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With productivity at stake and a reduced talent pool to tap into,[1] employee wellbeing has risen to the top of many businesses’ agendas and is no longer merely an afterthought when addressing sickness absence or talent retention. There is an undeniable correlation between a happy, healthy workforce and enhanced productivity with “improvements in employees’ wellbeing also being conducive to economic growth.”[2]

There is a plethora of solutions available to organisations looking to improve employee wellbeing and prevent potential issues when faced with wellbeing challenges. It is worth remembering that it is the employer’s responsibility to understand the key issues affecting employee wellbeing, particularly with regard to the Health and Safety Act of 1974.[3]

Mental health especially has recently come into the spotlight. Nearly three-fifths of organisations have seen an increase in the number of reported common mental health conditions in the past 12 months.[4] More than 60% of UK employees have suffered from mental health problems while in employment, with anxiety and depression being the most common afflictions.[5]

Poor wellbeing and the workplace: cause or effect?
It is hard to identify the exact causes of mental health issues, yet it is well-known that workplace environments can significantly impact workers’ wellbeing. Excessively long hours, an unsustainable workload, being under constant pressure or having unpleasant interactions with colleagues are all potential factors to take into account.

Nearly a fifth of UK employees have gone to work while suffering from a mental illness, saying it felt more embarrassing to take time off for a mental illness than a physical one. Many fear their boss or colleagues’ reactions, doubting their understanding of mental health problems. Around one in six do not even believe their colleagues are really ill when they call in sick.[6] It is the employer’s duty to work harder to change these perceptions.

The effect of the workplace on physical health also needs to be taken into account. The sedentary nature of office jobs does not particularly encourage an active lifestyle and illnesses can spread quickly within an organisation. A third of employees believe that working from home could ease problems such as anxiety or stress and help them take time off for either a physical or mental illness. A quarter believe creating a positive attitude to workplace wellbeing or ensuring there is less pressure to be ‘always on’ would also help.[7]

Employee Assistance Programmes to the rescue
Myriad solutions are available to employers when faced with wellbeing issues. The first to consider are Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs), which are a strategic and cost-effective way of assisting with wellbeing problems and are embedded in almost every Group Income Protection contract. These allow staff to identify and resolve personal concerns that may affect their wellbeing and job performance, without any additional cost to their insurance policy.

EAPs can include a clever mix of short-term solutions and focused support, such as counselling, information about care and legal guidance, as well as assistance for emotional and workplace issues. The service can be used at any moment and not only when experiencing an issue, as there are many other positive benefits of regular engagement in lifestyle guidance.

Having regular, positive communications is paramount to help enforce the message that an organisation cares about the health and wellbeing of their staff. Employers should particularly put an emphasis on the fact that employees will not be punished for bringing to light issues affecting their health or productivity.

The importance of Early Intervention Services in reducing long-term absences
Some illnesses can sometimes lead to long-term absence. The cost of sickness absence is a significant organisational concern for employers, so early involvement in absence and maximising rehabilitation support is wise. Early Intervention Services (EIS) offered alongside Group Income Protection products are the go-to solution. This service allows employers to access case-specific, vocational rehabilitation support immediately after an employee has called in with a relevant cause of absence.

Employee wellbeing services aim primarily to manage employee absence in the most effective manner and find the best possible outcome for all involved. Often this will mean a sustainable return to work. In order to prevent wellbeing concerns from becoming an issue, employers should take full advantage of services like EAPs and vocational rehabilitation. Good employee wellbeing is not just a mere bonus but an indispensable requirement for a thriving, productive business.

Paul Avis, Marketing Director, Canada Life Group Insurance

[1] Talent Acquisition 360 research, Cielo, October 2018

[2] Does worker wellbeing affect workplace performance? – Department for Business Innovation & Skills, October 2014, p.11

[3] Health &Safety Act: http://www.hse.gov.uk/legislation/hswa.htm

[4] CIPD Health and Well-Being at Work Survey 2019, April 2019

[5] Mental Health at Work Report 2018, October 2018

[6] Canada Life Group release: 6.2 million employees have been into work while suffering from mental illness, as employee perceptions about mental health in the workplace worsen, October 2019

[7] Canada Life Group release: 6.2 million employees have been into work while suffering from mental illness, as employee perceptions about mental health in the workplace worsen, October 2019

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