Employee Advice Guide: Get out in the great outdoors

With 7,200 health and fitness clubs in the UK, and a 23 per cent membership among the UK population, the statistics certainly suggest we’re a nation of health enthusiasts.

Of those who hold memberships, only 12 per cent go regularly, resulting in more than £4 billion being wasted by would-be gymgoers annually.

However, when commitment wanes, fees don’t, and so we often regard ourselves as not only a disappointment, but also as unhealthy spendthrifts.

But there is a kinder, less pressurised and often more effective approach. It’s a free alternative that can produce the same outcomes as those enjoyed by the most dedicated attendees at the priciest of health clubs – spending time in the great outdoors.

Here we look at the many feel-good benefits, and the physical and mental health gains, that being outside can provide.

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A spotlight on choice and flexibility: six key benefit offerings to meet modern workforce needs

In the world of work, dramatic socio-economic changes have necessitated radical shake-ups of the way companies operate.

Employees’ needs, too, have quickly evolved. What was appropriate pre-2020 may no longer be adequate.

Organisations have a responsibility to ensure that changed – and changing – priorities are being addressed, and the employee experience, too, has become integral to the way that benefits are provided.

According to WTW’s 2022 Global Benefits Attitudes Survey (GBAS), the main reasons for employee dissatisfaction were benefits they did not need and benefits that had no importance for them.

Predictably, respondents cited flexibility and choice as their top priorities for benefit improvements.

The way forward

Benefit planners can ill afford to adopt a ‘one size fits all’ policy. But simply providing flexible benefits is insufficient if the range of choice lacks scope and relevance.

Employees need customised benefit plans that fit and reflect their lifestyle and preferences.

Moreover, going the extra mile to give employees flexibility and the ability to access the things that matter to them, when they matter most, is fundamental to the employee experience.

Organisations that fail to respond to the new and burgeoning employee demands risk not only compromising this, but also stoking disengagement and, ultimately, a talent exodus.

The benefit marketplace, too, has evolved and forward-thinking companies can now turn to solutions, such as WTW’s Embark platform, that put a premium on EX (the employee experience).

Such solutions have advanced the flex proposition, offering greater levels of support for the disparate demographic profiles of organisations and taking heed of differing workforce needs.

Here, we look at the type of benefits that should be included on every ‘menu’ in our new socio-economic environment and the modern world of work.

Ethical thinking

The provision of, and ease of access to, ethical benefits is a key motivator for prospective employees.

Among the top community and social responsibility benefit options employees want – according to GBAS 2022 – are allowances to spend on energy efficiency, company commitment to use suppliers with ethical labour practices and corporate programmes that benefit the environment.

Education and training to prevent discrimination or harassment, and to support the inclusion of underrepresented groups of employees, were the most wanted inclusion and diversity benefit options.

Almost a fifth of those surveyed ranked caregiving as one of the top three issues they wanted employers to focus on. The benefits options they claimed would be most helpful were more generous leave for carers and access to childcare support.

Fitness

Employers should be mindful that the rise in home working can risk, in some cases, a detrimental impact on health. This is a consideration that should be factored in when establishing the benefits ‘shopping list’.

The short walk from car park or train station to office, the daily ascent and descent of company stairs, even a brief stroll around the grounds during lunchtime, all play a part in improving fitness.

Their absence for homeworkers, coupled with the more sedentary nature of working in a domestic setting, means exercise – and its associated fitness benefits – risk becoming rarer.

Subsidised gym memberships or ‘in-work’ exercise provisions may, consequently, become increasingly important in the benefits league table.

Finance

The current cost of living crisis has caused financial anxiety for many, so benefits that address financial wellbeing have become a greater priority.

Education sessions, workshops that provide a forum for discussing financial concerns and resources for budgeting advice may be among the type of benefits a sizeable number of employees will require.

Leave

Offering employees the opportunity to buy or sell annual leave as part of a flexible benefits package could become a popular option. Crucially, it acknowledges that not everyone requires, or even wants, the same amount of time off. Employees who want a longer holiday can do so, and those who do not wish to take their full holiday entitlement can be given the option to monetise it instead.

