Looking after staff takes care of business

The economic case for retaining key staff is simple. Research by financial protection specialist Unum and Oxford Economics indicates that businesses which lose key employees face a bill of more than £5,000 to bring in a new person. In addition, they miss out on a further £25,000 as a result of lower productivity, both in the time it takes to bring that person up to speed and the loss of key relationships which disappear with the ex-employee.

Organisations therefore need to do all they can to attract and retain talent. Salary is clearly important; some 40 per cent of employees plan to leave their job this year if they do not receive a pay rise, according to a survey by Glassdoor.

But other things are almost as important. For example, wellbeing – being able to maintain a balance between work and other commitments, and feeling that the employer values their physical and mental health – is also a significant factor in determining whether people stay with their current job or look for something else.

Indeed, research by Unum found 30 per cent of the working population would be willing to leave their employer if they felt the wellbeing support on offer wasn’t good enough.

Wellbeing is a significant factor in determining whether people stay with their current job or look for something else

“We all know salary is really important and that’s not going to surprise anybody, but there are another 30 per cent of employees who are at risk because of wellbeing,” says Tim Jackson, head of marketing strategy at Unum. “Wellbeing plays a role in building a great place to work and there is a good chunk of people for whom that is important enough to make them think about leaving.”

Further research conducted by The Future Laboratory, on behalf of Unum, highlighted a number of trends around how the workforce will develop in future. Two important elements are the emergence of an “ageless workforce” – where individuals expect to work much later in life – and the need for “mindfulness”, where people start to push back against the “always-on” culture, and place an increasing emphasis on personal fulfilment and wellbeing.

The ageless workforce is particularly significant, says Mr Jackson, as inevitably having older employees means they are more likely to suffer a serious illness, and both need and value more wellness-related benefits. “A programme of wellbeing benefits is a very practical way of supporting that talent pool and also demonstrating very clearly that you’re a workplace that values older workers,” he says.


There are a number of benefits employers could introduce here. These range from medical screening programmes and fitness assessments to identify any potential health risks, through to occupational health schemes, and both medical and income protection insurance, to help individuals financially should they become ill.

“We know from our work with the cancer charity, Maggie’s, that cases of cancer increase over the age of 50 or 55,” says Mr Jackson. “Providing emotional support for someone while they’re going through such a traumatic time can help make sure that doesn’t result in secondary issues, such as fatigue and exhaustion, which can feed through into mental health problems. Those kinds of interventions can have a huge impact, not just on the person going through them, but on all the people that person works with too.”

An effective wellbeing strategy should be based around the three key pillars of prevention, early intervention and protection. Different employee benefits can dovetail together to provide this cover. For example, an employee assistance programme can support employees before they become ill, providing advice on lifestyle issues, such as diet and fitness. Medical insurance can help with early intervention for non-critical conditions.

“The NHS is brilliant at emergency care,” says Mr Jackson. “What is a bit more challenging is when you have non-essential treatments. If an employee could get a bad knee fixed, for example, it would make it a lot easier for them to return to work. But they might have to wait for six months with the NHS. Medical insurance can accelerate that and ease people back into the workplace.”

Income protection is there for those more serious cases, which can’t be prevented. It protects an employee’s income, alleviating any financial concerns, until that employee is well enough to return to work or retire, whichever happens soonest.

Businesses need to start planning for these challenges if they are to both attract and retain key talent, and develop a workforce fit for the future. The starting point, says Mr Jackson, is to assess where they are today and understand the needs of their specific workforce. “If you have a young workforce in a high-pressure environment, such as the legal profession or businesses that are very highly connected on an ongoing basis, then the big issue might be how you manage workplace stress, and the impact of constant connectivity on mental health and wellbeing,” he says.

“If you have an older workforce, you might want to look at more of the physical ailments. Employers need to understand the make-up of their business, and then look at what they have in place and where the gaps are.” Unum is currently working with the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development to devise a diagnostic test to help employers find out just what their issues are and how they can most effectively target their wellbeing activities, he adds.

The issue of wellness is now so significant that it is even starting to get the attention of finance directors. A survey Unum conducted with readers of Financial Director magazine, for instance, found 86 per cent now consider the management of wellbeing to be part of their role, suggesting there is a growing recognition of the importance of this issue at board level.

“The prize financially is having a productive workforce that sticks with you, but also an environment that has lower stress and is generally healthier,” says Mr Jackson. “If you’re a business leader and you want your company to be a great place to work, investing in wellbeing is a fantastic way of supporting your employer brand.”

To find out more about how Unum could help your business, visit unum.co.uk or connect with us on Twitter @AskUnum

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