Brigitte van Kwikkelberghe, Managing Partner Middle East and Linda Jarnhamn, Managing Partner Europe of flow²thrive, a boutique human transformation consulting firm with operations in Europe & the Middle East, share their insights on why it is necessary for companies to track and measure the impact of wellness initiatives.

Most employee health and wellbeing initiatives seem simple in theory and require a small budget, but can be very difficult to implement, as all are related to habits around how people work.

This is the big organisational shift. The leaders of the business now acknowledge that for them to truly have an impact on the wellbeing of their employees, a cultural shift around ways of working is needed. This approach requires brave leaders, those who have the courage to break out of old, often deeply ingrained habits.

It is also therefore important to ask…

  • How will we know if what we do is having an impact?
  • How can we measure the progress and impact of the brave actions we’re taking?

The 2019 edition of the Daman Corporate Health & Wellbeing Awards included several awards which aim to illustrate this type of progress and set an expectation that participants can prove their case. There are strict criteria for participants to prove strategic alignment, progress and impact through data analytics.

This raises three interesting questions:

  • Is corporate wellbeing making progress within organisations?
  • Are companies measuring impact and return?
  • Are the efforts and investments having a real impact?

Are we making progress, or have we simply increased hype, activity and corporate spend?

Progress is being made, but it is slow. Awareness and activity levels are significantly higher today than three years ago. At an individual level, employees are now more aware.

The type of programmes offered has matured. Most companies have moved on from offering the annual corporate wellness day, monthly fitness competitions and the ad-hoc healthy eating interventions towards more holistic programmes, offering a broader range of support and initiatives.

Statistics on healthy life habits and key wellbeing indicators, however, are still poor, telling a story of a largely unhealthy and often both physically and mentally unwell employee population. An abundance of corporate activity, but little habitual change.

Do companies measure the impact and return of their programmes?

At a corporate level, leaders often talk about poor participation rates and failure to see meaningful and measurable change within their companies to find it of value. Whilst most companies measure something, a minority of companies systematically track or measure the progress and impact of their programmes.

Whilst data from the UAE is currently lacking, a 2018 study conducted by the Adecco Foundation and the Economist Intelligence Unit(1) in more advanced markets revealed that 76% of companies have measures in place, but few seem to measure the impact or return of their wellbeing programmes. Thus, to a large extent, many companies do not know if their programmes have a positive impact or not.

A question we ask every leader we engage with is how they measure the impact and outcomes of their programmes. In the UAE, most only measure financial cost, number of activities or participation in the programmes. Primarily effort- or cost-based measurements, rarely outcomes or impact.

How much are companies spending and are programmes utilised?

The same Adecco study(1) found that roughly 72% of all workplace wellbeing initiatives remain unused.

With the annual workplace wellness spend estimated to be $1.3bn(2) in the MENA region, this translates into nearly $1bn worth of money being wasted every year on initiatives and programmes that employees are not taking advantage of.

Looking at statistics for the UAE, an estimated $247m could potentially be wasted every year. If we break this down to average spend by an employee, this means that only $46 is being fully utilised out of the average $163 spent on each employee(2).

What’s the opportunity?

The annual cost of an unwell workforce has been estimated to $650bn in Europe alone(3). Comparing this to the corporate wellbeing spend in Europe of $17bn(2) the potential upside is phenomenal.

Several studies illustrate that corporate wellbeing initiatives can produce a strong return on investment, but only if the programmes have clearly defined objectives, are targeted towards issues and root causes of issues and where companies and employees, individually and collectively, can see and feel the impact of the changes they’re making.

To conclude: a missed opportunity due to lack of data

  • We are making progress, companies are doing more, employees are becoming more aware, but progress is slow.
  • A minority of companies are systematically measuring the impact of their programmes. Being able to illustrate (and for individuals to feel) the progress and the impact is crucial for change to happen.
  • Most companies, however, do not know if their programmes have a positive impact or not as the right data is not being collected.
  • Rarely are objectives, expectations, issues and drivers of issues identified at the start, which might be why so many initiatives remain unutilised.
  • The opportunity for having a real impact is significant, but a lot of money (nearly $1bn/annum in MENA) is currently being wasted on unutilised programmes or programmes with little impact.

What can we do to move one step further towards measuring and having a real impact? Ask yourself these five questions:

  1. Why is the wellbeing of our employees important to us?
  2. Do we know what wellbeing related issues we have?
  3. Do we know the drivers behind these issues?
  4. What do we want to achieve if we spend money, and by when?
  5. How do we baseline and track progress and impact?

The answers to these questions are becoming increasingly important to companies who strive to harness the true human potential of their employees in a digital world of work and who aim to achieve sustainable employee wellbeing and performance.

Linda Jarnhamn and Brigitte van Kwikkelberghe, having known each other for nearly two decades, have now come together to lead flow²thrive through shared ambition and values. They’re combining strong HR leadership experience, digital and business transformation expertise with applied neuroscience-based principles to help companies unleash human potential and their employees to feel, be and perform at their best.


  2. Global Wellness Institute, Global Wellness Economy Monitor: Middle East & North Africa, October 2018
  3. Hassard, J., et al (2014). Calculating the cost of work-related stress and psychosocial risks – A Literature Review. Bilbao, Spain: European Agency for Safety and Health at Work.

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