Right now, the business world is in the middle of a sea change—a transformation in how organisations look after their employees. Until recent years, it would be fair to say that relatively few businesses gave a second thought to support services for employee mental or physical health. Nor did many think about poor wellbeing’s effects on workplace atmosphere, productivity and their bottom line. But when people started seeing the numbers, the sea change began.

The Mental Health at Work Report 2017 revealed that around one in four people in the U.K. experiences a mental health problem every year and, between 2016 and 2017, U.K. businesses lost a staggering 5 million working days due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety. As a result, the wellbeing strategy became part of the business zeitgeist. Not only is looking after employee wellbeing the honourable thing to do, but it also benefits businesses, too.

In fact, the Mental Health Foundation found that improved health and wellbeing support in the workplace can create savings of as much as £8 billion a year. But if great strides have been made by introducing wellbeing strategies (with excellent results), why might it be time to rethink yours?

A comprehensive approach

Currently, many employee wellbeing strategies only address the physical health of their employees. You may know standard tactics like free fruit dotted around the workplace, running clubs, Pilates classes and the like. But promoting health and wellbeing is about much more than that.

It’s about creating an environment that promotes healthy living, less stress and absenteeism, and inspires an engaged and happy workforce. So, your strategy needs to align with your organisation’s culture and values while also offering avenues for people to boost their physical, social, financial and, most importantly these days, their mental wellbeing.

After all, mental health is the prominent issue employers need to address within the workplace today. But a good wellbeing strategy requires a lot more than just promoting it once a year when either World Mental Health Day or National Stress Awareness Day comes around.

How to structure a rethink

The first part of your rethink is to achieve management buy-in as soon as you possibly can. Not only will any wellbeing investment need signing off, but senior-level support for the strategy can help to create a wellbeing culture that co-exists alongside and in harmony with the business’s normal operational strategy.

Meanwhile, involving employees will also help reap the rewards of your wellbeing investment, estimated by REBA at around £51-£75 per employee, as this puts your strategy in line with your employees’ wellbeing needs. While you may think introducing a fitness class is the best strategy, it’s of little direct benefit to employees who might be struggling with their financial wellbeing.

When creating your strategy, consider the range of the initiatives you will introduce and how this will meet your strategy aim. Certain initiatives, like employee assistance programmes (also known as EAPs), offer integrated services that are designed to meet a comprehensive range of employees’ wellbeing needs. Alternatively, depending on budget, you may decide to focus on a single, specific initiative like giving staff access to counselling.

Whatever your choice of strategy, build in an evaluation process to look at how effective the strategy is at meeting your original aims. EAPs tend to provide confidential usage reports for you, but if your strategy doesn’t use one, you could assess whether absence levels have reduced or whether sales have increased, or you could survey staff to get their honest and anonymous opinions about the working environment.

While the effort involved might seem daunting, it’s worth it.

Learn from the best

It’s probably no surprise to learn that, when it comes to employee wellbeing, Google leads the way. Googleplex, their US campus, offers healthcare services that include massages, fitness centres and access to financial advisors and planners.

Although most companies don’t have a budget quite like Google’s, they’re investing more and more in their employees’ wellbeing. In the U.K., we even see some companies turning to alternative therapies as part of their wellbeing strategy. One is Douglas Scott Legal Recruitment, which introduced one-on-one hypnotherapy to help employees tackle mental health and its physical symptoms, such as insomnia.

But when you come to rethink or introduce your wellbeing strategy, remember that the there’s no out-of-the-box one that works for every organisation. Like any business decision, you need to hypothesize, plan and analyse performance to see what works best for you. Or, work closely with an integrated wellbeing services provider to tailor your strategy to your needs.

Finally, the most important thing is to support employee wellbeing sooner rather than later. Indeed, research by REBA, the Reward & Employee Benefits Association, suggests that 78% of U.K. companies will have a specific wellbeing strategy in place by the early 2020s. But if you act now, you give your business the best chance of boosting employee health and wellbeing, company loyalty, and business performance.

After all, employee health is your business’s wealth.

By Peter Done, as published in Forbes on 4th June 2019

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