How can employers develop and implement successful employee wellbeing strategies? Mike Blake considers the vital role of health risk data.
For many companies the modern working environment can be a fast-paced and high-pressured one. Employees can face challenging performance targets, tight deadlines, conflicting work task demands, long working hours and pressures to deliver services efficiently and cost-effectively.
A combination of these factors can, in turn, contribute to excessive levels of workplace stress. While some will thrive under such conditions, others will struggle to cope. For the latter group of workers, stress can negatively impact their mental health and wellbeing – and in some cases, even their physical health.
From an employer’s point of view, the business impact of this can be considerable. The 2017/18 Global Benefits Attitudes Survey found that more than half (52%) of UK employees have high or above average levels of stress.
Moreover, those employees who are highly-stressed lose an average of 6.5 days to sickness absence, and 18.4 days to presenteeism, each year. For those with low levels of stress, this falls sharply to just 2.6 days lost to sickness absence, and 8.6 days lost to presenteeism.
The clear correlation between employees’ health and their productivity is widely recognised. Recent research also revealed the top five health-related issues of concern to UK employers – worker stress (67%), lack of physical activity (38%), obesity (31%) and poor nutrition (31%).
Workplace stress stood out as the foremost concern for good reason. According to Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development’s Absence Management Survey 2016, stress is now the most common cause of long-term absence in the UK.
The clear correlation between employees’ health and their productivity is widely recognised.
Forward-thinking employers – particularly those operating in industry sectors that have become synonymous with stressful working environments – should consequently be making employee health and wellbeing a priority.
The data key to a successful wellbeing programme
Health-related business data can hold the key to highlighting where health risks lie and can help guide wellbeing strategies for tackling them.
This data, which might include sickness-absence information, benefit costs and insurance claims metrics, can help to paint a picture of organisational health risks and the extent to which these risks can be alleviated by changes in both employer and employee behaviour. Initiatives can be carefully targeted where they are most needed and where they will most effectively support wider business goals.
It should also be noted that a failure to draw upon meaningful data to underpin well-defined goals, can make it difficult to garner leadership backing, to set budgets and to obtain the necessary resources for a successful strategy.
Where time and resource demands make this a challenging undertaking, specialist consultancy can help support the process by providing advice on the most appropriate approach and helping to establish a wellness roadmap.
Tackling health risks
If issues concerning employee stress and mental ill-health are revealed, stress risk assessments may be called for to provide further insights into the causes, taking account of issues such as workload, work patterns and the workplace environment.
According to research, more than three-fifths of employees (62%) cite job pressure and deadlines as the biggest cause of workplace stress, for 54% excessive workloads are the problem while 41% blame unpleasant management. These findings reinforce the need for companies to promote an open dialogue around mental health and to provide continuous, targeted, support.
Any environmental triggers should be identified and addressed. This might involve adjusting working hours, introducing flexible working, giving employees the necessary training and tools to carry out their job function or allowing them to take time off for health-related appointments.
Further support might include access to counselling, emotional resilience or mindfulness training, and where such benefits are already offered, more effective communication might be necessary to improve employee engagement.
Moreover, a sympathetic environment should be fostered. 20% of UK workers are sceptical of colleagues who take time off due to mental ill-health. Empathy training can help encourage mutual understanding and a greater appreciation of how employees should sensitively interact with colleagues.
Ultimately, the success of wellbeing programmes will depend on company goals and objectives – but there is case for this not to focus solely on financial returns. Alongside financial savings on healthcare costs, measures can include improvements in employee satisfaction, sickness absence, productivity and talent retention.
By considering such important outcomes, the full value investment of employee health and wellbeing can be realised.
About the author
Mike Blake is wellbeing lead for Willis Towers Watson Health and Benefits.