There is no ignoring the fact that unwell employees are expensive to organisations. Beyond Blue has found that depression and anxiety alone cost Australian businesses about $10.9 billion a year. The financial implications associated with having unwell employees is not the only cost to businesses however, there are productivity costs also such as the inability of employees to work at their full capacity.

There is a strong link between an employee’s wellbeing and the performance of an organisation. An effective wellbeing strategy for a company can provide a positive return on investment (ROI). Research by PwC has shown that for every dollar you spend creating a mentally healthy workplace can, on average, result in a positive ROI of 2.3. This is a result of reduced staff turnover, decreased recruitment and training costs, fewer sick days and compensation costs, all of which come about when employees are well.

In addition, a focus on wellbeing supports an organisation’s ability to attract and retain talent. Deloitte’s CEO Cindy Hook attributes the record number of graduates that applied for their program to their wellbeing focus.

So given these benefits, there is no surprise that wellbeing programs are becoming common in many organisations across Australia. But the question is do they really work?

At most workplaces these days, you will find a complimentary fruit box, meditation room or discounted gym memberships on offer. Often these initiatives focus on the physical wellness of employees as opposed to the other side of wellbeing. These ‘nice-to-haves’ don’t actually make healthier or better employees and what’s worse is that they can undermine an employee’s belief about their company’s concern for their wellbeing.

So how can a company make their wellbeing strategy successful?

Wellbeing has to be part of the culture of an organisation. And this may mean a shift in culture is required. It can’t start with an individual but must begin at the organisational level. The focus should be on ensuring the company’s leaders are committed to supporting the wellbeing of its employees and lead by example. Once this has been done, attention can then move to the individuals.

A wellbeing strategy needs to be for the long term and based on research and evidence. One way that this can be done is for the organisation to focus on the five elements of PERMA. Gallup has found that employees, who are thriving in five specific elements of wellbeing miss less work, have higher customer ratings, solve problems more readily and adapt to change more quickly. Employees with high wellbeing in all five elements also save their companies money in healthcare costs and turnover.

And finally, an implemented strategy needs to be able to measure and monitor the wellbeing of employees ongoing. In time, this could become more important than measuring engagement alone, which is hugely popular for most organisations these days. To measure wellbeing in workplaces, Dr Peggy Kern and Michelle McQuaid, who are leading experts in the research and application of Positive Psychology, have built the PERMAH Workplace Survey, which tracks how a company is progressing in each of the elements of the wellbeing framework PERMAH – they include Health as an additional pillar.

Bring on the day when we see figures attributed to the wellbeing of an organisation’s employees included on the front page of their annual report!

Because “take care of your employees and they’ll take care of your business” – Richard Branson.