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All businesses should be aware of the importance of employee wellbeing. Ultimately, the health and happiness of staff has a direct impact on the bottom line of any company’s profits.

Subtle yet persistent cultural change is needed to begin a quiet revolution in employee wellbeing. Employers must provide effective support services, regularly communicate their availability and promote positive wellbeing messages. They must also encourage employees to take responsibility for their own health, but know when to intervene in order to minimise the effect absence has on their organisation.

How can employers instigate cultural change?
To lay the foundations of cultural change, employers must take an active role in promoting the importance of staff wellbeing, as well as providing useful services and consistently telling staff about them.

To determine which wellbeing services will be most effective, employers must first have an accurate picture of absence levels within their organisation. Employers should therefore consider absence reporting services, which range from simple software packages to telephone lines manned by occupational nurses, providing detailed information on individual absences.

For practical support, Employee Assistant Programmes (EAPs) are often provided for free alongside group risk products such as Group Income Protection and give employees support at all stages of their working and personal lives – representing excellent value for money. The services offered by an EAP involve a blend of short-term solutions and focused support, such as counselling, money and debt management advice, child and eldercare information and legal guidance.  Additionally there is employee assistance for emotional and workplace issues and management guidance on handling workplace situations.

To round this off, employers could also consider investment in ‘softer’ wellness services, such as health screenings, relaxation treatments or corporate sponsored gym memberships.

Overall, regular investment in a variety of services, training and programmes is needed. However, this investment will be wasted if employers don’t regularly communicate the availability of these services.

How can employers promote self-responsibility?
Equally as important as the promotion of wellbeing at work, however, is how engaged employees are with their own health and wellbeing. This can be a delicate subject and is therefore often avoided, but failing to address this can limit how successful cultural change really is.

Although an employer has limited influence on how healthy their staff are outside of working hours, engaging with health issues at work can encourage positive behaviours that may extend outside the workplace. This can be achieved through health awareness events targeted at certain groups, such as help for smokers to ditch the habit or for the company as a whole, on healthy eating and respective canteen options.

Addressing negative working environment issues – for example, by encouraging regular breaks, providing healthy food and facilitating exercise with changing room and shower facilities or corporate gym sponsorship – is another key way of improving staff wellbeing.

When an employer should intervene
Finally, it is important for employers to understand when the right time to intervene is with more serious absences.

Given Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) must be funded for the first 28 weeks of absence, early involvement in absence and maximising rehabilitation support is prudent. Early Intervention Services (EIS), also offered alongside Group Income Protection products, provide case-specific, vocational rehabilitation support immediately after an employee has called in with a relevant cause of absence. Telephone support is available from in-house nurses, and employers will receive recommendations for early intervention.

Small and medium employers (SMEs) particularly benefit from vocational rehabilitation support. As they often do not have occupational health resources in place, they benefit from help with managing complex employee health scenarios. De-personalising the return to work is essential for SME clients who have built businesses with their employees.

Transforming staff wellbeing
Transforming employee wellbeing at a cultural level is no mean feat. But good employee wellbeing is not just a ‘nice to have’ – it is absolutely essential for employers who want their business to thrive and be successful. Poor wellbeing creates recurrent absence, removing vital staff from the workplace and discouraging employees from remaining within the organisation. Services like EAPs and EIS are there to make employers’ lives easier and implement effective, practical change. However, these must be well-advertised within an organisation and accompanied by a genuine culture of positivity towards health and wellbeing. A revolution in employee wellbeing may be a long-term goal, but it is a challenge well worth undertaking.

Paul Avis, Marketing Director, Canada Life Group Insurance