Such an arrangement allows both parties to benefit – employees who buy extra leave will make lower national insurance contributions, and employers will save money through reductions in staff wages.

Wellbeing

The pandemic led to more people taking greater care and interest in their physical and mental health, and this remains the case.

However, NHS backlogs and lengthy waiting times for appointments mean delays in treatment. In such circumstances, employees will be looking for benefits that offer healthcare, counselling and telemedicine.

Travel and transport

Working from home, which began during the lockdown and has resulted in hybrid working becoming the new normal, means company cars, parking, fuel and travel subsidies have become less important benefits than they were previously.

Employees quickly adapted to the absence of the daily commute. And employers realised that virtual meetings were not only workable, they cut costs and boosted their ESG and CSR profiles.

The importance of listening

GBAS emphasises the need to listen to employees. This is most effectively achieved through technology-driven virtual focus groups and employee surveys. These offer effective opportunities for employee voices to be heard, and the insights they can provide are invaluable.

For instance, GBAS 2022 revealed that the top benefits priority for employees was increased flexibility and choice.

By responding to and acting upon such findings, employers can demonstrate how important the employee experience is to them. This in turn increases employee satisfaction, loyalty and trust.

Again, GBAS 2022 showed that 79 per cent of those who thought their benefits package met their needs intended to remain with their employer for the next two years. In addition, 68 per cent of employees with full flex benefits said they trusted products and providers suggested by employers more than ones they could find on their own.

No turning back

The way many organisations tailored their benefits to meet the demands created by the pandemic was admirable. However, the environment has changed permanently and raised employees’ expectations of what flexible benefit schemes should look like.

The pressure is now on organisations to remain responsive and continue to be flexible around flexible benefits. Failure to do so could result in employees leaving to work for companies with schemes that better address their short and long-term needs.

And, in time, the type of benefits offered as a result of the pandemic may lose their relevance and other world events could see a re-prioritising of what is offered.

Similarly, the life circumstances of individuals change throughout their working lives, and this should be reflected in the choices presented.

Shifting employee demographics should also be an influencing factor. For instance, there is little point offering child-care benefits if the workforce consists almost entirely of the those in the 50 and over age category.

Offering too many choice portals can be overwhelming and damage the employee experience. This is one of the reasons why fully integrated platforms that bring all benefit information and content together in one place are proving so successful.

Regular monitoring, reviewing and evaluating of schemes will help employers meet employees’ requirements.

Maintaining awareness will help inform employers of the new or customised benefits that are likely to gain prominence as circumstances change, but such ‘forecasting’ is no substitute for asking employees themselves what their preferences are.

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that sometimes it is good to stray from traditional paths. Adapt, evolve, but let the employee be the navigator.

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Global Benefits Attitudes Survey 2022

The 2022 Global Benefits Attitudes Survey is the latest in a series of comprehensive global surveys designed to assess employee attitudes towards their employer and benefits package and how these tie into productivity. The survey explores the extent to which benefits individually and collectively shape employees’ actions; how closely they align with employees’ employment and lifestyle priorities; and their links to stress, absence, presenteeism and work engagement.

In the UK, we surveyed over 4,000 employees working for medium and large private sector employers.

Employee wellbeing

Only a third of employees in the UK report having good emotional wellbeing. While around one in eight employees are showing poor levels of wellbeing across financial, physical, emotional, and social dimensions.

Read the news story: Only a third of UK employees report having good emotional wellbeing, according to WTW survey

Read the UK summary: Employee attitudes to benefits and wellbeing – six key findings for UK employers

Get the highlights: Infographic – Emotional wellbeing

Get the highlights: Infographic – Physical wellbeing

Get the highlights: Infographic – Social wellbeing

Get the highlights: Infographic – Financial wellbeing

Benefit Preferences

Being heard and supported are high on the agenda, underpinning access to flexibility and choice.

Read the news story: Increased flexibility and choice of benefits is top priority for more than two in five employees

Get the highlights: infographic TBA

Attracting and retaining employees

A majority of UK employees are either looking for new opportunities or at risk of leaving their employer. Discover employees’ key considerations when weighing job options.

