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Claire Hallmey


Oracle UK’s Health and Wellbeing Manager working in partnership with Unum

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Your questions on proactive wellbeing answered


HR professionals looking to improve the wellbeing of their staff attended one of our webinars on prevention, intervention and protection and learned from our expert panel the best strategies for long-term improvement. Some questions didn’t get answered in the timeframe. Take a look below or check out the on-demand version of the webinar and get up-to-speed with what HR professionals are doing with wellbeing.

How is wellbeing managed successfully?

Any effective employee wellbeing strategy should consider prevention, intervention and protection. Prevention means safeguarding the health and wellbeing of your workplace so they are happy and healthy, for example, through awareness programmes or by encouraging physical activity or mindfulness. Intervention means stepping in when problems do occur before they become more serious, for example, through services like EAPs or through workplace adjustments.

And protection means supporting staff if they suffer more long-term illness, which might require significant adjustments or help returning to the workplace, for example, through vocational rehabilitation or Income Protection.

How is this different in a multinational organisation? Can there can be one model which is implemented across the all countries or should different models be adapted for each country?

This is the case for any company, big or small – however global companies do face particular challenges. For example, in a global company a line manager and their direct report may be based in different locations across the world, making it more difficult for managers to spot when staff are experiencing a problem.

One solution could be to encourage ongoing communication between manager and employee, whether that’s over the phone, over email or over skype, and to make sure staff feel supported on the ground – perhaps through a peer to peer network.

There may also be very different health and wellbeing challenges in different countries depending on the make-up and risk factors in each individual working population. Challenges also occur with different legislation, working practices, providers and offerings making it very difficult to implement the same programs effectively in each global location.

One size doesn’t fit all, so it’s important for employers to understand their workforce in each country, identify the particular risks it faces, and flex their wellbeing strategy and employee benefits offer accordingly.

How can we generate money for health and wellbeing activities?

HR professionals understand that employee wellbeing is vital to business success, because when staff are happy and healthy, they are less likely to need time off work and are more engaged, motivated and loyal. In short, investing in wellbeing pays back through better productivity and retention, and lower sickness absence costs.

However, senior leaders are understandably under increased pressure to cut costs and optimise return on investment, and may not immediately understand how employee wellbeing impacts their balance sheets. HR managers must therefore be prepared to make the business case and have figures to back this up.

There is a lot of research out there about the financial benefits of good employee wellbeing that can help. In addition, companies themselves hold a lot of relevant data that can be used to convince the board, including figures around staff turnover, training and recruitment costs, and feedback from exit interviews.

Budget is often the biggest issue. How do we decide on the priorities?

To use a wellbeing budget to best effect, it is important to make sure it is being spent on initiatives and employee benefits that match the needs and wants of staff. For example, an older workforce might be more susceptible to illness and injury. A younger workforce may need more support with living a healthy lifestyle, and may benefit more from access to physical activity and support with day to day life and stress management through an EAP.

It is also important to remember that there is lots that can be done to support workplace wellbeing for little or no cost. For example, encouraging staff to take a lunch-break, have a power down hour, or start a walking club need not cost anything, and many charities also provide advice and resources around specific health and wellbeing issues free of charge.

Rather than thinking just about costs, it is also important to think in terms of how much wellbeing initiatives can save a company through increased engagement and productivity and reduced sickness absence. At Oracle, we have significant financial proof that it pays to invest in wellbeing which has in turn generated budget and buy in to wellbeing.

Should line managers be trained to support their direct reports?

Line managers are usually the ones responsible for dealing with health in the workforce day to day, but many can lack the confidence or experience to manage this alone. Employers should definitely consider investing in training to help managers put strategies in place to support staff that are affected by wellbeing issues. However, it is important to make it clear that they are not expected to become experts in complex health and wellbeing issues or to handle problems alone – instead they are there to flag problems and signpost the support and resources available.

Many third parties offer training for managers to help them recognise, understand and deal with these issues. For example, Mental Health First Aid is a course developed by Mental Health First Aid England which teaches people how to identify, understand and help a person who may be developing a mental health problem.

At Oracle, we’ve also introduced tools to help line managers take the right steps when staff approach them with a problem. This month we launched SWIFT with our Income Protection provider Unum to cut through the confusion about the different wellbeing options available.

This is a simple telephone helpline that line managers can ring to speak to a health professional about the problem their employee is experiencing. They are then pointed towards the best response – whether that’s  EAP, health and safety assessment, vocational rehabilitation, and so on or a blend of several tools.

What can employers do on the active promotion of sport?

This will completely depend on the type of organisation, the make-up of its workforce, and the budget it has to put towards promoting sport and physical activity. It could be as sophisticated as offering an on-site gym or subsidised gym memberships or, for companies with less budget at their disposal, it could be as simple as encouraging standing up meetings or a lunchtime walking club. 

If sport is something that your employees are interested in taking part in, find some enthusiastic volunteers within your workforce and galvanise them to find out what local leagues are available to join and who else would like to get involved.

From 5-a-side football and netball to softball and cricket, there are leisure centres all over the country where teams can get involved for a reasonable cost. Creating stronger social bonds outside work, will help build more effective teams inside your business.

Above all it is important to remember what your goals are and to target the intervention to match these. For example, if you want to address sedentary behaviour because your workforce is desk-based and it flags disease risk, make this part of your communications plan to educate employees; if you want to promote social interaction ensure your programme is inclusive to all employee demographics.

How do you detect an employee with a mental health issue in order to provide support?

One of the reasons mental health has become such a huge issue in the workplace today is that many cases go unrecognised until they become severe. Whilst many managers are now primed to spot signs of physical illness, mental health problems can be more difficult to identify.

To tackle this it is important to make sure they know their staff as people, so they can spot more easily the common signs that someone may be struggling with their mental health at work, for example an uncharacteristic loss of confidence or loss of sense of humour.

It is also important to make sure staff are aware of their own mental health and know when they need to ask for help. For example, at Oracle we run have resilience training for all of our staff so they can spot when stress could start to tip into distress and put in place strategies to safeguard their own mental wellbeing.

Do people trust EAPs are confidential?

Many employees do worry that what they confide to an EAP provider may get back to their employer. To tackle this misconception, it is important that employers educate staff about the employee benefits on offer and explain that something like an EAP is entirely confidential. It is not enough to communicate this once during a new-joiner induction; employers must communicate regularly and through a number of different channels.

For example, at the moment we’re doing a lot of work to communicate Oracle’s offering at benefits fairs throughout the employee benefits window.

For more tips and advice on implementing a wellbeing strategy, please take a look at the Ultimate Wellbeing Toolkit – a practical learning hub brought to you by employee benefits specialist Unum.

Author Profile Picture
Claire Hallmey

Oracle UK’s Health and Wellbeing Manager working in partnership with Unum

Read more from Claire Hallmey