Signing the pact 

ME PoV Summer 2020 issue

Accelerating organizations in turbulent times

Over the last two decades, the make-or-break for organizations has been the ability to attract, develop, and retain talent. The so-called “war for talent” has become a constant strife for companies competing to hire the best talent with the hopes that this talent will help them identify potential threats and uncover new opportunities; in other words, contribute to their survival and growth.

Retaining high potential and critical-skill employees, as opposed to hiring them, is a completely different ballgame. The ability to hold on to talent became downright hard and complex, especially during difficult economic times. With the millennials comprising over a third of the global workforce and Gen Z making an entry, organizations are maximizing efforts to hold on to this new group that values work-life balance over meaningful work and job progression.

The pandemic escalated matters with the once controversial and blurry line between work and life completely vanishing, and work seeping into people’s homes, invading their privacy and every aspect of their lives, affecting not just their physical wellness with the extra-long working hours, but more importantly, their mental health. These new realities brought about a new norm and the challenge for companies now is the risk of losing their best talent, not to the competition, but rather to personal wellness–or the lack of it!

While prevention does trump a cure, it is still not clear to what extent organizations are tuned in to this emerging threat. Are they keeping their finger on the pulse of their employees’ well-being? Can they continue to ignore the importance of a corporate wellness culture that does not just focus on programs, but also provides opportunities for employees to look after their mental well-being by endorsing policies and practices that promote a culture of wellness?

Findings from the latest 2020 Deloitte Global Millennial Survey1 identify stress and mental health as two of the main critical issues facing employers. The survey revealed that while stress levels may have decreased slightly for millennials and Gen Zs during the pandemic (owing perhaps to spending more time with family and less time commuting in traffic jams or on packed trains and subways), mental health remained a critical issue.

Well-being: from strategy to responsibility

While the concept of employee wellness is not new, its size and value in the workplace have grown in a global market valued at US$57.2 billion in 2019 with the expectation to reach US$90.7 billion by 20262.

The notion of workplace wellness started in 1682 with Bernardino Ramazzini3. Ramazzini, an Italian physician, was the first to focus on workers' health problems in a systematic and scholarly way and explore the effects of work exposure on workers (occupational diseases) and the possibilities of taking preventative measures to help improve employee well-being. Workplace wellness programs, however, did not really begin to exist until the mid-1970s, driven primarily by cost containment4.

More recently, the 2014 Global Human Capital Trends survey: Engaging the 21st century workplace introduced the concept of the overwhelmed employee. Well being emerged later in the 2018 Global Human Capital Trends survey that highlighted the need to set a dedicated strategy for well-being, encouraging organizations to act responsibly in the hyper-connected workplace of the social enterprise.

These days providing a robust well-being strategy that focuses on physical, mental, and spiritual health has become a corporate responsibility for companies motivated to retain their skilled talent, especially in turbulent times. According to Deloitte’s 2020 Global Human Capital Trends survey5, the concept of workplace wellness has evolved significantly with statistics that inspire mature organizations to look into designing work for well-being in order to ensure that employees live and perform at their best. The survey reveals that of all the other business outcomes, well-being emerges as the biggest driver in improving the employee experience.

In fact, 80 percent of the survey respondents identified well-being as an “important” or “very important” priority for their organization’s success, and while 95 percent of HR leaders agreed that burnout impacts employee retention, 96 percent believed that well-being is an organizational responsibility and that companies should continue to design new or improve existing strategies that address employee wellness. However, a closer look at the survey shows that the return on investment (ROI) in employee well-being may not be as strong as it could be.

This finding poses a serious question: If the ROI from well-being programs is yielding negative figures, while the employee workforce experience is significantly positively impacted, what then is the best metric for measuring the impact of corporate well-being programs? Recent studies show that wellness ROI is no longer important and that employee well-being programs should be measured in terms of the value they bring to the organization through enhanced employee experience, stronger engagement and better retention rates. In other words, companies may do better to measure the impact of wellness programs through VOI (value on investment) vs. ROI (return on investment)6.

Companies driven by ROI design well-being programs that focus on managing, or reducing, healthcare costs and reducing the number of sick days. On the other hand, organizations that seek value on investment strive to reduce employee health risks, improve employee job satisfaction, productivity, and morale. Such companies are keen to attract and/or retain talented employees, improve employee energy levels at work, increase on-the-job safety, impact business performance and profitability, and improve comradery and team effectiveness. While the premise of running wellness programs differs between ROI and VOI, the reality is that both ROI and VOI are measures of value and both are important for organizations to be able to capture the financial impact as well as the wide variety of outcomes within an organization i.e. the softer measures. Wellness VOI measures compare employee well-being program participants to non-participants; but in addition to looking at financial metrics, they look at other measures such as job satisfaction and employee morale. This led organizations to believe that redesigning work around well-being can yield impressive results. Some of the tactics to redesign work around well-being as identified in the 2020 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends survey included autonomy for employees on how to do the work (45 percent), leveraging the use of technology (41 percent), flexible work (39 percent), and remote work (38 percent), among others. The bottom line, however, is that achieving a life of wellness and mental health at work is similar to signing a bilateral agreement that necessitates investment from the parties involved. Investment from the organization on the one hand, be it driven by the finance departments that want to manage or reduce healthcare costs, number of sick days, or disability claims, and /or others looking for value and eager to improve the employee experience, attract or retain talented employees, reduce employee health risks, improve productivity, morale and job satisfaction. Both scenarios positively impact business performance and profitability. 

Investment is also required from the employees who should acknowledge the fact that no matter how sophisticated a well-being strategy their companies offer, the onus is on them to benefit from the corporate wellness programs set in place and lead a life of wellness and be able to reach the work-life combination sense of balance they seek.

While organizations focus on setting strategies to navigate crises in the form of economic breakdowns or pandemics, it is essential that such strategies include programs, practices and policies to safeguard the personal wellness and mental health of their talent to ensure the retention of those critical-skill employees. Mental health crises arising from difficult economic times or pandemics are serious and take time to recover. Organizations are encouraged to be cognizant of the repercussions and approach the subject of mental health with compassion, honesty, and openness to be able to emerge as better leaders, better people, and ultimately, better companies.

by Soughit Kouly Abdelnour, Director, Human Resources, Deloitte Middle East


  1. In January 2020, Deloitte Global completed a survey of 18,400 millennials and Gen Zs to understand their views on work, society, and the world at large. But soon after, the global pandemic ushered in a new reality. To understand how the crisis has impacted the views of young people, Deloitte fielded a second survey of 9,100 millennials and Gen Zs across 13 countries.
  2. Deloitte 2020 Global Human Capital Trends survey
  3. Bernardino Ramazzini: The Father of Occupational Medicine
  4. The Interesting History of Workplace Wellness (
  5. Deloitte 2020 Global Human Capital Trends survey polled nearly 9000 business and HR leaders in 119 countries
  6. Wellness ROI vs. VOI: The best employee well-being programs use both ( 2020/01/02/wellness-roi-employee-well-being-programs/)
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