Read the news story: UK Employers’ risk losing half of employees to better offers and career changes, WTW survey finds

Get the highlights: Infographic – More than half of employees open to leaving employer

 

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Awake to exhaustion: How employers can help staff suffering from compassion fatigue

In a London office, a web developer arrives late and subdued. She’s not her usual positive and efficient self, and she keeps making mistakes. The reason? She’s heard on the news that a famine is predicted in The Sudan.

With no personal connection to that country, her employers are perplexed.

It’s their first encounter with compassion fatigue.

What is compassion fatigue?

In a recent WTW webcast – ‘Supporting employees through times of uncertainty and change’ – Clare Price, director of clinical services at mental health care provider, Onebright, explained that compassion fatigue is caused by empathy.

“It’s a natural consequence of stress that is caused by caring about – or helping – people who are suffering.”

World events, such as the pandemic, and the almost unavoidable surfeit of news feeds, mean it is hardly surprising that more and more people are experiencing compassion fatigue.

The overload of empathy can be overwhelming, and many sufferers say it exhausts all their emotional resources.

With the risk of more people succumbing to the condition, and the stress-related mental health issues, impaired work performance and long-term absence it can cause, employers need to be aware and prepared.

Recognising the symptoms

Awareness of early indicators of compassion fatigue in employees will help employers to make early interventions. Unfortunately, compassion fatigue develops gradually over time and many of its symptoms, such as lack of focus, are shared with other mental health issues.

Fostering a culture that encourages employees to approach employers with their concerns – more of which later – is the ideal, but there are a number of compassion fatigue-specific signs to look out for.

Unexpected emotional bluntness – over, or under, reacting to events and circumstances, and a lack of expected sympathy are three of signs that may point to compassion fatigue.

In the webcast, Price explained how sufferers can experience a sense of disconnection to situations or emotions – as if they were viewing things through a pane of glass.

Conversely, they can feel more involved in events than they actually are. Employees who repeatedly expose themselves to news footage of traumatic events can develop vicarious PTSD.

Four ways of building the right environment

1. Acknowledge and inform

Although compassion fatigue surfaced a number of years ago, it is a relatively new phenomenon for those working outside the care and charity sectors. It is important that employers make it clear they understand it and recognise it as a credible concern. By doing so, employees are more likely to come forward, open up and seek support.

Not all employees may be conversant with the condition. This could increase anxiety in those who are experiencing it without knowing the cause. Educational talks and presentations, hosted by a compassion fatigue specialist, could provide welcome enlightenment. Sufferers of a range of afflictions often say that just having it identified, named and explained is helpful.

2. Encourage Talk

Supressing thoughts and feelings can have a detrimental effect on health, so ensure employees have opportunities to talk about their anxieties. Open discussions, sharing coping strategies, regular check-ins and follow-ups are all ways of achieving this.

Through discussions with colleagues, employees may realise that their reaction to a traumatic world event is likely to be shared by many others, and they are not overreacting for feeling affected by something that they have no personal connection with.

Price said: “It’s helpful to understand that it’s not your reaction that’s abnormal. The situation is abnormal, and your reaction to an abnormal situation is probably quite normal.”

3. Point the way to professional help

If compassion fatigue is affecting an employee’s ability to function, then they should be advised how EAPs can best help them.

Most employers will have considerable resources to support emotional wellbeing within their benefits schemes.

Some organisations have mental health first aiders, while others provide onsite counselling, mediation and massage sessions, which employees may find beneficial.

Where company support is not available, employees could be advised to seek help by self-referral to a GP. Their doctor will be able to inform them of appropriate NHS therapies and counselling.

Sufferers could also be directed to charities, many of which often provide bespoke support in response to trending events.

4. Keep employees connected

In the webcast, Rich Smith, a WTW healthcare concierge clinician, highlighted the importance of social connectedness.

“Scientists believe that we are essentially wired to connect with other people and low socialising can be associated with greater odds of poor mental health and perceived stress,” he said.

Since those experiencing compassion fatigue can be prone to feelings of isolation and despair, responsible employers could consider providing meaningful social activities to help alleviate this.

Engagement is more beneficial than mere distraction, so social opportunities that have been tailored to group interest will have most chance of success.

