According to the Health and safety Executive, stress, anxiety and depression now account for 51% of all new and long-standing cases of work-related ill health. Recent figures from the ONS also show that long-term sickness absences related to physical and mental health issues have risen to a new record.

There is clearly a critical need for employers to offer more support to those suffering mental issues. Naturally, we also want to offer support and benefits that promote a healthier lifestyle. We all recognise that mental and physical health are fundamentally linked.

But there’s something more important that we need to do than this. As employers, we should all be making significant effort to understand what the root causes of the problems that our employees face are. Because if we don’t, we risk putting a sticking plaster on an issue that requires more radical surgery.

We need strategies, not just tactics

Employers need a strategy, not just a reactive tactical response. Many are currently pushing a wide range of benefits that support mental and physical wellbeing, such as gym memberships, cycle to work schemes and mental health first aid programmes. These tactics are valuable, and it’s good that many organisations are expanding their programmes and promoting them hard. But the reality is that these measures only tackle the symptoms of deeper problems with mental and physical issues.

The solution, and the creation of a strategy to tackle the challenge, starts with deeper research and insight.

1. Understand the nature of your employee wellbeing problem

Employers that want to tackle the whole problem should begin by taking a deep dive into their HR and wider organisational performance data to analyse where mental and physical issues are having an impact. For example, by looking at rates of sickness absence or resignations in remote and hybrid versus office based employees.

They should then overlay and cross reference their findings with analysis of the factors that may be contributing. This may be anything from workloads that reduce time available for exercise, to issues with poor working conditions in the office or at home, or with workplace culture. Or on a more individual level, challenges with care arrangements for people with children under five years old or older relatives.  

Of course, alongside analysis of data, employers should also provide employees with the opportunity to identify the problems that impact their wellbeing at work through workshops and surveys.

It’s important for employers to do this groundwork and build a viable strategy based on up to date insight. Because you can’t create or measure the impact of tactical solutions that might follow without first defining the problem.

2. Think prevention before cure

Analysis should also cover emerging issues. Particularly those that have become more problematic in the wake of the pandemic and the rise of hybrid working.

A recent Edenred survey of 2,000 employees, for instance, found that 50% don’t feel their line manager appreciates the work they do. Only 35% think their line manager understands them or the personal challenges they face.  

When new insight like this floats to the surface, employers need to think prevention rather than cure and address the core issues before they have a serious impact on long term wellbeing and productivity. In this case, by sharing the wellness strategy with line managers and retraining them to show more empathy with current circumstances.

3. Make sure employee wellbeing tactics align with strategy

Strategy determines where we want to go, tactics determine how we’ll get there.

Having defined what the problem is they want to solve, employers need to decide on the tactical measures they will put in place to bring their strategy to life, provide practical support and demonstrate their commitment to supporting employee health.

For those line managers, for example. an appropriate tactic could mean providing them with the tools and mechanisms that will enable them to show regular appreciation and provide tailored rewards and benefits, but without it becoming a burden on their time (for example, through easy to manage digital reward platforms with a strong focus on wellbeing).

The most important thing is that any such schemes shouldn’t be introduced in isolation. Employers need to support their tactics with ongoing communications, wider support and employee feedback mechanisms. All of which should be integrated and designed to tackle the causes of the workplace wellbeing issues that were identified through research. It’s only by taking this approach that employers can be sure they (a) introduce the right tactics that help people, and (b) have a programme that they can measure the value of against clear business objectives.