Mental health in the workplace is the top priority for almost three in five (60 percent) CEOs in the UK and the area of employee wellbeing with which their Board is most concerned, according to the 2018 annual report, ‘Employee Wellbeing Research 2018’ from Reward & Employee Benefits Association (REBA) in association with Punter Southall Health & Protection. Contributor John Dean, Chief Commercial Officer at Punter Southall Health & Protection.
Just one in six (16 percent) employers have a defined mental health strategy in place, however over a third (37 percent) plan to introduce one in the next 12 months and a further quarter (26 percent) by 2020. This suggests that by the early 2020s more than three-quarters (78 percent) of UK companies will have a defined mental health strategy.
Wellbeing spending rose in 2017 and is expected to rise further in 2018, yet it remains relatively low, with a median spend of just £26 to £50 per year per employee, even at organisations with a wellbeing strategy in place. There has been a significant increase in corporate wellbeing programmes in the UK with almost half (45 percent) of organisations having a defined wellbeing strategy in place – up from less than a third (30 percent) in 2016. 84 percent of those without one are planning to introduce one either within the next 12 months or over the next three years.
What is driving the rise in wellbeing programmes?
For employers the key drivers of wellbeing strategies are to improve engagement and culture, with well over a quarter (30 percent) saying wellbeing strategies are primarily driven by a desire to increase employee engagement and 23 percent to improve organisational culture.
73 percent of respondents said that high pressure working environments are now the biggest threat to wellbeing and are worried about the negative impact on their employees. Other concerns include employees’ physical inactivity (55 percent) and managing the wellbeing of an ageing workforce (36 percent).
What do wellbeing programmes focus on?
Most employee wellbeing strategies address physical activity (85 percent), health and safety in the workplace (85 percent) and mental health (84 percent), while nearly three-quarters (73 percent) address work-life balance and over two thirds (69 percent) cover nutrition and healthy eating.
Risks to wellbeing programmes
But one striking issue is that programmes are not being driven by the Board. Less than one in ten (8 percent) say the Board actively drives the organisation’s wellbeing agenda and one in twenty (5 percent) say their Board has little or no interest in employee wellbeing.
John Dean, Chief Commercial Officer at Punter Southall Health & Protection said, “Whereas in previous years, few talked openly about mental health, it is now the top concern of UK employers. There is also a clear recognition that high pressured working environments put employees’ physical and mental health at risk.
“While there is a positive increase in companies adopting wellbeing programmes year on year, few strategies are being driven by the Board and this is concerning. For wellbeing programmes to succeed, it is essential they are integrated into the business strategy and prioritised by the board,” adds Mr Dean.
Debi O’Donovan, Director at the Reward & Employee Benefits Association said, “In a world of rapid change impacting the way we work and the skills employees need, a focus on resilience and wellbeing is a vital strategy for employers which want to run successful organisations. So, since our first research into employee wellbeing in 2016, it is encouraging to see the appetite for implementing effective wellbeing strategies continue to grow.
“The national focus on mental health is reflected in the survey results. Ensuring that the mental wellbeing of employees is safeguarded must be a priority and it is encouraging to see that over 80 percent of respondents highlighted this as an area that they will focus on. However, we would like to see stronger leadership come from boards, because where we see wellbeing led from the top we also see the most impressive results for both employees and their organisations.”
Major growth areas
One of the biggest growth areas is financial wellbeing programmes. 52 percent of companies offer these compared with 47 percent in 2017. A further 31 percent say they plan to introduce one in 2018, resulting in a 60 percent growth in financial wellbeing programmes in 2018. Employers offering support for carers and addressing sleep concerns are also set to grow substantially in 2018 (by 25 percent and 22 percent respectively).
Less than one in five (17 percent) organisations are able to measure return on investment of wellbeing initiatives, while more than a quarter (26.8 percent) make no attempt at all to measure the impact of their actions on health and wellbeing.
More than half (55 percent) of respondents cite the limited data available internally as the main barrier to measuring the effectiveness of their health and wellbeing initiatives.
Well over half (57 percent) of organisations rely on employee feedback to measure the effectiveness of their health and wellbeing initiatives, with just over half using employee absence rates (52 percent) and employee engagement levels (52 percent) as a gauge.
Wellbeing communication still relies on traditional media such as emails (83 percent), pages on the general intranet (81 percent) and posters and leaflets (77 percent). Only two in every five (39 percent) have a dedicated wellbeing website or portal, and a similar percentage (36.0 percent) use wellbeing ‘champions’ to reach employees.
One in ten (10 percent) respondents use smartphone or tablet apps to communicate with employees, one in twenty (6 percent) use audio or video (such as YouTube or podcasts) and just one in fifty (2 percent) use mobile text messaging.
Just over a third (35 percent) of organisations provides line manager training to help them support and promote employee wellbeing. And just a third (34 percent) of this group makes this training mandatory for line managers to complete.
Around a third (34 percent) of respondents provide mental health training for line managers, with a similar percentage (35 percent) planning to introduce this training in the next 12 months. One in six (14.9 percent) say they have no plans to introduce this sort of training. Most training courses cover how to have difficult conversations (83 percent), stress and resilience (80 percent) and absence management (75 percent). A third (67 percent) includes content on mental health awareness.
Wellbeing initiatives and activities
Employee assistance programmes (EAP) continue to be the most popular wellbeing initiative, offered by more than nine in ten (93 percent) organisations, followed by occupational sick pay schemes, operated by more than four in every five (83 percent).
Three quarters (75 percent) offer discounted or free gym membership to their employees and almost two-thirds (64 percent) provide health screenings to staff.
Looking at long-term trends, EAPs (93 percent), health screenings (64 percent), dedicated health and wellbeing websites (43 percent) and financial education or guidance (35 percent) have all steadily increased in popularity over the past three years.