Health as a strategic success factor in companies

Guest contribution by | 04.07.2019

In a world of increasing complexity and change dynamics, how can accelerated technological change and global networking help us to remain internally stable and in balance – as people, teams and organisations?

What makes companies so adaptable and flexible that they create the balancing act of staying true to their roots while reinventing themselves to ensure sustainable profitable growth?

How do they manage to keep up with this pace and competitive pressure and despite a shortage of skilled workers and a tense applicant market in some areas to have no problems in the search for qualified skilled personnel and trainees?

What are the success factors for companies to be able to confidently face these changes in the outside world and adapt quickly enough?

People make companies successful

With all the technology and digital hype, companies are not successful in the competition because they come up with the latest technologies and are digitised and agilised from A to Z. Sooner or later, other companies will be able to do the same, perhaps even producing cheaper and delivering faster on top. The answer is obvious: People and their interaction in social systems and with the outside world make the difference.

Future-oriented entrepreneurs and companies place people at the centre of entrepreneurial thinking and action. Whether customers, employees, suppliers, business partners or other stakeholders. They have a genuine interest in people and are already striving for their well-being in their own sense.

Sounds too good to be true? This humanistic idea does not fit into reality? Well, there are companies that obviously operate successfully according to this basic principle. However, this is not a self-runner and places high demands on management and leadership in particular.

So how can companies achieve and maintain this status and operate economically successfully in the long term without the increasing demands for performance and learning being to the detriment of the health of their employees? Without the hamster wheel leading people and organisations to the edge of their performance reserves following the pattern of “faster, higher, farther” and these reserves being exhausted and “burned out”? How can physical and mental health even be promoted and working conditions improved with the possibilities offered by modern technologies and tools?

These questions have been on my mind for quite some time in the context of discussions about Working 4.0, New Work, the VUCA world and lifelong learning from a medical-social, health-economic and business perspective. Therefore, it made sense for me to take a closer look at occupational health management in the digital world of work.

I would first like to discuss some hypotheses from my perspective and experience regarding the current understanding of occupational health management and health promotion in modern companies. I would be delighted if you would like to get involved.

Modern business and health

“Healthy employees – healthy companies”, “Resilience as a success factor in digital change”, “Happy employees strengthen the employer brand, productivity, innovative strength of your company” and not to forget, “develop a healthy corporate culture and values”…

The promising slogans of providers of corporate health solutions sound like this or similar, and I can also partly classify myself in this tenor. But I want to be honest. It is not quite that simple and there is no success formula for “healthy + happy employees = efficient + motivated = high-performance organisation and companies”. The equation is not that simple.

Sometimes it is simply too much. For example, I often ask myself the question of how such systemically effective health effects and a higher efficiency of people and organisations can be achieved with individual actions and measures that only start at the level of individual behavioural change. Because our behaviour is shaped by the conditions that surround us. More than we are often aware of and sometimes prefer.

Or if circumstances change by creating more opportunities to take advantage of health offers in an uncomplicated and flexible way, e.g. company sports, fitness, back courses, nutrition advice, fruit basket, yoga, anti-stress online coaching, break meditation, apps, wearables. But this form of support is unspecific, without direct reference to professional concerns and challenges in the working world with digital transformation.

As in the past, health promotion and prevention measures – including digital ones – are primarily aimed at improving physical health, and in practice better well-being and mental health are seen primarily through behavioural change.

Is it just a question of the right mindset?

No question, the responsibility for one’s own health lies first and foremost with each individual. Attitude and behaviour, patterns of thought, knowledge, competence, personal resources and motivation to pursue a healthy lifestyle are essential. And that is why such general measures to support health and self-care are to be welcomed.

However, company offers should go beyond this and support people in maintaining their health and well-being in their daily work, relieving them of the burden and enabling them to master new demands and challenges confidently. For only creating a balance FROM work and striving for a work-life balance is not enough and is also not conducive to reducing work-related health burdens in the long term.

Supporting individually suitable offers, where it depends, life-phase oriented. They can help people to strengthen their physical and mental health, solve problems in the professional context and personal living environment and lead a self-determined, fulfilling work and private life, but also to cope with illnesses or the consequences of accidents and to accompany them on their way back to work, to reorientation or to retirement.

Healthy and safe work is created above all by the conditions that make this possible. The aim is to shape the organisation of work, structures and processes in a preventive, inclusive and value-adding way, also with digital strategies – through modern management, change management and people-oriented formal and informal leadership in all areas of personnel and company strategies.

The definition and image problem of health management

One of the most common misunderstandings is the synonymous use of the terms “workplace health promotion” and “health management”. What is the difference and what role does it play?

First of all to health management: This is a comprehensive and ideally systematically integrated management and leadership system and has little to do with company health promotion – measures such as fitness courses, company sports, fruit baskets and training videos. It comprises both legally binding and voluntary modules for occupational health and safety such as the risk assessment of physical and psychological stress, the derivation of measures for prevention and health promotion, or integration after illness and integration. Health management at the strategic, process, leadership and cultural levels thus operates in close cooperation with personnel and organisational development and is mostly carried out within HR.
Workplace health promotion is therefore only one pillar of these dimensions for corporate and employee health.

