Putting Health At The Heart Of Business

Time for a check up with Joe Gaunt, CEO of wellbeing company hero

How healthy is your business? While we understandably focus on metrics such as KPIs, sales growth, and profit margins to measure business success, a company’s true worth is much more than the sum of its parts. Culture, values, and the welfare of employees are indicators not only that a business aims to be a positive force in the world, but also that it seeks long term prosperity.

It is unfortunate, then, on both economic and social grounds, that mental health is currently in crisis. The cost of mental health problems to the UK is estimated to be over £100bn each year, with 70 million working days lost from employee absences. Although it might not be possible to eliminate sickness in the workplace, businesses can make themselves healthier, happier places to be.

A firm believer in the role of business to promote health is Joe Gaunt, CEO of hero – a digital wellbeing provider. D/SRUPTION checked in for a chat about holistic, personalised health, and changing attitudes in the corporate sector.

Not all heroes wear capes

Tackling the challenge of health through business might be a challenge, but it is also a huge opportunity. Companies have unparalleled reach over their employees in terms of contact time, making businesses a huge structural asset in the nation’s healthcare system. The potential for companies to support people from a proactive health standpoint – complementing traditional clinical services – is what initially motivated Joe Gaunt to join the wellbeing space. This is a commitment he still holds today, and which guides the company’s founding values.

“We built our whole business on a few key principles,” he says. “One of the centrepieces is personalisation. We recognise that health is a really personal thing, that we’re all in different states of physical, mental and social health. It was really important to create something that would help people in a proactive way, that would allow them to customise services to their specific needs.”

“Community is also key. That is to say, helping people find someone who is like minded, and bringing them together to take action. We know that really helps adoption and makes people more likely to change their behaviour.”

How does hero do this? Their digital platform, Navigator, collects data from wearables such as fitness trackers or even just smartphones, advising users on their movement, activity, mindfulness and nutrition. Individuals can find resources such as recipes and instructional videos on the platform, and chart their progress towards any personalised health goals. At the organisational level, the platform gives business leaders the ability to track user engagement and analyse whether or not their commitment to wellbeing is borne out by the results.

A shot in the arm for corporate wellbeing

This data driven, personalised approach is a far cry from some of the standard corporate wellbeing initiatives that many employees will be used to. Gaunt is understandably critical of such lacklustre approaches which represent more of a tick box mindset towards mental and physical health.

“If you think about previous wellness initiatives, you’ll sometimes have companies that will put a gym in the basement. Now, there’s only 15 per cent penetration of people going to gyms in the UK, so let’s assume that’s the same for offices. Those people then also have to be comfortable training at work, and then you’ve got to consider that it’s probably static treadmills facing a wall… It’s going to get a low amount of usage.”

“Similarly, you might see companies set up a ‘wellness week’. They might do yoga on Monday, smoothies on Tuesday, spin bike on Wednesday, and a spin bike that makes smoothies on Thursday… And then some other forced participation event on a Friday. We ask, how can you really impact wellbeing when there are such a vast amount of issues for people, without asking them?”

Instead, hero works with organisations to assess the personal health of their people, and the perceptions that they have of the company’s commitment to wellbeing. This anonymised report is then used – in dialogue with organisational leaders – to come up with a tailored workplace wellbeing strategy.

“Our plans are all very different,” says Gaunt, “as they depend on the company objectives. If you think about the history of corporate wellbeing, it’s gone from ‘oh, we’ve got to go along and jump on this bike,’ to asking people what’s important and meaningful to them. That is a big step forward.”

A bitter pill to swallow

It is inevitable that when we ask questions, we sometimes don’t like the answers. Never is this more evident than when asking workers what they think of their employer… For Gaunt, however, companies need to be brave enough to be truly open to honest feedback, even if in many cases they probably won’t like the responses they get.

“The numbers can be really tough,” he says. “Sometimes, if you ask employees how they feel about their company’s attitude to wellbeing, the company will score badly. It’s the companies that are not afraid to recognise that they’ve got a problem and do something about it that are already way further ahead.”

“Generally speaking, people are really happy if they get a 20-50 per cent response rate to their engagement surveys. Our average response rate is 71 per cent, so we really do capture a high percentage of the workforce in terms of gathering sentiment. If people can see you’ve listened and acted appropriately, it tends to be really powerful stuff.”

Away from the obvious – that caring about employee wellbeing is the right thing to do – companies do have a legal responsibility to look after their workforce. But, as Gaunt notes, equally as important is the profitability of businesses who take this kind of thing seriously.

“If a company has a specific problem about talent engagement, attraction and retention, then you can really see a good business case for why you would invest in wellbeing. According to CIPD, for every pound you spend on wellbeing, you get a return of between £1.50 and £9,” he says.

“Again, it’s a tough challenge. How can you help everyone? Everyone’s needs are very, very different. If the offering is limited, then you’re not going to get a good return on investment. A company may have tried to invest in the wellness space and not got the results that they needed. The answer is personalisation and utilising trend data, all anonymised and aggregated so it’s not an invasion of anyone’s privacy. You see a number of companies doing that really well.”

Getting results

Given the scale of the mental health pandemic, and pressure on health services more generally, it is no surprise that government is leading the drive towards prevention rather than cure. This is where employee wellbeing schemes such as those provided by hero can make a significant difference to public health. Gaunt notes that along with hero’s corporate clients, the company is also able to help broader communities such as schools and retirement villages.

“We’ve just had some data back from a really challenging group which is the retirement village sector,” he says. “In our recent three month trial the average age of residents was 78, and the results have been amazing. We have increased happiness, and improved participants’ nutrition and satisfaction with their activity by 26 per cent. One of the things that stands out is that one person said the trial had really made them want to make the most out of life.”

Such comments are concrete evidence that wellbeing – done right – can truly change the lives of individuals. The important thing is, as Gaunt states, to pursue a continuous and sustained approach as the best way to manage health.

“The recent government announcement around the focus on preventative health is a representation of our understanding that it’s not sustainable to be helping people once the iceberg has been hit,” he says. “What that will look like – we’ll see. But education is the long term solution to all of this to help people understand the importance of food, sleep, activity, movement, social interactions, and how these things play into the complete self. That to me is the long term goal.”

Such a strategic approach breaks down wellbeing into a series of manageable steps – and suddenly, health doesn’t seem like such a challenge. But getting corporate leaders on board is no mean feat. The question remains – have you considered the importance of your employees’ mental, physical and social health? Your bottom line, as well as your workforce, may just thank you for it.

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