The wellbeing ecosystem continues to grow with many services, experts and providers offering support to corporates and employers to support with improving the Wellbeing of the workforce. Recently we attended an industry event built specially to discuss the trends of wellbeing in the workforce and we heard from some of the top employers, their pain points and ongoing challenges how they have been tackling this in their organisations.
What is really happening in the workforce? Trends we are seeing & hearing:
- The message has been heard in 95% of organisations in the importance of taking care of mental health and wellbeing in the workplace. There is awareness, focus and discussion to try to create cultures which empower people to discuss when they don’t feel mentally well.
- Many organisations have recruited an army of Wellbeing Ambassadors however many of them are performing this role on goodwill off the side of their desks. Some larger corporations have created new & often senior roles to focus solely on this, but even those individuals are potentially tasked with an impossible job to build a strategy that caters for a diverse workforce and with limited budgets & bandwidth
- Money still talks. Any investment has to demonstrate a return on investment.
- As a result, one size fits all strategies are adopted in the hope of maximising the budget in an attempt to try to cater for the workforce.
- Leadership and management are under new pressure to support their teams without the right training. Some feel they need to become counsellors to their team.
- Mental Health First Aid training uptake is increasing but as of summer 2021, only 0.01% of the UK Workforce has actually completed it.
- Preventative and personalised strategies is not something being discussed or considered by many corporations. Probably as a result of bandwidth, knowledge and budgets mentioned above. There is a perception that this is complex and would be expensive
- 54% of organisations report having a wellbeing strategy
- 61% of senior leaders have Wellbeing on their agenda
- 79% of employers report stress is the biggest issue to Wellbeing
Source: CIPD Report 2021
Box Ticking won’t make any real difference
What is a wellbeing strategy really? Of those that reported they had a Wellbeing strategy is this just a box ticking exercise with an Employee Assist Programme providing access when employees become mentally ill, one or a few people having completed a Mental Health First Aid course, and some internal communications offering hints and tips with potentially some providers coming into the office (maybe subsidised) offering massages, yoga, pilates and maybe the odd motivational speaker. Sound familiar?
Although all of those services and practices are required, in our minds this is not a Strategy at all, but a reactive approach to tick some boxes catering for a small subset of the workforce.
- Employee Assist Programmes are great as an insurance policy and a “just in case” and often provide a multitude of benefits for employee’s peace of mind, however most of them provide access to a Counsellor when the employee is already mentally ill. Often, this won’t prevent the employee from going off sick for an extended period and nor does it guarantee they will come back (especially if the workplace made them sick in the first place). The other thing to point out is that we’ve heard many stories that quality of Counsellors is not consistent, and response times to book appointments can be long often not supporting employees when they really need it. This is because EAP programmes are often not the priority of high quality counsellors because the rates of pay are low vs their own practice and because they may not have not signed up to or are monitoring SLA’s to respond to individuals
- Mental Health First Aid is an in-depth course about mental illness. Again, this a reactive approach to mental health equipping the employees with the ability to spot mental illness and manage should it occur. The course goes very in depth into serious mental illness such as psychosis – the likelihood of much of this happening is low. Most importantly many people mistakenly think that this course teaches individuals how to prevent mental health issues – it does NOT. Especially not how to prevent this in the workplace. Even if it did, having a small percentage of your workforce trained up to deal with this will not make much of a difference to the wellbeing of the workforce.
One size doesn’t fit all
The Wellbeing industry currently is made up of a variety of providers & platforms looking to support corporates with outsourcing this problem to support their workforce. We can group them into the following types:
- Peer to peer support – there are a number of really great peer to peer programmes which connect employees/groups together to be able to discuss (often anonymously) their feelings, stories and to share how they have tackled issues. This is great for resilience as one of the key pillars is both connection with others and an internal sense of control
- Wellbeing platforms – a number of providers offer access to content to support the key issues influencing wellbeing & mental health. From Stress Management, to Sleep, Nutrition, Work Life Balance, these platforms allow the users to read and gather content to support themselves in building a plan
- Wellbeing apps – a large number of Apps exist offering mindfulness, meditation, breathing and the like to stay on top of stress. We see many Apps selling subscriptions to corporates
- Expert sessions – Occasional yoga/pilates or massages may be offered on a regular or ad hoc basis
- Internal Comms – Internal comms (A popular one being “Wellbeing Wednesday” ) will offer advice and tips for wellbeing
Again, all of these are useful for some but they won’t cater to ALL of your employees. At best the usage may translate to 20-50% of the organisation depending on the provider and how well the services were promoted and endorsed by an Executive Sponsor.
The biggest issue with all of these programmes? They are not really preventative or personalised. They are often light touch and don’t teach an individual what makes up and influences their mental health and how to create a solid toolkit to prevent issues from happening in the first place.
Of those with Wellbeing strategies, measurement is often not completed at all or is simply measured by sickness in the organisation. The fact of the matter is that a comprehensive, preventative and personalised strategy will reap dividends for any organisations. Aside from measurement the wellbeing of the workforce (and there are experienced providers who are able to do this very well), it’s important to link it to the performance of the organisation.
Various KPI’s should be observed and not one alone (Absence rates are not indicative of a mentally healthy workforce – the rise in presenteeism masks this and could be a recipe for chronic stress and mental illness). It’s important to keep an eye on this, but sickness rates and reasons for sickness are important to watch – musko-skeletal and simple coughs, colds and flu can be an indication of a lower immune system as a result of stress or chronic stress. On the other hand, productivity and performance should also be measured against a wellbeing strategy as positive increases aligned with a ramped-up wellbeing strategy, and cross referenced with employee opinion scores are a good indicator that a company has the right wellbeing strategy in place.
Deloitte has been measuring this for years and has proved that for every £1 spent, a proactive and preventative wellbeing strategy will provide a return of £5.
Prevention & personalisation is key
Although it might seem like an impossible task, a preventative and personalised approach is key. The organisation simply needs a senior Executive sponsor to champion the programme and to encourage employees to spend the time and assess their own mental health and wellbeing in order to build a personalised resilience toolkit. With the right strategy and provider, leaders do not need to become mental health or wellbeing experts or counsellors themselves, they simply need to ensure the employee has built their own resilience toolkit and they understand how they can support them through the HR process with regular reviews and any goals defined by the individual around mental health & wellbeing supported during the review & line management processes. Signposting and tools when problems occur are also essential to nip things in the bud.
Once an individual has done the work and built their own resilience toolkit, the productivity and general happiness of the employees should bring about optimum performance, happy employees and a fantastic place to work making the employer, an employer of choice.
CEO & Co-Founder
Healthy Minds Club