The issue of employee wellbeing has been back with a vengeance in the headlines this week.

First we learn that employees are blaming their workloads for a lack of exercise. Then, as the media focuses on the results of the Fit for Work pilot schemes, Dame Carol Black – the author of the 2011 Sickness Absence Review for the Department for Work and Pensions – is back advocating an employer role in supporting public health.

With average sickness absence levels stubbornly hovering around eight days per employee and longer term absences causing a more significant problem, there are now few employers who now do not accept they need to support employee health and wellbeing.

The problem is this growing awareness of the issue has yet to be matched with a clear sense of what to do about it. Hence the slow progress and the need for people like Dame Carol to come forward and keep on making the case for employers to do more. So what is causing the blockage?

The first issue, surfaced by our own research on health and wellbeing last year, is that while there may be growing awareness of the need for a focus on health and wellbeing, this isn’t currently supported by senior buy-in for and or investment in health and wellbeing programmes within three quarters (76%) of organisations.

This leads to a second problem where although nearly all organisations (96%) say they do something to support health and wellbeing, there is clear a lack of joined up thinking with only 33% of organisations having a wellbeing strategy for their business.

The last issue comes from a lack of understanding of the impact of health and wellbeing on a business. Looking at the impact of absence beyond monitoring sickness absence and evaluating the impact of health and wellbeing programmes are still not commonplace for employers. This means that the real costs as well as the benefits to organisations are simply not understood.

So there is still much work to be done.

This needs to start with organisations thinking applying tactical and reactive approaches to supporting employee health and developing a more planned approach which goes beyond the traditional health insurance and EAP combination of benefits. Organisations need to be more thoughtful, proactive and creative in their thinking and in what they do.

From a buy-in perspective, HR – and it is the HR team who tends to lead on this – needs to start making a stronger case in numbers and figures to get support from finance and the senior leadership level so there are powerful advocates for health and wellbeing at the heart of the organisation. We then need to work much harder to prove that what we are doing works through robust evaluation.

The agenda may be crowded for HR but this is a battle that really matters. Healthy workplaces aren’t just good for employees, they are critical to the wellbeing of organisations.

It is has to make more sense for organisations to ensure they are fit to fight the commercial battles that matter rather than spending time and energy in fighting to be fit in the first place.

Andy Philpott is sales and marketing director of Edenred – www.edenred.co.uk 

twitter – @andy_philpott

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