Matthew Lawrence, head of broking and proposition for health and risk at Aon Employee Benefits.
We know that employees with a strong wellbeing are significantly more likely to be engaged at work, not to mention being generally healthier. Indeed, 92 per cent of UK employers polled for our 2016 EMEA Health survey saw a clear correlation between health and employee performance.
Previous Aon Hewitt 2012 research also found that highly engaged employees who reported significantly less workplace stress took on average just 7 sick days per year in comparison to 14 for those in low-engagement companies.
Furthermore, the CBI have found that engaged employees take an average of 2.69 days sick a year whilst disengaged employees take 6.19.
So given the indicative benefits of a workplace health initiative, are employers going about their health and wellbeing programmes the right way?
The polite answer is probably, 'well, the idea's there', but in the hard-nosed world of business and a multi-generational workforce with varying degrees of health, it isn't enough. So what's an employer to do?
What are you trying to achieve?
We've often seen ineffective strategies and wasteful spend when there is no clear corporate objective, so don't pluck your goals and objectives from the air or come to a vague, wishy-washy decision based on one or two board meetings. Understand that for a goal to be realised and for the ultimate scheme to be successful, the goal must be underpinned by data.
Say it with data
Data reporting and analytics provide valuable insight into the health demographic of your workforce. Data will tell you if there's a proportion of your workforce who are struggling to maintain weight, if diabetes is a common issue or if some of your workforce are at risk of heart disease. It can tell you what percentage of staff are smokers and if there is stress-related issue in the workplace.
And understanding the health risks impacting a business is precisely what 60% of employers surveyed in the Aon Employee Benefits: Benefits and Trends Survey 2015 wanted to know. Having this employer-level understanding means that informed and targeted decisions can be made around the provision of benefits and health-related services and for a ROI perspective, that's invaluable.
Speak and be heard
Consider your workforce. Are they generally young? Middle-aged? Predominantly male or female? English-speaking or English as a second language? An effective communication strategy which segments employee demographic by age, gender, business division or location will enable employers to educate different groups of employers on the types of health risks and lifestyles risks they may be faced with. Support can then be given to try and mitigate risks through valuable benefits services and awareness resources.
But don't just stick to one or two communication methods. Employers can reach the widest possible audience by tailoring the approach based on how the employee engages or interacts with the employer in relation to health and wellness services or benefits.
Employers might want to consider training some workplace health champions to liaise between staff and the team driving the initiative. Impromptu chats around the water cooler or coffee machines can be invaluable in helping to allay any fears or scepticism about the scheme.
Conquer the mental health demon
Based on Aon's EMEA Health Survey in 2016, stress and mental health issues are the biggest concern for 65% of employers.
It's therefore important to create a culture which empowers employees to be open about their mental health. The role of the line manager in supporting this culture cannot be underestimated - they are the people who are likely to notice if their direct reports are struggling.
Make workplace adjustments, like providing extra work-related support, signposting the individual to support services or changing working hours. But don't just do it willy-nilly - talk to the individual concerned - which sort of reasonable adjustments would help them the most?
Implementing a robust strategy and support framework is also good practice. In the event of a mental health-related absence, such a framework will ensure that the individual concerned can access the most appropriate support services quickly and may even reduce the length of time someone is absent from the workplace.
"But it didn't occur to us that this might happen!"
Employers also need to be aware of the risk of unintended consequences. One of the main tactics used by employers as part of their employee wellbeing approach is to offer flexible working. Based upon the Aon Employee Benefits 2015 Benefits and Trends Survey more than 50% of employers adopt this approach.
And whilst flexible working is highly likely to be met with much enthusiasm, employers need to be careful that it does not have the opposite effect to that intended.
Employees need a break from the workplace, to re-charge and enjoy non-work related activities. The inability to do this due to blurred boundaries of work and home, could ultimately leave employees feeling less engaged and risk damaging either their physical or mental health, or both. The rise of the employee who is in effect always working, or at least is always available to be contacted about work, needs to be monitored closely.
The workforce is changing
The nature of the workforce is changing, that's a given. Employers need to give serious consideration to their employee health strategy with the acknowledgement that a one-size-fits-all approach to employee health is definitely, absolutely, not the right thing to do. Instead, take your cues from the workforce and you can't go far wrong.