Investing in Wellbeing Post Covid-19
Investing in health can not only save lives and build greater resilience but underpin the financial growth of a business, create a better culture for the organisation and help to retain your talent.
Over the past 12 months 89% of employees said they saw a decline in their
(Harvard Business Review, February 2021)
This is hardly surprising given our recent circumstances. Last year we were all forced to invade our homes with work, battle between becoming newly crowned home schooling experts and transition to deliver the same level of service that our colleagues and customers were used to, but via a webcam on our laptops and often from the kitchen table, with no dedicated office space or the right equipment from a health and safety perspective.
It’s been a strange 12 months. Calling it challenging would be an understatement.
But, with business and life slowly returning to a normal state, we wanted to hear from business owners and executives – just like you - on how they are approaching their ‘new normal’.
As we enter a new working era where home working will increase with less time at the office we have taken the time to bring together a number of credible research pieces along with some insights from our own research and experience to help look at the challenges business like yours have faced, the solutions employed to deal with them and what businesses are doing going forwards to make sure that they are providing the best working environment for their employees whether at the office or at home.
Wellbeing moving up the board room agenda...
The CIPD Health and Wellbeing at Work Report (April 2021) has indicated that employee health and wellbeing has been slowly creeping up the business agenda and this year particularly they discuss a step change in the proportion of senior leaders that have employee wellbeing on their agenda (75% up from 61% last year). This coincides with our recent findings whereby business owners rated the importance of employee wellbeing to their organisation 9.2 out 10 with 75% of respondents saying that the events of the last year had changed their opinion on this.
Admittedly there are few positives to have come out of the global pandemic but the acceleration of workplace wellbeing has to be one of them. This is further backed up by the CIPD who disclosed that 50% of the companies who took part in the survey said they now had a formal wellbeing strategy in place, they went on to discuss how organisations are now beginning to take a much more proactive approach (73%) over the more traditional, reactive approach (27%), likely due to the fact that a properly thought out wellbeing strategy identifies the need for more preventative measures and recognises a clear purpose for each one of its interventions.
The CIPD go on to report that over half of organisations increased employee wellbeing support or benefits in response to the pandemic. Just one in four, however, report their allocated budget for wellbeing benefits had increased as a consequence of the pandemic, with the majority saying it had remained the same. The worry here is that whilst there appears to be recognition for an increased demand for health and wellbeing services to support the needs of the workforce there appears to be a lag in adjusting the budget to do so. Alongside this 50% of organisations still report acting without a formal wellbeing strategy which suggests that services will likely be stretched, only service the few rather than the majority and/or act on an ad hoc basis erring more on the side of reactive solutions all of which do not act in the best interests of the business nor its employees and make it increasingly difficult to gauge any success.
Assess your organisations health and wellbeing culture here...
The Cost of Poor Health
Beyond the UK McKinsey and Company (May, 2021) discuss that even before the pandemic poor health cost Europe almost £2 trillion (more than £3,500 per person) per year in lost economic opportunity. They go on to explain that poor health reduces economic potential by keeping people out of the workforce, reducing productivity, and lowering earning potential. Adding to this they acknowledge that poor health also affects people’s lives in many noneconomic ways, by causing pain and worry, lowering independence, and limiting people’s capacity to participate in daily activities, enjoy life and realise their potential.
Closer to home rather interestingly the Office for National Statistics (March 2020) discusses that the UK sickness rate continued to fall in 2020 with minor illness still the biggest cause of sickness absence. They explain that in a year when the virus may have caused additional sickness absence the lockdown measures, social distancing, shielding and home working guidelines appear to have also impacted the prevalence of minor illnesses such as coughs and colds allowing the general downward trend to continue.
Alongside this however a pre-pandemic (January, 2020) report by Deloitte had already identified the rising cost of presenteeism, where individuals choose to attend work despite poor health but are unproductive in the work they do, estimating the cost of presenteeism at almost £30billion in contrast to less than £7billion in sickness absence. In relation to this the CIPD (April 2021) report did nothing to suggest presenteeism was on the decline, whereby a huge 84% of respondents said they had observed colleagues working in an ‘unwell’ state both in the workplace and from home.
Both the CIPD and Deloitte discuss that the rise in modern technology has also led to an increase in what is known as ‘leavism’, whereby employees are using time out of contracted hours and/or holidays to check in and catch up on work. It is thought that this in itself could be a large contributor to the rising mental health issues across organisations as evidenced in the Harvard Business Review (February 2021).
The Health Improvement Opportunity
Despite the obvious economic loss to UK businesses that poor health brings about and a reported £5 return for every £1 spent on employee wellbeing (Deloitte, January 2020), when asked what their biggest motivators for investing in employee wellbeing business owners placed ‘return on investment’ and ‘reduced absenteeism’ at the bottom with the greatest motivators being ‘employee satisfaction’ and ‘attraction/retention of talent’ (The BHG, April 2021).
And here lies the opportunity, according to McKinsey and Company (May, 2021) three conditions have a disproportionate economic impact and are collectively responsible for more than half of all the lost economic potential due to poor health.
Musculoskeletal disorders, such as neck and back pain (24% of economic loss)
Mental Health disorders such as anxiety and depression (18% of economic loss)
Neurological disorders such as headaches and migraines (13% of economic loss)
In relation to the attraction and retention of talent they go on to explain that each one of these areas is seen to be a significant predictor of early retirement suggesting that a lack of effective wellbeing services to help combat these areas might put you at significant risk of prematurely losing your most experienced employees let alone their time out of work in the first place.
