‘Workplace wellbeing is about driving business because organisations which look after staff attract and keep the best talent’

Business leaders are wising up to the power of using workplace wellbeing strategies to drive up engagement, improve company culture and ultimately boost productivity

Staff wellbeing is not about merely replacing the crisp machine with bowls of fruit, although that is a good idea, but rather about propagating deep cultural changes, which span employee health, wealth and happiness to leadership, development, talent management and workforce planning.

A key success measure of wellbeing for all employers, including listed companies whose investors are increasingly monitoring employee satisfaction, is employee engagement. According to the Employee Wellbeing Research 2017 conducted by the Reward & Employee Benefits Association (REBA) in association with Punter Southall Health & Protection, 82.3 per cent of organisations which measure the effectiveness of wellbeing programmes primarily look at the impact on engagement rather than absence.

Workplace wellbeing is essentially about driving the business because it’s been found that organisations which look after their staff attract and keep the best talent. They will be better prepared for the new wellbeing demands of an ageing workforce of the future, when fewer younger workers will come into the workplace and many older workers are unable to retire due to low pension savings.

But there are three other forces which are shifting employers into the wellbeing hot seat. Firstly, the NHS is creaking to the point of breaking. So government will no doubt shift some of the burden on to employers just as it is doing with pension savings via auto-enrolment. This came up in the NHS Five Year Forward View report in 2014 and again in the Improving Lives: Work, Health and Disability Green Paper in October 2016.

Secondly, we are experiencing a global rise in chronic diseases, such as diabetes, hypertension and heart disease. According to the World Health Organization, these non-communicable diseases are expected to rise by 57 per cent by 2020. These conditions are astonishingly expensive to treat, but relatively inexpensive to prevent or mitigate through healthy behaviour and lifestyle adjustments. Again, employers are ideally placed potentially to promote any government-led agenda on wellbeing. So watch this space.

And thirdly, there is a huge global consumer trend towards wellbeing. Be it royal princes becoming publically vocal on mental wellbeing, apps of every conceivable sort measuring our daily steps and sleep patterns, or the upsurge in demand for mindfulness sessions and chia seeds. Employers who take note will win the healthy hearts and minds of all generations of workers.

Workplace wellbeing focuses on three strands of physical health, emotional health and financial wellness.

Physical health is the most obvious, covering both prevention and cure. For example, bike-to-work schemes, exercise programmes, nutrition, stop smoking campaigns, rehabilitating people back to work and so on.

Emotional wellbeing deals with stress, anxiety and more complex mental health issues. But increasingly it focuses on the positives such as building mental resilience and using mindfulness as a management tool.

Financial wellness as part of a wellbeing strategy is the newest, but fastest growing, kid on the block. For most of us, work is our primary, and often only, source of income, both immediately and for the future when we can no longer work. Money is the biggest cause of stress, while how much we have has the greatest correlation to our level of health.

So employers are increasingly aware that they cannot ignore financial wellness within any wellbeing strategy. But they are still largely getting to grips with how to weave in debt management, savings and earnings without crossing a line with staff.

Ultimately, the drive for corporates to invest more in wellbeing strategies is as much about bolstering employee engagement as avoiding the business risks of doing nothing. REBA’s recent Employee Wellbeing Research found that the proportion of respondents with a wellbeing strategy in place rose from 29.8 per cent in 2016 to 45.2 per cent in 2017.

Workplace wellbeing is a trend that seems set to rise unabated because 45.7 per cent of those without a wellbeing strategy are planning to introduce one in 2017.