Compassion fatigue can be compounded by feelings of powerlessness, and frustrating thoughts that there is nothing the individual can do to make a difference. There is a risk that employers who organise charity projects in response could be adding to employees’ levels of fatigue. But, if carefully planned and sensitively handled, such events could empower by providing a constructive alternative to despair.

Take the lead

There was a time when compassion fatigue was largely confined among those who worked in the caring professions – those who witnessed trauma on a seemingly daily basis.

Perceptive employers will have realised that, due to events in the last two years, the impact is now more far-reaching.

Being pro-active in your treatment of compassion fatigue will not only help your employees, it could also help your business to remain in good health.

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Employee Advice Guide: Work mates matter

Around 23.9 million Brits are now working from home, compared to only 1.54 million before lockdown. That’s potentially a lot of lonely people.

Without the social interaction of being surrounded and stimulated by work colleagues, loneliness and isolation can have a huge impact on making new friends or even meeting a life partner.

Forging workplace friendships – or romantic relationships – is a challenge in the new remote and hybrid working normal, with some colleagues only ever having met in zoom-life.

Here, we look at creative ways that colleagues can stay connected socially and form work and life-affirming friendships from the comfort of their dining room desk or garden office

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HR Insights Summer 2022

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Pulse Points Spring 2022

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Employee Advice Guide: Men and women are not equal

The good news is that life expectancy has increased in the UK over the last 40 years. The bad news is that there is still a discrepancy between men and women.

Find out which 3 illnesses have a higher mortality rate for men than women and what you can do to reduce your risk.

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Employee attitudes to benefits and wellbeing – six key findings for UK employers

Now in its 5th iteration, the bi-annual WTW Global Benefits Attitudes Survey provides an in-depth snapshot of employee opinions across 23 global markets, including 4,129 UK employees working for medium or large private sector employers.

Here we reveal the six key takeaways from the results and outline what they might mean for employers trying to shape successful company wellbeing strategies.

Fact 1 – Employee wellbeing levels vary dramatically across different demographics

Despite a sharper corporate focus on the importance of employee wellbeing, around one in eight employees are still reporting poor levels of wellbeing, not just physically but across financial, social and emotional dimensions too.

Single employees with children, those on low income and those working in the retail and wholesale sector are most negatively affected.

Nearly a quarter (23%) of single employees with children reported low emotional, social, financial and physical wellbeing compared to only 11% of childless employees (whether single or part of a couple).

Childless employees with the support of a partner reported high wellbeing in most or all areas (27% compared to only 14% of singletons bringing up children alone).

The survey also highlights significant disparities in wellbeing levels across different industries. Those working in the retail and wholesale sector are at the highest risk of poor wellbeing (17%), contrasting sharply with only 8% in the financial services sector.

Fact 2 – Waning social wellbeing needs more support

Social wellbeing has clearly deteriorated since before the pandemic. In 2019, 35 per cent of respondents said they felt socially connected, but this figure has now dropped to just 21 per cent.

The shift in working culture towards working from home has clearly had a significant impact. Despite the numerous wellbeing benefits available, remote working can instil feelings of disconnection and isolation.

While the damage this can inflict on employees’ mental health is the key concern, the detrimental effect it can have on an organisation cannot be ignored – especially as 77 per cent of low social wellbeing survey respondents said they felt disengaged.

With the majority of employees spending at least some time working remotely, the reliance on tech such as Zoom and Teams for catch-ups, get-togethers and daily check-ins looks set to continue.

But in the real world, simply offering employees ‘umbrella’ social opportunities is not enough.

The survey revealed a correlation between low social wellbeing and the degree of involvement in social events. Only 12 per cent of those with low social wellbeing frequently participated in social activities, compared to 57 per cent of those with high social wellbeing.

Altering the type of social events offered, and ensuring a variety that appeals to different tastes, could encourage a higher take-up.

It is also worth assessing if what is offered accommodates employees’ family obligations, domestic responsibilities and financial circumstances.

The gulf between involvement in community activities and high social wellbeing was even more apparent. Just three per cent of those with low social wellbeing said they participated frequently, compared to 48 per cent of those with high social wellbeing.

