attract candidates with a Health and Wellness contract as part of the Comp & Ben package – maybe including the paragraph below?

As your future employer, we will provide you with an Olympic quality infrastructure, giving you the culture, tools, 24/7 support, training and developmental environment to thrive in this global, digital, super competitive business world. We will make you the best you can be, and in return you will deliver results for us like a high-performance athlete.  And in the small print …we can measure and monitor every aspect of your life along the way, intervening as we see fit”

Sign here……..

And the high performance athlete methodology produces business winners, or so I heard from the medal wearing speaker at my last conference!

Dominic Burrows is a Talent Advisor, working with the HR and Change Executive Search Boutique Tucker Stone.