Solving the wellness ownership dilemma

A common question we receive from our clients is “Who should own & take responsibility for our workplace wellness strategy?”

In our experience, where your strategy ‘lives’ in your organisation will depend on a few factors:

1.  the nature of your industry

2.  your existing organisational structure

3.  your existing health & wellness strategy/s; &

4.  the key organisational drivers for adopting a strategy in the first place.

For some organisations, wellness will often sit under the Occupational Health & Safety (OHS) banner. For others, it may form part of Human Resources (HR).

In larger organisations there may also be a dedicated Wellness Manager or department. However in this instance, normally they would still report through either HR or OHS.

For small-medium organisations it may potentially sit under both functions, that is, it reports through to a manager who oversees both HR & OHS.

What we know for sure is that where your wellness strategy is housed will influence its emphasis.

For example, an OHS-led model may channel efforts more into injury prevention. Whereas a HR-led model may focus on boosting the array of wellness-related benefits such as discounted corporate health insurance & gym memberships, eldercare support, onsite childcare & flexible working arrangements.

In contrast, a dedicated Wellness Coordinator may concentrate more on traditional health promotion strategies, for example, creating healthy & supportive environments.

In my 18 years delivering award-winning workplace wellness programs, both in-house & as a consultant, I’ve seen the best health & wellness outcomes achieved when the strategy is driven through the HR function. In my experience, this tends to lead to a more holistic & integrated view of employee wellness, which given it’s multi-dimensional nature, is critical.

This is supported by recent global research conducted by Buck Consultants (2012) in which 75% of survey respondents indicated that the Corporate HR department was responsible for executing wellness within their organisation. The researchers attributed this to a high level of interconnectedness between the wellness plan & other benefit programs. Interestingly, the same study revealed that within Australia it was fairly split between HR, OHS & a dedicated wellness manager. I would suggest this diversity as to who ‘owns’ workplace wellness within Australian organisations stems from various economic, political & historical drivers.

Interestingly this split across organisational functions is also reflected in the top three objectives identified in this research for Australian organisations adopting a wellness strategy for their organisation, namely:

1)     improving workplace safety

2)     reducing employee absences &

3)     improving worker productivity / reducing presenteeism.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter where your wellness strategy lives. Given the many different drivers for organisations investing in the health & wellness of their people, what’s more critical is that the overall responsibility & ownership of the strategy lies with the CEO & senior executive.

It is not solely the Wellness Coordinators ‘job’ to look after wellness. To be successful, your strategy will need to look beyond your HR, OHS & wellness personnel. Other key stakeholders will need to have a place at the wellness table to ensure you have the right blend of skills, expertise & hands-on support to future-proof your strategy.


Buck Consultant (2012) Working Well: A Global Survey of Health Promotion & Workplace Wellness Strategies