Looking after staff and the bottom line

Wellbeing is becoming increasingly important to employees when deciding whether to join or leave an organisation. It needs to become a bigger part of an employer’s proposition in the future if businesses are to remain competitive and attract top talent.

That’s the conclusion of research, conducted by ICM for financial protection specialist Unum, into the impact of workplace wellbeing on staff loyalty in the legal, retail, accountancy, media and advertising, and IT sectors.

The study found that three in ten employees would consider leaving a job if they did not feel the employer was looking after their health, while staff who said they feel cared for are 27 per cent more likely to stay with their employer for more than five years.

“What this says is that wellbeing matters to people,” says Tim Jackson, head of marketing strategy at Unum. “That puts a third of UK workers at risk, and the cost of replacing your key staff – those who make your business work – is over £30,000, when you take into account recruitment costs and lost productivity while the new employee gets up to speed. When you think about it like that, it starts to be a pretty substantial cost, so you want to do everything you can to avoid losing people.”



Unum has recently teamed up with organisations including the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, and Working Families to identify what makes an organisation a great place to work. This highlighted a number of factors, including effective leadership, creating a caring culture, and adopting new technology and working practices, such as flexible working. It also highlighted the role wellbeing plays by creating the conditions in which individuals can flourish and taking steps to prevent people becoming stressed or sick.

“We like to think about wellbeing in three stages,” says Mr Jackson. “The first is prevention, doing everything you can to promote healthy lifestyles within the organisation. That can be everything from ergonomic assessments to occupational health support, and can include cycle-to-work schemes and gym promotions. The second stage is intervening early if something starts to go wrong, to stop a small problem becoming a serious long-term issue. The third component is giving people financial assistance such as income protection, which provides peace of mind if they are off sick for an extended period of time, so they can focus on getting better.”

Despite the economy improving, many organisations are failing to invest adequately in their staff wellbeing

Investing in practical measures is one way for an organisation to show how it is looking after the health of its staff. “It’s more than saying it’s a nice place to work; you can actually demonstrate it with the things you’ve chosen to put in place to protect staff wellbeing and help them if they do get ill,” adds Mr Jackson. Indeed, the research by ICM found that putting in a good benefits package is one of the most effective ways for an employer to demonstrate they care. Some 65 per cent of employees felt this was important to them and 62 per cent highlighted financial support through ill-health as particularly valuable.

Yet despite the economy improving, many organisations are failing to invest adequately in their staff wellbeing, with 34 per cent believing they were either poorly or only adequately cared for by their employer and 22 per cent feeling levels of wellbeing had fallen in the past five years.


Wellness in the workplace is only going to become more important; something confirmed by a further study of key trends affecting employee wellbeing, The Future Workplace, conducted by The Future Laboratory, on behalf of Unum, and supported by major organisations including Marks & Spencer, Eversheds and Thales.

The research identified a number of trends that will impact the UK workplace over the next 15 years, including the emergence of an older workforce made up of people, not only having to work for longer, but importantly also choosing to work into their 60s and 70s.

Organisations will have to develop strategies to help individuals work for as long as 50 years, with a far greater emphasis on physical and mental wellbeing, supported by financial and health protection in the event that they do become ill.

“The question is what can employers put in place now that will enable them to adapt to the fact they will have more older employees in the future?” says Mr Jackson. “Musculoskeletal impact will need to be a higher priority, and we will get more cardiovascular problems and instances of cancer, just because that’s what happens when you get older.”


Organisations will need to be more mindful of mental health. “Workplaces need to recognise that it is good for staff mentally to take a break now and again so they can be more productive in the future,” Mr Jackson says. “Stress-related support and mental wellbeing – whether that’s mental health first aid or cognitive behavioural therapy – will be increasingly important.”

Worryingly, the trend to work later in life could lead to higher levels of stress, with 32 per cent of British workers saying they already feel exhausted by juggling work and family life, and have no desire to work later. Failing to tackle stress could cost British businesses £44 billion, the study found.

The Future Laboratory, meanwhile, uses Unum’s earlier research findings around the cost of replacing key people to estimate that between £29 billion and £101 billion could be at stake if organisations fail to adapt to the key trends identified in the report. Forward-thinking employers will invest in engaging with these trends because it will help them keep more of their key staff members. That means they can avoid some of the expense of recruiting new employees and getting them up to speed, delivering a significant return on the investment made in wellbeing.

The message for employers is clear: those who want to hold on to their top talent and prepare themselves for the future need to invest in a comprehensive wellness strategy, which not only helps to engage staff, but also ensures they remain loyal and productive.

To find out more about how Unum could help your business, visit http://unum.co.uk/