Is employee welfare the next health scare to face the food and drink industry?

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When I worked at The Grocer, the spotlight was on BSE, e.coli and food colouring. Then it turned to obesity, binge drinking and hyperactive kids. So, while I don’t want to appear blasé, I’m not worried the horse meat scandal will irreversibly taint the industry. It has already proved adept at dealing with the fallout from health scares.

However, employers in food and drink could do more about the health of their employees. And they’re not the only ones. Research shows the UK was among the 10 worst-performing countries for employee wellbeing last year. The research by employee engagement specialist Kenexa, entitled Workforce Quality of Life Index (WQLI), measures wellbeing by evaluating the perceptions of some 31,600 employees across 27 countries against six indicators: health, education, institutions, resource availability, personal/economic security and life satisfaction.

The UK comes eighth from bottom across all measures and second bottom only to Japan in personal/economic security - reflecting employees’ concerns about work. This matters because there is copious research to suggest higher levels of wellbeing are beneficial for an organisation because employees feel more confident and, therefore, become more productive. Plus, more satisfied people tend to live longer, are less likely to leave their jobs and tend to perform better at work.

Kenexa believes the UK’s low wellbeing scores are explained by a lack of confidence and trust in employers. This is in sharp contrast to India, where employers consistently score highly on wellbeing and engagement. Kenexa’s managing partner Middle East, Vernon Bryce, says there is “something phenomenal” going on there.

With wellbeing and happiness moving up the government agenda, Kenexa calls for a rethink on how governments and companies across the world measure, considering not just country level but also how employees feel about wellbeing.

I agree there is the need for more consistency and meaningful data in this area - employees are vital for national economies. Governments are increasingly making the link between wellbeing and productivity, using wellbeing as an indicator of the health of the nation. It’s now time for more leaders to make this link to the health of their businesses.

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