Feeling good works well for enlightened business

Staff who feel cared for and looked after are more productive and likely to stay loyal to their organisation, as Sam Barrett reports


Prevention is better than cure when it comes to employee health and wellbeing with everything from health assessments and discounted gym memberships to stress awareness days helping to keep staff in tip-top condition.

But it’s not purely altruistic. A wellbeing strategy can pay dividends to employers too. James Kenrick, principal at Aon Hewitt, works with employers to implement wellness programmes. “Poor health can cost businesses dearly,” he says. “We’ve analysed client data and found that 9.7 per cent of salary can be lost as a result of obesity, 7.62 per cent from smoking and 4.87 per cent from inactivity. A wellness strategy can improve employee health and bring benefits to your bottom line.”

It can also help meet some legal responsibilities. Under health and safety legislation, employers have a duty to ensure the health, safety and welfare of employees, including minimising the risk of stress-related illness.

Given the breadth of factors that can affect employee wellbeing, there are plenty of products and services that employers can offer as part of their strategy.

To tackle stress, an employee assistance programme (EAP) is a popular choice. These provide a confidential 24/7 helpline for employees dealing with personal and work-related problems, many offering access to face-to-face counselling where necessary. Costs are relatively low, at between £3 and £10 a year per employee, depending on the size of the company. It’s possible to pick up a free EAP on healthcare benefits, such as group income protection and cash plans, although these are unlikely to offer all the services of a paid-for version.

As well as providing support to prevent employees getting stressed out, wellbeing strategies can help employees improve their overall health, making them happier, healthier and more productive.

This is where employers can get creative. Among the initiatives that could be part of a wellbeing strategy are health assessments, wellness fairs, massages, free fruit, walking and running groups, nutritional advice, and smoking cessation courses.

As an example, internet auction site eBay provides a range of different benefits, including flu jabs, health workshops, weekly massages and healthy breakfasts. Marcin  Nedzi, safety and security supervisor at eBay Inc, says it’s become an important part of the firm’s strategy. “We’re a growing business and our success is down to our employees,” he says. “It’s essential that they feel looked after and appreciated.”

With so much choice, a good starting point is an online health assessment. This runs through a series of questions with the employee, covering health-related areas such as diet, exercise and sleep patterns, generating an overall score for them. Oliver Gray, managing director of energiseYou, says this can be really effective. “Employees can really engage with this and the steps they can take to improve their score,” he says. “We can also target initiatives where they can make the most improvements.”

Getting the right mix of wellbeing benefits can take time but, as many of them are low-cost, it’s possible to chop and change until you get a package that employees really value. Further, according to Professor Ivan Robertson, co-founder of employee wellbeing specialist Robertson Cooper, some of the most effective initiatives can cost absolutely nothing.

“Flexible working is a huge benefit to employees,” he explains. “Most people work better at home and, if it means they can deal with a delivery instead of having to use a day’s leave or fake illness, it can really boost wellbeing.”

But while it’s easy to spend time and money on a wellness strategy, Iain Laws, corporate sales director at Jelf Employee Benefits, warns that, if there are organisational or management issues, it can backfire. “If the culture isn’t positive, then employees can be cynical about any wellbeing initiatives you put in place,” he advises. “Make sure the foundations are right first.”