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December 1, 2015

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Managing a successful employee wellbeing scheme

Mike Blake, Director at Willis PMI Group, explains how companies can run a successful employee wellbeing scheme that integrates effectively with employee benefits to minimise absence and costs.

Employee wellbeing has become a hot topic in human resources over recent years but there remains a risk that it isn’t being taken seriously enough at a strategic level.

Although many businesses now operate isolated initiatives designed to boost staff health, research has found only 17 per cent of companies operate a comprehensive strategy linking the health and wellbeing to business success.

But this is a mistake, given the clear link between employee health and productivity – not to mention the impact on absence.

To use a simple analogy, you wouldn’t invest in an integral piece of business equipment and then allow it to become dilapidated and inefficient through poor maintenance.

The same basic principle applies to staff. By taking steps to ensure they are healthy, engaged and motivated, businesses can reap significant long-term rewards.

Designing a wellbeing scheme fit for purpose

The first step in implementing a health and wellbeing programme is to gather the appropriate data. A scheme is only as good as the intelligence it is built on, so it is essential to identify the prevailing trends in employee health before taking any action.

A good way to start is by gathering management information on absence rates and reasons for absence, as well as information from suppliers such as the medical insurer or income protection insurer.

From here, you will be able to ascertain whether there are any trends related to any particular types of absence or ill health. Perhaps there has been an increase in issues related to stress and mental health or maybe musculoskeletal issues continually represent the biggest problem for the business.

It is also important to take a reading on the general health of employees by asking them to undertake health questionnaires and online health risk assessments, or by providing them with health screenings. The insights generated will help to flag up any underlying issues or catch potentially-problematic issues before they develop.

The benefits balance

Using the insights generated through initial health checks and available data, it is possible to begin building a combination of benefits and wellbeing initiatives that targets need, rather than simply offering general support.

For example, if there is a prevalence of musculoskeletal problems, seminars and education focused on back care and postural awareness could be combined with subsidised exercise classes focused on flexibility, such as yoga or pilates. In terms of benefits, products such as cash plans and hybrid healthcare schemes often make specific provision for physiotherapy and treatment, so could represent better value for money than private medical insurance (PMI).

When it comes to addressing stress and mental health issues, it would be more fitting to look at schemes that help to encourage a healthier work-life balance, supported by education around mental health issues and initiatives that promote a culture of openness. In this case, employee assistance programmes (EAPs) offer ideal support, giving employees access to a counselling service and 24-hour advice helpline.

Ultimately, wellbeing initiatives can encompass the entire gamut – from discounted gym memberships and nutritional advice to the installation of teleconferencing facilities that allow staff the opportunity to work from home when required – but the important thing is to achieve a shift in behaviour, establishing a culture where all employees prioritise a healthy lifestyle. These efforts can then be balanced by benefits that offer the appropriate support in areas where there is most need.

Demonstrating a clear return

When this is achieved in practice, the results can be impressive. Taking the Daily Telegraph as an example, they created a scheme that combined a huge variety of different elements, including discounted gym membership, regular free exercise classes, an on-site GP service, and access to nutritionists, physiotherapists and masseurs.

All of this was administered by a health and wellbeing committee, which brought together all relevant stakeholders, including the HR team, Health and Safety Manager, insurer , the physiotherapist, nutritionist and GPs. Their core aim was to ensure all benefits and healthcare schemes were suitably integrated and geared to help meet the group’s strategic objectives.

Meanwhile, staff engagement was secured through regular communication and consultation. This included monthly seminars on key health and wellbeing issues, as well as twice-yearly sessions where GPs, nurses, physiologists and physiotherapists conducted assessments on BMI, blood pressure, cholesterol and lung capacity.

The result was a drop in average sickness absence days per employee from 4.1 to 3.5 during the first two years of a comprehensive integrated wellbeing scheme. Staff turnover reduced from 20.8 per cent to 10 per cent during the first two years of the scheme, while both chronic and acute work-related conditions also fell.

Given the CBI has estimated the average total cost to business for each absent employee is £975, there is a demonstrable return on investment for any activity that has such a major impact on absence. Companies can no longer shy away from the complex issue of employee wellbeing.

Mike Blake is a Director at Willis PMI Group.


What makes us susceptible to burnout?

In this episode  of the Safety & Health Podcast, ‘Burnout, stress and being human’, Heather Beach is joined by Stacy Thomson to discuss burnout, perfectionism and how to deal with burnout as an individual, as management and as an organisation.

We provide an insight on how to tackle burnout and why mental health is such a taboo subject, particularly in the workplace.


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