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5 steps towards a more holistic approach to employee wellbeing

Advice and top tips

5 steps towards a more holistic approach to employee wellbeing

A healthy and engaged workforce is key to improved corporate performance – and recognition of this is seeing employee wellness rise rapidly up the business agenda.

Indeed 97 per cent of company respondents to Willis Towers Watson’s (WTW) Staying@Work Survey said they were committed to health and productivity improvements over next few years

Invariably, ad hoc initiatives are introduced that are focused solely on improving employees’ physical health. Meaningful wellbeing programmes, however, should take a holistic approach, treating employees as multi-faceted individuals to take account of their mental, physical, social and emotional health condition.

Willis Towers Watson (WTW) considers five key steps to developing holistic employee wellbeing programmes.

1. Establish a clear strategy

Businesses should have a clear strategy that sets out the objectives of wellbeing initiatives and aligns them to corporate business goals.

A company may want to influence and control absence or benefit costs, for example, improve employee engagement or improve productivity. Existing health-related business data may highlight where health risks lie and help to steer the strategy for addressing them.

The success of the wellbeing programme should then be measured so it’s impact can continue to support the business case and value investment.

It’s important the strategy provides clear direction, defining not only the objectives but also the wellbeing programme’s delivery mechanisms, ownership and responsibilities.

2. Foster a culture of health

A culture of health, wellbeing and open engagement with employees should be embedded within the company.

Furthermore, this culture should be leadership-driven with buy-in from all levels of management.

A supportive workplace environment should be underpinned with effective two-way communication with employees to drive change. This involves listening to staff to discover their health concerns and the barriers they face to leading healthier lives. Regular employee-centric communications around wellbeing issues should be established, using tools such as social media to increase engagement.

Positive engagement will promote inclusivity with communications positioning the company as a responsible employer, supporting and facilitating wellbeing rather than imposing initiatives on staff.

3. Recognise and support mental ill health

Stress and mental ill-health are among the top causes of long-term sickness absence, yet stigmas around mental health remain.

Research by Willis Towers Watson revealed that 20 per cent of British workers are sceptical about colleagues who take time off as a result of mental health issues.

A sympathetic environment should be established that enables issues to be identified and tackled before they develop. Empathy training can help foster a greater understanding of how to interact with colleagues in a sensitive manner to promote mutual understanding. Training might also include guidance for management on how to identify when employees are struggling, how to recognise early signs of stress, changes in behaviour or performance, the links between minor illnesses and emotional problems and how best to approach and support staff.

Employees should be provided with access to continuous support, with solutions ranging from counselling to emotional resilience and mindfulness training.

4. Manage the workplace environment

The workplace environment can have a considerable impact on employees’ physical and mental health – and wellbeing programmes should be adapted to meet these challenges, along with differing workforce demographics.

Business and health data should help programmes to become more targeted to address known issues.

If the environment is a stressful one, for example, organisations should consider whether employees are thriving or struggling to cope? If they’re struggling, workplace triggers for stress should be identified and appropriate adjustments made. These might include adjusting working hours or giving employees the necessary training and tools to carry out their job functions.

Employee demographics should also be taken into account. Over the next decade there will be 3.7 million more workers aged between 50 and state pension age – and so wellness programmes may, for example, have to cater for a multi-generational workforce.

5. Promote human-centric health

Businesses should increasingly be looking to engage with, and promote, human-centric health – a concept that puts individual employee needs at the heart of wellbeing programmes. Employees will invariably behave in different ways, and make decisions in different ways, in relation to their personal health.

Giving consideration to the health and lifestyle decisions they take, and the psychological motivations underpinning them – the science of behavioural economics – can help employers to influence and positively impact them.

Employee segmentation by factors that influence their decisions can be supported by a targeted communications strategy to encourage preventative health measures and meaningful behavioural change. Such measures might range, for example, from stopping smoking or reducing alcohol intake to the adoption of emotional resilience techniques, more regular exercise or dietary changes.