Let wellness too drive Profits Long-term employee wellness must become a part of the corporate dashboard and the next rung in the ladder of a business corporation.


Managers of manufacturing companies are familiar with three popular modes for maintaining their plant and machinery:

  • Breakdown maintenance — attending to a machine when it stops performing due to a failure.
  • Planned maintenance — ­carried out at scheduled intervals, whether a machine has failed or not. Annual maintenance of plants under ­shutdown is a maintenance activity under this category.
  • Predictive maintenance ­— taking pre-emptive action to prevent catastrophic events when the behaviour of a machine suggests it may breakdown or face trouble in the near future.

Nobody questions a manufacturing company for incurring expenditure towards maintaining its machines. It is a no-brainer that the assets from which the products of the company arise have to be in top condition. The maintenance expenses are returned many times over in the profits of the company.

The new assets

Cut to the present. While conventional capital assets like plant and machinery are essential to business, they no longer determine competitive advantage. In the knowledge economy, competitive advantage derives from ideas whose source is people. Pharmaceutical companies depend on their research scientists to discover the next blockbuster drug, the fortune of chip-making companies is determined by innovative designs and the human race depends for its long-term wellness on geneticists who studiously map intricate gene mutations to diseases. Even in that most hallowed of all asset-intensive industries — ­manufacturing — with the advent of technologies like 3D printing, advantage has moved from manufacturing assets to design ideas. Any object that can be imagined can be manufactured with the same finish anywhere in the world.

In the knowledge economy, competitive advantage derives from ideas whose source is people.

High quality manufacturing is not the exclusive preserve of a few who have access to sophisticated plants and machinery. The key to supremacy even in the manufacturing business is superior imagination. Without doubt, employees have become the productive assets of practically all kinds of businesses.

However, the upkeep of people as assets sadly lags behind the aforementioned sophisticated methods of maintaining plant and machinery. Of the three kinds of maintenance applicable to machines, most companies practise breakdown maintenance for people: provide them with health insurance covers so if they are struck down by disease, the costs of repair (medical treatment) that will restore them to working condition are met without financial distress to the employees. Some companies practise limited forms of planned maintenance, say, in the form of an annual health check-up with recommendations of follow-up action. Very few companies practise predictive maintenance, which is knowing which employee groups are at what risks and taking pre-emptive action to prevent forthcoming disasters.

Like every manufacturing company needs a plant and machinery maintenance programme, so does every business need a wellness programme for its employees. A wellness programme simply is the institutional means by which every business invests in the long-term wellness of its employees. Competitive advantage will arise in significant part from the superiority of the wellness programme of a company over that of other companies.

A classic example is Google whose investments in the wellness of its people are legendary: from free food to physicians on campus and gymnasia. The returns it harvests by way of the superior products of various groups would be a gargantuan multiple of the investments it makes in its employees.

Like every manufacturing company needs a plant and machinery maintenance programme, every business needs a wellness programme for its employees.

Enlightened self-interest is sufficient reason for a company to embark upon a wellness programme. A wellness programme addresses both the mental and the physical well-being of the employees through a comprehensive and structured intervention. The contents of the programme would be driven both by the strategic context of the company as also the current state of health of its employees. An effective wellness programme would soon become part of the indispensable genetic material of the successful corporation.

High-mindedness and profits are not irreconcilables

The pursuit of profits need not be the only driver of wellness programmes. The betterment of humankind has always been enabled by the economic enterprise. Our progress over the ages is a result of productive employment. Directly and indirectly, the profits earned by companies have led to the creation of institutions that have helped improve the quality of life. The noblesse oblige that accumulation of outsized profits creates, should prompt companies to reinvest a portion of the money in the wellness of their employees, particularly at a time when mental and physical well-being are under threat. Wellness management represents the next rung in the ladder of evolution of the business corporation. Long-term employee wellness must become a part of the corporate dashboard.

The promotion of employee wellness cannot be undertaken purposefully without a concerted wellness programme. Employee welfare improvement initiatives of yesteryear are inadequate to meet the requirements of the wellness programmes of tomorrow. Sundry efforts should be replaced by their orderly integration into holistic wellness programmes. The definition of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) should be expanded to include wellness programmes which indeed discharge the important social responsibility of building healthy employee communities.

Extending Adam Smith’s principles of economics, if every company ensured the wellness of its employees, the wellness of a significant part of society would be taken care of!

To be continued …

(The writer is Founder, Anantara Solutions Pvt Limited.  Email: gbprabhat@gmail.com)

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