For organisations of all sizes wellbeing is now firmly on the corporate agenda. John Dean, chief commercial officer at Punter Southall Health & Protection, explains how businesses want to find new ways to recruit and retain talent.
Many businesses are differentiating themselves as employers of choice by stepping up their focus on wellbeing.
The latest employee wellbeing trends have been revealed in ‘Employee Wellbeing Research 2018’ from Reward & Employee Benefits Association (REBA) in association with Punter Southall Health & Protection, which highlighted a big jump in the number of companies implementing wellbeing programmes in the UK.
Nearly half (45 percent) now have a defined wellbeing strategy in place – up from less than a third (30 percent) in 2016. 84 percent of employers who don’t yet have a plan say they will introduce one within the next 12 months or over the next three years. The research also found that spending on wellbeing rose in 2017 and is expected to rise further in 2018.
What’s behind this growth? For employers the key drivers of wellbeing strategies are to improve engagement and culture, with well over a quarter (30 percent) saying wellbeing strategies are primarily driven by a desire to increase employee engagement and 23 percent to improve organisational culture.
Almost three-quarters (73 percent) of respondents said that high pressure working environments are now the biggest threat to wellbeing and are worried about the negative impact on their employees. Employees’ physical inactivity (55 percent) and managing the wellbeing of an ageing workforce (36 percent) are other areas of concern.
One growing area of concern for employers is mental health. The report suggests there is now more openness and willingness in the workplace to talk about a subject that for so long has been highly stigmatised. Almost three in five (60 percent) chief executives say it is the area of employee wellbeing that interests the board most.
Another growth area is financial wellbeing programmes with 52 percent of companies now offering these compared with 47 percent in 2017. A further 31 percent say they plan to introduce one in 2018, resulting in a 60 percent growth in financial wellbeing programmes in 2018.
Employers offering support for carers and addressing sleep concerns are also set to grow substantially in 2018 (by 25 percent and 22 percent respectively).
Risks to wellbeing programmes
While it’s good news that wellbeing is being taken seriously by many organisations, the research also points out that few strategies are being driven by the board. Less than one in ten (eight percent) respondents said their board actively drives the organisation’s wellbeing agenda and one in twenty (five percent) claimed their board has little or no interest in employee wellbeing.
Part of the problem may lie in not being able to demonstrate the effectiveness of wellbeing strategies. Less than one in five (17 percent) organisations are able to measure return on investment of wellbeing initiatives, while more than a quarter (26.8 percent) make no attempt at all to measure the impact of their actions on health and wellbeing.
It’s not just at board level where there are risks. Line managers are on the frontline of promoting health and wellbeing; however the research found only a third of organisations train their line managers and just a third of this group makes this training mandatory for line managers to complete.
For wellbeing programmes to succeed, they must be integrated into the business strategy and prioritised by the board. Training must also be given to line managers who are dealing with employees day in day out and are in a unique position to recognise issues.
Setting up for success
How can organisations go about developing a wellbeing strategy that is relevant and targeted to achieve results for employee health goals and business goals?
Understanding the dynamics and make-up of the workforce is essential. Organisations need to identify the specific health and wellbeing challenges they face such as high levels of stress, poor sleep, money worries, lack of exercise or mental health concerns, so that they can create a strategy that is targeted effectively.
We recommend conducting a full review of all the data available to pinpoint areas that need attention. Analyse demographics, look at absence data to identify the most common reasons for short and long-term absence and find out the take up of existing wellbeing initiatives.
Involve employees too and find out what wellbeing initiatives they like the most. All this information enables organisations to see the fuller picture, so they can build a tailored programme with quantifiable objectives.
One of the main pitfalls for companies to avoid is to try and do too much at once. It is better to focus on a couple of areas and gradually expand as the wellbeing programme develops. If mental health or stress is a company’s biggest challenge, then start there.
Buy-in from the board is essential. Having someone at board level truly champion the wellbeing strategy can be a strong motivator for employees. It’s also useful to involve other potential wellbeing champions at an early stage, especially if the business has several locations.
When it comes to supporting employees with mental illness employers could provide access to support services such as counselling, mental health first aiders and Employee Assistance Programmes. Line manager training is also vital to ensure they have the right skills to support and manage employees with a mental health condition.
Once the wellbeing strategy has been developed don’t forget to tell people about it. This could include using bulletin boards, emails, podcasts, intranet or creating a wellbeing day. It can also to useful to link wellbeing programmes to national health campaigns to improve their effectiveness.
For example, Mental Health Awareness week is coming up in May and this could be a great opportunity for companies to start talking about mental health issues and ensuring people know what support is available for them.
The provision of wellbeing services is critical for employee engagement and creating a positive working culture. More than ever before, employees are looking to their employers to help them access the services they need to stay fit and healthy and able to stay in work. As research shows that healthy staff are likely to be happier and therefore more productive, it’s a compelling business argument too.