Why your wellbeing strategy matters

Under pressure? Snazzy benefits like unlimited holiday won’t cut the mustard when it comes to an effective wellbeing strategy (Source: Getty)

"Workplace wellbeing” has always been regarded as a fluffy term, often engendering fluffy acts. But it is increasingly rising up the corporate agenda, as companies begin to realise the value the right strategy can make to employee engagement and the bottom line. Employees who feel cared for by their employer are 27 per cent more likely to stay with them for more than five years. That’s a considerable financial incentive, when you consider the average cost of replacing a member of staff earning £25,000 or more is £30,614.

But despite this, recent research we’ve carried out has found that more than a third of businesses do not have a wellbeing strategy in place. In fact, two thirds of companies do not even have processes to monitor the mental and physical health of employees. So what can be done?
Identifying what support staff need can seem like an overwhelming challenge to many employers. A simple way of addressing this is to monitor mental and physical health. Mental health issues are now one of the most common causes of sickness absence, and unfortunately it remains a taboo subject in many professions. Nearly 70 per cent of employees feel scared, embarrassed or unable to talk about mental health concerns with their employer. Physical health problems are often easier to detect. However, some are less easy to spot, like musculoskeletal conditions, or are very difficult for employees to discuss, such as cancer.
The first step in effectively monitoring any health problems is to create a culture of openness, encouraging employees to speak to their line manager, HR team, or even a colleague. The more line managers know about their employees, the better they will be able to spot signs they are struggling with either their mental or physical health.
Employee benefits are a tangible way to show your staff that they are valued. Yet delivering an effective wellbeing strategy is not simply a case of picking an attractive list of benefits. Virgin is known for offering its staff unlimited holiday, and while that might sound like a great perk, it may not be suitable or even desirable for other businesses. Companies should look to adopt a flexible benefits package that is carefully tailored towards the needs of their employees and their culture.
A wellbeing strategy should be based around three key pillars. First, prevention. Initiatives such as subsidised gym membership or desk assessments should be introduced to help build a healthy and happy workforce, stopping as many issues as possible from developing in the first place. Second, a company should have an efficient intervention process, such as an Employee Assistance Programme, so it can pick up and deal with any issues before they become more serious. Finally, it should put protection measures in place for employees, should they need to take time off from work due to ill health, through services such as Income Protection. This means that staff are supported financially during long periods of absence, and there is rehabilitation support to help them back into the workplace when they are ready.
Once you have a plan in place, it’s essential that employees know about it. Effectively communicating your wellbeing strategy is key to getting the maximum return on investment. Failing to tell staff about benefits is essentially money down the drain. They can’t appreciate and value something they don’t know about.
Getting buy-in from senior leadership is also important in managing employees’ health effectively. This is particularly true in the case of mental health problems, which should be made a priority across all divisions and not dealt with in isolation by the HR department. An effective way to do this is by identifying champions across the business; those people who understand the need for wellbeing and also have a level of authority and respect within the company.
Linda Levesque is vice president of corporate benefits at Unum. Unum’s Wellbeing MOT can be taken at www.unum.co.uk/wellbeingmot

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