Just one look at any HR publication and you could be forgiven for thinking that every company is ‘doing’ employee wellbeing. The reality, it seems, is quite different as we recently found during a HR roundtable with all shapes and sizes of company.

Wellbeing is in fact very fragmented within organisations. Few have a wellbeing strategy in place and communications to employees around what’s available are patchy at best. A combination of anecdotal evidence such as this, plus national research, is now exposing the difficulties faced by employers in designing and implementing wellbeing that works.

Obstacles faced by employers

Attendees at our roundtable included HR leaders from various industries – from manufacturing through to large retail. All were in broad agreement that although the reasons behind employee wellbeing are sound in terms of the proven absence, engagement and retention benefits, turning the rhetoric into reality is no mean feat.

Perceived issues included: a lack of wellbeing strategy, largely due to insufficient support at Board level; the disjointed nature of benefits and services; staff didn’t seem to value the services in place – HR attendees thought employees would just rather be paid more; and employee communications, especially where multiple sites and working practices are concerned, represents a significant headache.

What do employees think?

Whilst wellbeing within companies might be totally disjointed so it seems are the views of employees and employers.

Nearly a quarter (23%) of employees think their employer doesn’t take wellbeing seriously, according to a survey of 2,000 full and part-time employees last year by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). More than half (54%) work for companies that do not offer health benefits such as counselling, health screening and subsidised gym memberships.

At the same time, the survey found that a third of the workforce (34%) may have a health and wellbeing issue, with the most common being anxiety, depression and stress.

Six steps to integrated & valued wellbeing

A focus on wellbeing clearly offers a whole host of advantages to companies but in order to ensure they’re fully realised, employers need more guidance and support to design, implement and nurture an all-singing, all-dancing programme. Here are our top tips for success:

1. Offer choice and flexibility.

Introducing more choice and flexibility into benefit packages – including voluntary benefits – increases employee appreciation, according to Willis Towers Watson’s 2017/18 Global Benefits Attitudes Survey. It found that employees, particularly younger employees, with some sort of choice or flexibility are more than twice as likely to report their benefits package meets their needs as those without. This can be achieved via anything from flexible benefits platforms to modular Health Cash Plans.

2. Consider technology as a bridge to improving wellbeing.

According to the PwC research referenced earlier, employees believe that technology can play a part in addressing health, with almost half saying they would be open to using an app to improve their wellbeing. This would also bring benefits to the employer, in terms of data analytics to help identify, support and resolve wellbeing issues by gathering team data and trends that affect wellbeing.

Our own research, prior to the launch this May of a mental health app on our Tailored Health Cash Plans, supports the value of technology in giving anonymous 24/7 access to mental health services. Our new app, Thrive, helps individuals detect, prevent and self-manage common mental health conditions by completing fun – yet clinically-proven – activities.

Nearly 3 in 4 employers say their staff do a mentally demanding job, according to Health Shield’s Exploring wellbeing needs in the workplace 2017 report. Yet only 1 in 4 would seek help from their manager if they had a mental health problem due largely to the perceived stigma attached (Mind Workplace Wellbeing Index 2017).

3. Communicate Total Reward.

A lot of employees might simply prefer to be paid more, but the fact of the matter is that we’ve seen unprecedented stability in pay awards over the last three years; around 2.4% mean, with little variance.

Against this backdrop, it seems to make particular sense to communicate the total value of an employee’s package or benefits, not just pay. Reward and recognition goes beyond pay as far as many employees are concerned: this represented a key finding in a piece of postgraduate research, sponsored by Health Shield, and conducted by Debbie Kleiner-Gaines, Head of Workplace Happiness at PES Wellbeing.

It’s worth noting that the communication of benefits, in addition to pay, may soon become the norm dependent upon the outcome of a consultation by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

The consultation, which closes on 23rd May, is considering the introduction of workplace statements for employees, an idea mooted in the recent Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices, the idea being that state sick pay entitlement should be better communicated to employees.  In addition to this, the consultation is looking at what other information could be included, for example all remuneration (not just pay).

4. Appoint wellbeing / mental health champions.

Allocate posts dedicated to wellbeing and mental health in the business. These individuals can then help raise awareness of the services available, including signposting people to appropriate help and support, thereby improving usage and value.

5. Develop and monitor Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).

Use tools such as Mind’s Workplace Wellbeing Index or the Business in the Community (BITC) toolkit for employers to help track quantifiable measures at baseline and over time. This activity is crucial to demonstrating return on investment.

In line with this, we advocate the use of wellbeing questionnaires from day one of an individual’s employment to help ensure a proactive and tailored approach. This should ideally be followed up by a worksite health assessment on an annual basis to help employees monitor and manage their own health and lifestyle factors.

Cost is generally the prohibitive factor when it comes to health screens, which explains why they’re traditionally offered to the privileged few. However thanks to technological advances and point of screen results, some are now available from as little as £35 a head.

6. Ensure Board buy-in.

And last but not least, encourage your company to make an executive level statement. For example, sign the Time to Change corporate pledge. By doing so, you demonstrate your commitment to change how the organisation thinks and acts about wellbeing and mental health in the workplace: making sure that employees get the support they need and showing them and the outside world that you do in fact take wellbeing seriously.

More than 700 companies in England across all sectors from FTSE 100 companies and leading retailers to government departments have now signed this pledge, according to the Time to Change website.

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