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

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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.