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Richard Morgan

Former Head of Vebnet and Benefits Consultancy, Standard Life

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How to build and maintain an effective wellbeing strategy


You will no doubt be familiar with the saying “build it and they will come”.  This can work, but in most cases, unless you’ve luckily hit upon a genius solution to a major need (including a need we didn’t know we had – such as the smartphone), it won’t.

The simple reason for this is that we are all consumers; even as employees. So if as an employee we’re going to buy into our employer’s (or potential employer’s) offering then it has to meet our needs, we need to understand it, it needs to be the right price and it needs to be easy to access. And it also needs to meet the needs of the employer!

One of the hottest topics in employee benefits in recent years is wellbeing; both health and financial.  So how do you develop and maintain a wellbeing programme that works for your business and your employees?

The company perspective

Very few employers provide their employees with benefits because they want to be kind. They do it because either the law says they have to or because it provides a means to an end.

Common themes are recruitment, retention and motivation but these are overlaid with the need to control absence, maximise productivity and ensuring you have the right workforce to run your business (for example, ensuring that employees can afford to retire and don’t “out-stay their welcome”). 

You may also need to help control salary costs – or at least work within a tight budget – by helping employees’ money go further – and possibly also want to reinforce your organisation’s culture, such as being family-friendly or, dare I say it, fun!

Within the wellbeing context there’s a lot of overlap between financial wellbeing and our physical/mental health and productivity. 

Providing the tools and solutions for employees to stay as healthy as possible and have their minds focussed on their work rather than worrying about their finances or dealing with a family member’s illness should, in turn, contribute towards reduced absence and improved productivity.

The employee (customer) perspective

As any consumer organisation will tell you, you need to understand your customer.

What’s appealing to me won’t necessarily be on your radar at all. Of course it’s impossible to cater for every single individual, but understanding the needs of your key customer segments is vital.

In the workplace we have a major advantage in having access to customer (i.e. employee) data that consumer companies and retailers would die for.  Not only do we have basic demographic information (age, gender, salary, location, length of service etc) but we should also have data on absence, performance, family circumstances and take-up of existing benefits.

Without getting overly analytical it’s fairly straightforward to come with half a dozen or so common groups or typical personas.

To then understand a bit more qualitative information about what’s important to these groups of people is simple. Ask them.

This is the first important step in engaging your employees in your employment offering – or more specifically in this case, your wellbeing offering.  And it gives you a platform on which to develop wellbeing solutions that will hit the mark.

So the upshot is that you’re left needing to balance the needs of your business with the needs of your employees.

You’ve defined it – so now what?

A long-standing problem with many organisations’ overall benefits packages is that they are not joined up and explained to employees in a way that enables them to truly understand “what’s in it for me”.  This is especially challenging when, as previously mentioned, what’s in it for me will be different to what’s in it for you.

It will probably take quite a lot of time and effort to change employees’ mind-sets and behaviours. But the effort should pay off once those habits have been established. For example, many health benefits such as private medical insurance, critical illness cover, health screens, gym membership and winter flu jabs are often rolled out in isolation.

Even healthy eating and exercise campaigns (such as the Global Corporate Challenge) should form part of the mix.  By packaging everything together into a coherent wellbeing offering will help employees to join the dots and, if it’s important enough to them, engage with the concept and adopt the right behaviours.

Similarly with financial benefits, having a joined up approach to the full financial lifecycle should significantly help employees to better understand how they can manage their finances better. 

This could cover everything from paying off student loans through to managing debt, getting a mortgage, participating in a company share scheme, dealing with issues such as divorce and, of course, saving for retirement.

What’s the message?

Now you’ve decided on the component parts that work for both your organisation and your employees, how do you sell it to them?

This is where good old-fashioned marketing comes in and also brings us back to the customer personas. 

As with successful consumer products, ongoing marketing is needed to ensure its long term success.  This requires an ongoing cycle of customer research, product development, pricing, advertising/education and distribution. And of course this needs to be tweaked for each of your customer personas – or at least delivered in a way that enables people to filter what’s relevant to them.

The messages need to be very clear around why something will be of benefit rather than simply explaining what it is. Going back to the smartphone analogy, I don’t really care what’s inside the case or how it works, I want to know how it’s going to make my life easier (within the confines of financial regulation of course!).

Ultimately, developing solutions that start with managing your people/business issues, have a demonstrable benefit to your employees, are marketed effectively and are made easy to access should result in a win/win.

Author Profile Picture
Richard Morgan

Former Head of Vebnet and Benefits Consultancy, Standard Life

Read more from Richard Morgan

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