The winter months and seasonal affective disorder can have a real and immediate impact on employees and the number of sick days taken – we explore the ways in which employers are tackling wellbeing at work and supporting mental health through their reward strategies.
According to the Office for National Statistics, minor illnesses were the most common reason for sickness absences in 2019, responsible for 38.5 million days lost over 2018-2019: one third of sickness absences in 2019. 17.5 million sick days were taken because of mental health conditions – including stress, depression and anxiety – representing 12.4 per cent of the total sick days reported. A greater number of people are reporting mental health challenges, suggesting that they feel empowered by the recent cultural shift in awareness of these conditions in the wake of celebrities and Royal Family members talking about their own struggles. This ability to identify mental health issues and seek support is an important step in overcoming the pressures of presenteeism, enabling employees to take the time to recover from illness.
The role of the employer in employee mental health and wellbeing
55 per cent of employers do not have a dedicated budget for mental health and wellbeing programmes in their business. Paydata’s UK Reward Management Survey in autumn 2019 captured the support available to employees when it came to their mental health and employers consistently cited the need to prove a return on investment, as a barrier to overcome when requesting resource in this area. This is being exacerbated by 82 per cent of employers being uncertain as to how they can measure success.
Employers also reported workplace stigma as the top challenge in managing mental health and wellbeing. This suggests that more needs to be done to build a concrete business case around dedicated mental health support, alongside a strong communication strategy to drive awareness and ensure individuals know what help is available. Whilst openness around employee wellbeing can drive innovation and productivity in every organisation, when it comes to implementing mental health initiatives, employers cited the biggest pressures as time, cost and resources.
Recognising that presenteeism undermines productivity
Overwhelmingly, employers are recognising their responsibility to support employees with their wider wellbeing, specifically in relation to their mental health. 83 per cent of respondents in Paydata’s UK Reward Management survey had policies and procedures in place to address mental health and wellbeing in the workplace. The changing face of the workplace, particularly whereby technology has facilitated constant access to work emails, has driven the need for people to feel connected and constantly available. Hours spent doing poor quality work whilst ill actually undermines productivity for a longer period. A culture that recognises that presenteeism undermines productivity is better equipped from the outset to support employees holistically, with their wider health and financial concerns, which in turn can help to increase employee wellbeing and drive engagement levels.
Tackling the drivers behind workplace stress
A quarter of HR professionals believe that poor financial wellbeing is a major factor in workplace stress, which is a driving force behind sick leave according to the CIPD. This affects the employee in the first instance, but soon translates into the delivery of their work and the customer experience. Setting in place proactive strategies to lay the foundations of wider employee wellbeing can support employees in the long-term and directly translate into a positive customer experience. When it comes to supporting financial planning as an employer, ensuring your workforce is receiving competitive pay is not a motivator in itself, but if individuals feel their level of pay is inappropriate or unfair in relation to the wider market, this will be a demotivator. A system that provides an objective framework for reward decisions to be accurately and fairly made is crucial in ensuring that employees are financially satisfied. Financial education is a key benefit that builds upon this fair system of pay, providing further support for employees looking to establish effective personal budgets and savings.
Benefits beyond the physical
Financial wellbeing is one dimension of a wider movement where employers are extending their focus beyond the physical aspects of employee benefits, which can include gym memberships, medical and dental check ups and popular Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP) which can offer broader advice and support. Insights into mental health in the workplace from Paydata’s autumn UK Reward Management Survey suggested employers must make a business case to effect long-term change and establish the return on investment in mental health and wellbeing programmes. Just as EAP featured in the top mental health and wellbeing initiatives in the workplace, they were reported as one of the top three benefits offered to employees as part of their annual package. 92 per cent also offered flexible working and 86 per cent offered access to counselling services. There is a clear opportunity for mental health and wellbeing initiatives to work hand in hand to support employees, instigating long-term cultural awareness and change.
Employee benefits increasingly reflect employee values
The majority of employers review their benefits packages annually, illustrating the critical role they play in attracting and retaining talent, and the wider role they play in shaping the company culture. 70 per cent offer bike to work schemes, 42 per cent offer gym memberships and 57 per cent offer health check-ups, showing that many businesses are looking to support health and wellbeing. They have evolved from the traditional bonus schemes and cash incentives to more value-driven opportunities. More creative options involve the employer considering how they can take employees’ values into consideration, from volunteering days or ‘Give as you Earn’ plans, to offering wider financial and mental health support in the form of EAPs.
Shaping external perceptions
Promoting wider wellbeing as a value within organisations can also evidence and strengthen the employee value proposition. Actively listening to employees to define a benefits plan promotes engagement in itself, as employees feel acknowledged for their contribution and supported in their own personal goals. Being a responsive employer becomes a unique selling point in itself for current employees and candidates looking to join the industry, creating an effective package to retain and attract the right talent.
Define what works for you
Investing in health and wellbeing agendas can build a healthier workforce and drive down absenteeism, driving productivity. Organisations should take the opportunity to design competitive benefits and reward strategies that drive employee wellbeing by reflecting value in employees’ eyes. Each organisation will undoubtedly define wellbeing in the workplace based on their own unique combination of their business strategy and culture.