The Business of Wellenomics

Poor mental health costs the UK economy £billions in lost productivity. Burnout is described by the World Health Organisation as an occupational phenomenon and something that finance departments can no longer ignore. But how relatable are these numbers on a more local level? Chris Masters, WoWWizard of Financial Health advises us to start from a position of ‘What's in it for me?’ if we are to make the cognitive leap to holistic wellbeing programmes, which drive improved personal financial health; which in turn can only help drive corporate profits.

Wellenomics - Wellbeing for business

The costs of poor mental health are rising fast, a 16% increase from 2016 to January 2020 according to research from Deloitte - that was prior to the pandemic. In the UK alone the annual cost to the economy is estimated at £45billion.
The same research also reviewed the effectiveness of wellbeing initiatives in providing cost savings and on average found that for every £1 ‘spent’ there was a £5 ‘return’ – a 500% Return on Wellbeing Investment (ROWI). This is wellenomics.  

Is the time to measure ROWI now?

With these staggering returns, surely the road to profitability is to invest as much as possible into wellbeing programmes – no Finance Director can argue with the 5x ROWI, but the conversation rarely goes that way and when some budget is ‘released’ how should it be spent to achieve the biggest impact?

The problem with numbers like £45billion and 500% ROI is that often we don’t believe they apply to us; behaviourally, we are prone to discounting figures that seem irrelevant to our circumstances. Those stats are for others and don’t apply to us, we are better than that. Even taking the leap and  accepting that mental health problems affect our bottom line, we also need to admit that we are part of the problem – only then can we go about fixing it and that can be a painful introspection.  

At WoWW! we believe that we need to demonstrate a return on wellbeing investment at the most local of levels before applying it to the wider group i.e. for us as individuals – the what’s in it for me test.  If I can see how wellbeing improves my personal finances, seeing how that might benefit the organisation I work in should be an easy next step.

In 2014, Gallup researched the effectiveness of wellbeing programmes and why they often failed.  A key finding was the need to take a holistic approach to wellbeing as opposed to limiting it to a narrow focus.  When we compare programmes focused purely on physical activity vs. more holistic wellbeing activities, employees were:

·       81% less likely to be looking for a new job

·       Twice as likely to adapt to changes in the work environment

·       and had 41% fewer unhealthy days

Here at WoWW! We have delivered financial wellbeing programmes for 20 years. We know, anecdotally, that a holistic approach to wellbeing integrated into financial discussions has the biggest and longest lasting effects on personal financial plans.  That’s why we built our framework around the New Economics Foundations (NEF) 5-Ways to Wellbeing, a model used widely in the NHS and the mental health charity, MIND. Let’s look at how the 5 Ways to Wellbeing can have a positive impact on our personal finances:


To belong, to listen to others and to be listened to ourselves, to have shared beliefs and passions, to have reliable supportive structures around us is to feel connected.  When we feel connected within our tribe, we satisfy the most basic of human needs.  So how does this impact our personal finances?

How we spend our money and allocate resources is closely aligned to the groups we function within and the groups we want to be associated with. Status within the group seems very important in our younger years.  We set a direction for our finances early and these decisions/beliefs stay with us for a long time and can cause significant damage to our financial health.  With our closest relationships, our connections are deeper. The material things we have (or not) may have little impact within these relationships - these connections are at their best when it's about the bond between us - money is rarely a positive factor.  

Financial planning in its simplest form is often a choice to forgo an immediate pleasure in the hope of a future satisfaction.  We need to ‘Connect’ to a future version of ourselves and a set of options that will best serve us.  When we focus on the quality of our connections, we are more likely to have discipline in our spending and the trade-offs required for delaying gratification seem more relevant when we see them as providing options and future protection for our group.        


When we are active it helps build resilience and allows us to take on the challenges and stresses of life.  It also teaches us the benefits of consistent practice and discipline. These disciplines can easily transfer into the disciplines that will underpin a financial plan.  Whether it's through spending discipline or increased earnings potential, being physically active can only help to improve financial health.

Research published by Business Insider Deutschland in 2020 found that people who were physically active felt just as well as those who didn’t do sports but earnt $25,000 more a year.  This would indicate that if we are not physically active, we will overspend our way to happiness.  In 2012, researcher Vasilios Kosteas studied the relationship between earnings potential and physical fitness and identified that salaries were on average 6-9% higher for those who were physically active compared to those who weren't.


To take notice is to be present in the moment and notice  our surroundings as well as listening to the messages our bodies and minds are delivering to us. Some will take notice in a conversation, some on a walk, others on a drive to work, and some when practicing mindfulness.  

The practice of mindfulness has many well researched benefits, which include greater cognitive ability and problem-solving skills, as well as increased discipline.  When we are in the moment, we are ‘awake’ as opposed to sleep walking through our days.  There is a whole industry that taps into our semi-conscious state hoping to influence our spending behaviours and when we are ‘awake’ we can better resist these urges.  Taking notice of our finances and listening to the internal voice is an important feedback loop when it comes to seeing how our day-to-day disciplines impact longer-term planning.  We might not always like the feedback, but without it trouble is never too far away.


The more we learn the more we can learn and when we feel competent, we feel more confident. When it comes to money, we know the financial age of literacy in the UK has been indicated as that of a 9-year-old – for many, learning through trial & error when it comes to money can be closely linked to shame – we just don’t like the risk and the feelings if we get it wrong.

Learning new skills and hobbies has a huge impact on personal wellbeing; we enjoy the process, and it also helps with the stories we share that bind us to our connections.  It teaches us that trial and error are part of the learning process and that when we embrace new challenges, we often surprise ourselves. When it comes to developing the skills for money management and planning your finances there will be lots to learn.  You will need to become comfortable with trial and error and learning new concepts.  For lifelong learners this is a challenge they can readily embrace.


When we give to others it helps us to be grateful for what we have and to practice deep reflection about what is important to us as individuals.  It allows us to compare downwards to those less fortunate which helps translate into how we use our own financial resources.

The people or causes we give to, will allow for periods of introspection and shining a spotlight on how lucky we are and how life can change unexpectedly.  Planning for the unexpected is a core part of good financial planning and we can learn this from others.
When we give to others, we develop better appreciation for what is important in our lives. This helps us to allocate our financial resources in the here and now and reminds us of the importance of planning for the unexpected.  

With The 5 ways to Wellbeing fully integrated into your routines, your personal finances have the best chances of success.  They are a driver of financial health.  They also provide multiple reference points of how mindful thought, personal discipline, and behaviours for the good of the group are not only beneficial for us as individuals, but also for the advancement of the tribes we are associated with.  

A ‘What's in it for me’ mindset, can also be good for ‘Us’, and it is this mindset that will deliver the potential 5x Return on Wellbeing Investment in an organisation.

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