In the current economic climate, it is even more important for employers to fully embrace and take action to address the issues surrounding employee wellbeing.

Healthy, resilient and high-performing organisations are typically supported by healthy, resilient and high-performing employees, and all tend to take a long-term, strategic approach to employee wellbeing.

They also embrace employee wellbeing within their existing business objectives and processes, and clearly understand the background of any employee health-related issues and the risks these pose to business performance.

These employers also have a focused approach to the wellbeing programmes they make available to employees, tending to underpin them with education and a simple range of lifestyle activities.

In short, these organisations have cut through the complexity surrounding wellbeing and simplified their approaches, which are reaping rewards for the business, employees and their families.

Health-related problems

There are now countless health-related problems facing employees, ultimately affecting their employer’s performance.

The rising tide of obesity, for example, and the subsequent health problems, such as type II diabetes, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, strokes and some cancers, are too often related to employees’ lifestyles. Lack of daily physical activity, poor nutrition and smoking are major contributors to employees’ poor health.

Increasing levels of stress caused by fear of the future, uncertainty of employment, pension provision and insecurity, debt, and the future prospects for their children are also constant worries for employees.

The consequent lack of employee wellbeing and its impact on employees’ personal performance, both physical and psychological, is impacting on their employer’s business performance through absenteeism, presenteeism, reduced work performance, productivity and engagement. With employees now likely to work longer, all these issues pose significant and real problems for employers well into the future.

An NHS built on a treatment-led business model, staffed by over-stretched doctors with little time for health education, has led employees to believe that ill-health is something to be treated and not prevented, exacerbating the situation.

Key business strategy

Two main areas must be addressed for a successful outcome: employers must understand and act on employee wellbeing as a key business strategy, and employees must understand and accept that a significant part of the risk of ill-health is lifestyle-related and under their control.

This requires employers to unravel the complexity around wellbeing and introduce a simple, structured, managed and measured approach to employees’ mental and physical health.

Organisations must also create a business culture that energises and empowers staff to take ownership of their health. Employees need to see, feel and participate in actions rather than words, which means having easy access to healthy lifestyle choices, be these sports clubs or food options at workplace canteens.

Long-term approach

A long-term strategic approach that supports employee wellbeing also involves top-down business support with an integrated HR team plan and budget; a governance structure that includes employees and trade union representatives; and a focus on wellbeing areas that are likely to have the biggest impact on employees’ health, including smoking cessation and psychological resilience.

Activities should be kept simple and focused, and communications should be consistent and clear throughout the strategy.

Education is a key part of any initiative. Well-informed employees who understand the health-related illnesses that may affect them and why, and who feel able to easily access the support they need to do their job to the best of their ability, are invaluable to any organisation.

There is a gaping hole in some employers’ understanding of employee wellbeing, in that organisations can no longer rely on the existing reactive benefits and treatment-based healthcare model to support their workforce.

Improved employee wellbeing must be embraced as a significant business issue and new and long-term education and support programmes for employees embedded within business structures.

Increased employee wellbeing will lead to improved resilience, performance and engagement, ultimately improving business performance.

To quote Professor DW Edington, founder and professor of the University of Michigan Health Management Research Centre, the cost of doing nothing far outweighs the cost of doing something.

By David Batman, as published by Employee Benefits, 18th November 2013

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