Building a wellbeing strategy

Workplace conditions, working hours and internal practices can have a massive impact on employee wellbeing, says Pam Whelan, Director of Corporate at Simplyhealth. Employers must do more to address this situation.

In the UK, we have never been so informed about our health. For many people, wellbeing plays an important role in everyday life. Whether that means tracking physical activity through wearable devices, following dietary plans, or practicing mindfulness, the tools are available to make it easy to be more health aware.

Despite this, rates of obesity, diabetes and chronic diseases are increasing, with tens of thousands of people experiencing cancer, stroke and heart disease each year. The NHS is under great pressure to deliver services with limited resources and, more recently, to address the social determinants of health and stop people getting ill altogether. 40 per cent of poor health is the result of social causes and is preventable.

Duncan Selbie, Chief Executive of Public Health England, has long called for preventative health to be a central tenet of UK health policy. This was further supported in January 2019 by the publication of the NHS Long Term Plan which served to reiterate this objective.

Wellbeing in the workplace

Employers are well placed to encourage a preventative approach to health and support all aspects of their employees’ wellbeing. This is not just important for employees, but for the business too. A healthy workforce is more likely to be productive and engaged and less likely to take time off work for sickness.

The starting point is to create an effective wellbeing strategy. Our workplace wellbeing research with the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) revealed that most organisations are taking some action to promote wellbeing, and two-fifths have a standalone wellbeing strategy already in place.

Why adopt a wellbeing strategy?

The reasons behind implementing a wellbeing strategy are varied. There might be a need to reduce absence, address work-related stress or attract and retain talent. Regardless of the reason, a focus on wellbeing can pay dividends for organisations that implement successful strategies. The CIPD report shows that businesses with health and wellbeing activities in place found that this resulted in improved employee morale and engagement (52 per cent), a healthier and more inclusive culture (40 per cent), and lower sickness absences (33 per cent).

The first step to developing a wellbeing strategy is gathering knowledge on employees’ attitudes and behaviours towards their health, and their needs and wants for wellbeing. This allows the strategy to be tailored to the specific needs of the workforce. It is also important to do some fact-finding around wellbeing priorities for the business and be clear on the strategy’s aims. These might involve addressing absence due to sickness, improving workforce productivity, or ensuring there is provision to support different aspects of wellbeing including physical, mental and financial.

A well-developed wellbeing strategy should ensure consistency and robustness. It helps avoid a piecemeal approach to implementing wellbeing initiatives, which can struggle to have an impact if not backed up by an effective strategy. This is especially true where a wellbeing strategy is linked to an overall organisation strategy. By aligning the two, employers can make sure wellbeing retains focus and priority within the business.

Building wellbeing into the company fabric

Wellbeing must be part of a company’s objectives and be supported by those within the senior echelons of the business. The objectives must demonstrate commitment to employees’ health and make sure the strategy has the positive impact it needs to launch successfully and continually develop. Maintaining the momentum of a wellbeing strategy is critical. After such careful planning and implementation, businesses need to see the investment pay off.

Strong and effective communication is essential to ensuring wellbeing strategies are sustainable and result in improved employee health outcomes. We have found that more than half (56 per cent) of organisations communicate with staff about benefits on less than a quarterly basis. Yet this really is the best way to drive employee engagement with any wellbeing initiative.

Regular communication planned around national health campaigns can really help gain traction in an organisation. Some campaigns like Mental Health Awareness Week get huge media coverage. Companies can use these opportunities to create some real buzz in the workplace around wellbeing benefits, such as an employee assistance programme (EAP). It’s not something that has to be done alone; a good benefits provider will be able to help with wellbeing communications.