However, this complexity of health management is little known and has not yet been widely accepted in practice. The reasons often given are obstacles in terms of expenditure (time/personnel/money), especially for small or medium-sized enterprises. The acceptance and participation of managers, the target-group-specific approach and accessibility of employees, the heterogeneity of employees and individual demands for flexibility and the compatibility of needs on the part of employees and employers are also frequent challenges.

Moreover, health management suffers from a “depressed” image. It is likely that the more benevolent sounding descendants have also emerged from this.

And another important point from my point of view is that the “classical” health management, which is predominantly centrally controlled, is no longer up to date in view of the rapidly changing requirements in the working environment due to digitalisation and networking, social movements due to the change in values, demographic development and lifelong learning in the VUCA world etc. Here, too, new approaches are needed.

First small steps count – and then stick to it

The inhibition threshold for systematic health management is obviously too high for many companies, and that is actually unnecessary. There are many ways and means of implementing health management. Here an experienced partner can help, who accompanies the process from the goal determination up to the conversion. In addition to consultants and service providers, health insurance funds, employers’ liability insurance associations and the public sector also offer a wide range of support and funding opportunities.

And one can begin even completely small. With what you have. Much does not cost much more except some time and the attention on the substantial to direct. That in turn saves money and nerves. Every step is important to get ahead and the right time is always, sooner rather than later.

It leaves a great impression and high recognition when entrepreneurs and managers themselves set a good example, when employees are involved in projects at an early stage and when one simply exchanges backgrounds, goals, ideas, wishes, hurdles and expectations together in a relaxed atmosphere without a project plan.

When it comes to health and better working conditions, there are always volunteers who are willing to get involved. People organise themselves and are extremely creative when they are given the opportunity and the means to do so. Above all, you reach those you really want to reach, because you are closer to the grass roots and understand what they need.

Employees can also take on organisational and coordinative tasks in the team from health management sub-areas and take responsibility for the budget. But you should also give them the freedom to do so, qualify them and not assume that this can only run alongside day-to-day business. Where possible, they should receive assistance and digital support in order to limit additional administrative tasks to the bare minimum.

Taking care of either health or daily business is not an option. It is about making work processes and the organisation healthier, which is also reflected in improved value creation. This in turn creates scope for creativity, learning and development. Every investment more than pays for itself twice over.

What about Feel Good Management and Corporate Happiness?

Those who (have) implemented a holistic, systematic health management in their organisation do not need an extra Feel Good Management or a person who is responsible for the “Corporate Happiness Culture”. The decisive lever for the effectiveness and also for the ROI of any operational intervention lies in its implementation. The HOW is also decisive when it comes to health management.

Health management can be given a different name and it can be promoted from different perspectives. But one cannot develop and control well-being and culture through intervention, nor can one “make” people healthy and happy and “give them” meaning. Culture is already there and is changing without our active involvement. The extent to which it develops in a positive and desired direction and to which a healthy culture establishes itself also depends on the extent to which it can do this. This can also be influenced by a better cooperation:

What kind of collaboration shapes cooperation? Which values and goals are pursued? Which attitude shapes the image of people? What is communicated to whom and how in everyday life? How autonomous and flexible can people do their work and develop further? What prevents them from doing so? Which structures, rules and unwritten laws stand in the way? Are guiding principles and words lived through deeds? And so on.

Nevertheless, the personal perception of the culture and the working atmosphere and the effects on well-being and sense are highly individual and subjective. And we don’t have everything in our hands. Sometimes less intervention is more.

Bottom line

Companies that have a genuine interest in people and place them at the centre of their entrepreneurial thinking and action need hardly worry about their future viability and attractiveness as employers. After all, they are characterised by the fact that they enjoy a high degree of recognition, loyalty and solidarity among their employees, customers and business partners.

They achieve this by focusing on good, healthy working conditions and sustainability and by building stable relationships with the people who ultimately contribute to their company’s success. The tools are to be found at the structural-technological and socio-cultural levels. Through skilful application, they are able to react to changes in the environment and act with foresight.

Emotionally stable relationships are based on mutual care, especially in uncertain times and under unstable conditions of social systems. As in every good relationship, a partner builds on giving and taking, trust, respect and esteem. Those who also dare openness in the company learn more about themselves and learn how to deal with conflicts, different individual needs, interests and demands in a healthy way and how to overcome difficult times confidently. It is not important that everyone is in agreement, but that the right direction is taken.

With a clearly formulated vision, a focus on human values and leadership principles that consistently focus on value creation for the company, value appreciation by customers and employees, and value generation for the common good, people and organisations can already now successfully and healthily shape what the future should bring – both humanely and economically.



If you have any questions or suggestions, please send them to

Dr. Karin Kelle-Herfurth
Dr. Karin Kelle-Herfurth

Dr. Karin Kelle-Herfurth is a consultant, physician, Health & Business Counselor (MHBA). She advises entrepreneurs and teams on holistic individual health concepts and also accompanies them online as a sparring partner in change processes. She combines this with business training, workshops and supervision with a focus on management, leadership, communication and collaboration in the context of new work in the digital age.