To counteract this, employers should consider a deep dive assessment of how their own CSR initiatives are actually improving social wellbeing, so budget can be allocated in the most effective way going forwards.

Fact 3 – Benefits make a tangible difference

Robust benefits are important levers for wellbeing, according to the survey.

Of those who achieved high levels in all four dimensions – financial, social, emotional and financial – 85 per cent said that, overall, their benefits package met their needs.

Conversely, only 38 per cent of those who scored poorly in the four dimensions agreed.

Benefits which employees felt best met their needs, and gained the most positive responses, were those deemed to be good value, easy to understand and providing security.

Lack of choice, personal irrelevance and being unnecessary were the three main reasons for those who viewed current benefits negatively.

Interestingly, it was the benefit packages which most precisely matched employees’ needs that had a positive effect on wellbeing. This, in turn, boosted stability through high levels of engagement and retention.

The importance of employers constantly listening to employees’ views was highlighted. Whereas employers cited wellbeing support as their top priority for benefit improvements, employees placed a strong listening strategy and increased flexibility and choice top.

Fact 4 – A strong wellbeing culture supports healthier individual lifestyles

Corporate efforts to elevate wellbeing are positively acknowledged by employees. More than half of those surveyed said it is an important part of their organisation’s culture and felt their manager had a genuine interest in their health.

Where a high wellbeing culture was in place, 55 per cent said they had taken significant action to improve their wellbeing. Moreover, 62 per cent of employees in high wellbeing culture workplaces said the resources and initiatives provided by their employer had helped them to lead a healthier lifestyle and to improve their mental health.

A culture of wellbeing needs to be ongoing if it is to achieve desired results. Regular assessments, opinion-seeking, reviews and feedback analysis should inform future areas of focus.

Upskilling leaders to model heathy performance, building a team of Mental Health First Aiders and educating teams so they can formulate a charter for wellbeing, are all recommended practices.

Additionally, appointing designated ‘champions’ can be an effective way of ensuring wellbeing permeates all company strata. The champion can play a key role in organising regular events, such as financial education, and by promoting an open approach to mental health.

Fact 5 – Fairness and dignity offer a wellbeing high

Being treated with fairness and dignity – such as being paid fairly, having good opportunities for career progression and having a supportive manager – are all major motivators, according to the survey’s findings.

Of those with high levels of wellbeing, 78 per cent had strong perceptions of dignity and fairness being a feature of the workplace.

A long-term commitment to ongoing training can help managers develop the relevant soft skills needed to support team members.

Fact 6 – Low wellbeing and boomer employees struggling to get active

Increased employee awareness of the importance of wellbeing was evidenced by 42 per cent of respondents saying they’d taken “significant action” to improve it in at least one area.

The same percentage agreed that resources and initiatives offered by employers had encouraged them to improve their wellbeing.

Significantly, those who took action to improve their wellbeing experience had better wellbeing outcomes.

While this is encouraging news for employers, the findings revealed that those with low wellbeing levels found it difficult to translate actions into notable improvements.

Statistics relating to employee pro-activeness suggested age may be a determining factor in outcomes. Generation Z – those born between 1996 and 2003 – accounted for 68 per cent of those taking action, compared to just 22 per cent of the Boomer generation – those born between 1952 and 1964.

Those in the survey who identified as being unhealthy (in poor health or suffering from stress or anxiety) and unsupported (suffering from stress or anxiety or with low social connections) were also found to be less likely to act.

The outdated one-size-fits-all route to workplace wellbeing activities is, therefore, an inefficient one. Employers need to first understand and segment their workforce demographic in some detail and then to encourage different activities in different ways to engage the various generations. Ongoing employee feedback throughout can inform the wellbeing crusade on what initiatives are proving most popular with which segments.

Heading in the right direction

The fact that more than half of all employees recognised wellbeing as an important part of their organisation’s culture should be welcomed.

For such a relatively new measure, the speed with which employers have embraced the concept highlights their understanding of its positive ramifications.

The onus is now on employers to ensure it does not become a temporary trend or the latest buzz word. To succeed, they should work to make wellbeing a core part of their organisation’s culture and mindset. We hope the GBAS survey findings offer helpful insights to shape future strategies.

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Employee Health Insights Spring 2022

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