Why wellbeing strategies aren’t working (and three ways to make them better)

28 September 2017 -

Wellbeing Hot KeyWellbeing strategies are all the rage, but new research shows few employees are actually reaping the benefits due to poor engagement from management

Jermaine Haughton

From yoga classes and smoking cessation initiatives to free fruit and in-house counsellors, British employers are continually implementing these methods to ensure staff are ‘happy and here’.

With numerous studies showing positive links between the health and wellbeing of employees and productivity and performance, progressively more managers are using employee wellbeing programmes to help reverse productivity losses (totalling £57 billion a year in the UK, according to Vitality Health research), absenteeism, presenteeism and raise office morale.

Read more: Want your staff to be more productive? Make them smile

Despite nearly three quarters of company bosses and senior managers claiming that they are implementing a well-being programme, the latest edition of actuarial firm Barnet Waddingham’s UK Workplace Wellbeing Index reveals the expected positive impact of these initiatives are not translating into better experiences for employees.

In fact, up to 60% of companies report their employee wellbeing at moderate to very low.

This poses significant questions as to whether managers are choosing the right wellbeing strategies for their firms, whether they are being implemented at the right speed and in the right way, or, even, whether the wellbeing strategies should be focussed on the specific needs of current employees?

The UK Workplace Wellbeing Index shows that the top five widely offered benefits (rated by effectiveness) are flexible working or home working, carer support, health assessments, line manager training and cancer screening. However, those most commonly utilised are flexible working, line manager training, carer support, home working and occupational health.

The challenge is an urgent one, with CMI’s Quality of Working Life study finding that more than three quarters of managers (77%) work at least an additional hour each day – an extra 29 days over the course of a year. The survey of 1,574 managers also found that those working long hours are more than three times as likely to report they feel stressed than those working no additional hours.

Miscommunication and Costs Preventing Effective Wellbeing Management

UK companies acknowledge the importance of wellbeing with almost all (96%) stating that it is important to their organisation, with those rating wellbeing as ‘very important’ increasing from 63% in 2016 to 71% this year, according to the UK Workplace Wellbeing Index.

However, cost is still a big barrier for many companies; some 32% of employers identify a lack of resource as the biggest barrier and 18% state the cost of such initiatives.

Furthermore, a lack of communication between senior management and staff is a major problem preventing many wellbeing programmes from reaching their potential. The study showed a perfect example of this: only 23% of companies currently offer cancer screening to employees despite the fact it is rated as a top five benefit for effectiveness. By contrast, 73% of employers offer a cycle-to-work scheme even though it does not even make the top 10.

Absence management expert Adrian Lewis said engaging with staff by asking them what support services they would like, and providing initiatives which meet that demand, is the key to providing effective workplace wellbeing programmes.

“It’s great to see that wellbeing is recognised as important by employers,” he said. “However, well-meaning employers often implement a strategy without engaging employees to find what they want, or without using data to identify wellness challenges.  This haphazard approach is bound to have a low take-up rate.

“Our advice is to engage employees and also to take an evidence based, holistic approach to workplace wellness – which goes beyond just benefits. For example, if data shows staff in one department have a high rate of musculo-skeletal injuries, before throwing in a benefit and wondering why staff are still unwell, take a walk down there first and see if they need re-training on manual handling techniques, or if you need to invest in better equipment or find a safer way of working.”

Laura Matthews, wellbeing consultant at Barnett Waddingham, added: “Wellbeing strategies need to take in to account the wants and needs of the employees to be effective for an organisation. Implementing a wellbeing strategy doesn’t necessarily need to be a costly exercise. It could be as simple as analysing what you currently have, bringing it together holistically and ensuring it is effectively communicated.  

“Wellbeing is certainly on the agenda and in order to break down the barriers companies need to understand what is important to their employees, and use data to implement bespoke strategies that are right for their workforce. With the right approach for each employer, wellbeing levels will rise and there will be a return on investment.”

What Can Managers Do?

1. Lead by example: Senior managers can openly endorse the employee wellbeing programme at their organisations, even offering to participate or become an ambassador for the initiative.

2. Clarity and honesty: Great managers are often very thorough in outlining to colleagues what the wellbeing programme will, and will not, do in advance.

3.Feedback: Providing an opportunity for individuals and teams to evaluate the success of the programmes, and have a method of expressing what they liked and did not like, is a key part of developing a relevant, targeted wellbeing programme.

Find out more about how the ‘always-on’ culture is denting your workforce’s productivity, and how taking better care of your staff can help




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