To add to this and perhaps rather unsurprisingly the CIPD (April 2021) report discovered that a significant proportion of people reported that aspects of their wellbeing including mental and physical health had worsened during the pandemic, drawing parallels with our survey whereby business owners appeared to acknowledge the greater need for mental health and physical health support over nutritional and financial support services.
McKinsey and Company (May, 2021) also go on to state that the high levels of preventable health risks, particularly excess weight and obesity contribute greatly to the overall disease burden. Adding that they estimate that the health burden could be reduced by as much as 30% over the next 2 decades with more timely and consistent application of interventions. They continue to discuss that two-thirds of the improvement opportunity lies in areas of health promotion, prevention, health literacy, and healthier environments with more consistent, comprehensive, and early use of widely available and highly cost-effective strategies.
What do employees want?
As discovered in our The Case for Employee Wellbeing- Post-Covid Report (April 2021) the biggest motivator for businesses investing in health and wellbeing services was ‘Employee Satisfaction’ which was also highlighted in the Wellable Industry trends Report (January, 2021).
So what is it that employees are look for?
A Harvard Business Review (February 2021) states that employees will overwhelmingly expect flexible working options, with 88% of knowledge workers looking for flexibility in both hours and location when looking for a new position. This is further backed up by Publicis Sapient (2021) who discovered that 47% of employees said they would leave their jobs after the pandemic, if employers didn’t offer a hybrid working model and 41% would be willing to take a job with a slightly lower salary if it offered a WFH model.
Another Harvard Business Review (February 2021) discussed that increased work demands such as work life separation, increased workload and increased hours as the biggest contributor to the decline in their workplace wellbeing largely related to the shift to remote working conditions combined with many organisations trying to run with reduced staff capacity. With less time to exercise, worse sleep, physical ailments and worse nutritional habits all reported too.
The Wellable Industry trends Report (January 2021) also highlights that the shift to remote working also requires the need accelerate to digitalisation of many wellbeing solutions such as health education and literacy (workshops and seminars) as well as exercise and meditation classes, by shifting these to a more on-demand model providing a more flexible approach in both time and location for employees.
What are businesses doing about it?
In line with employee demands 50% of employers think that remote working or hybrid models will be offered to employees on a permanent basis with a further 22% still unsure and only 29% of businesses suggesting that they wouldn’t be doing so (Hays, March 2021). Rather encouragingly both employees (91%) and employers (94%) alike report feeling equipped with the right capabilities, skills and technology to manage and work in a hybrid team in the future.
Understandably as much as 90% of businesses reported promoting mental health (for example stress management) as part of their health and wellbeing activities to either a large or moderate extent (CIPD, April 2021). In recognition for the demands mentioned earlier it was refreshing to see that businesses also reported ‘Good Work’ such as work-life balance and ‘Physical Health’ such as health promotion and positive lifestyle choices as other well promoted activities (74% and 72% respectively).
In response to this there is evidence within the Wellable industry trends report (January 2021) that as many as 81% of businesses were planning on spending more than they had previously on ‘stress management/resilience’ with 69% also discussing investing more in ‘mindfulness and meditation’.
They go on to report that the greatest increase in popularity would be organisations investment in ‘telehealth services’ such as, digital assessment tools, online health education and digital access to health professionals at a huge 87%.
Looking into more detail as to what wellbeing services are provided from a proactive point of view, advice on healthy eating and lifestyle, programs to encourage physical fitness, access to exercise and relaxation classes and health screening feature heavily among eye tests and flu vaccinations. On the more reactive side of things access to counselling and an EAP dominate this area with physiotherapy and financial support bringing up the rear (CIPD, April 2021).
First of all it is refreshing to see that employee wellbeing is now beginning to get the attention it deserves. It is no longer a tick box exercise and organisations are taking serious strides to put in place the best care and support for their employees and it is encouraging to see many SME’s now following in the footsteps of the larger corporations when it comes to looking after their staff.
If there is anything that this review highlights it is that there is no one size fits all but the greatest commonality is the demand for increased flexibility to remain whether that’s in the form of permanent remote work or a shared hybrid approach.
We can also see from the research that there’s an obvious importance on providing better mental health support, whether that’s through an existing EAP provider, mental health sessions or up skilling members of staff to better deal with ongoing problems.
Rather interestingly the discovery that musculoskeletal problems are still causing a bigger impact to economic loss, compared to mental health disorders suggests that it is important that we don’t neglect the physical side of things either. Appropriate workstation set ups, lifestyle education and physical fitness are all still vitally important factors in keeping a workforce healthy and productive.
What is also encouraging is the growing investment in proactive solutions which we believe demonstrates a real care and compassion for employees as opposed to putting employee issues on the back burner. What’s more, the evidence above suggests that employees will pay you fivefold in both loyalty and productivity output.
The greatest concern as discussed is whilst there is growing acknowledgement for the needs and benefits of employee wellbeing services there appears to be a lag in the adjustment of budgets to allow for appropriate investments in many cases. This likely means that the growth of mental health support draws investment from other areas such as financial or nutritional support when here at The Business Health Group we are big believers that a holistic approach to employee health and wellbeing is what employers need to provide to make employees feel cared for and supported in order to produce their best work.
What you can do now...
Learn more about the direction of your organisations health and wellbeing culture by completing our Health Compass Survey
Discover in more detail the real needs and wants of your employees and provide your workforce with personalised wellbeing advice using our digital Personal Wellbeing Assessment
We take a data led approach to provide you and your team with tailored wellbeing advice and a confidence to put the solutions in place that will have the greatest impact.