In a series of three articles, Principal Consultant Richard Morgan explores the current issues around health and wellbeing, long-term sustainable behaviour change, and the challenges it brings for employers.
There has been a significant shift within the health and wellbeing space in recent years. Business strategy has moved from a reactive support-based approach, with employers firefighting sickness absence, to a proactive preventative approach focused around a positive working culture.
Prevention, they say, is better than cure. As disease management typically only impacts a subset of the working population, it makes sense that employers are focusing their efforts on healthy employees while supporting struggling employees along the way. We’re starting to see employers are investing in wellbeing initiatives much earlier in the employee health cycle: tackling risk factors or developing health issues before they become a sickness absence issue is a no-brainer, both in terms of treatment costs and in lost productivity.
Changing needs of a diverse workforce
Our recent Aon 2019 UK Benefits and Trends survey found that over 80% of employers will be looking to improve education and awareness on health-related issues in the next twelve months – invariably driven by long-term communication and engagement strategies.
This is a welcome development. As the modern workplace embraces a multigenerational workforce often made up of five generations, employers are having to grapple with a myriad of health and wellbeing needs: employee debt, musculoskeletal disorders, obesity, stress and depression, to name but a few. And with growing numbers of older workers, age-related health conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer are becoming more prevalent. The sandwich generation too, where staff have caring responsibilities for both their children and elderly relatives, brings additional challenges into the mix.
Many of these issues are unavoidable. Indeed, some are part and parcel of life. But employers still have a vital role to play in supporting their workforce and creating a positive working environment that encourages healthy lifestyle choices and supports all aspects of employee wellbeing.
Five pillars of wellbeing
Aon’s five pillars of wellbeing (physical, emotional, social, financial and career) reflects this. It’s about understanding that every potential stressor in life – be it money-related, family-related, or something else entirely - has the potential to affect an employee and their ability to operate at their very best.
This is one of the many reasons why health and wellbeing is so important. It’s not just about bums-on-seats, productivity and reducing absenteeism and presenteeism costs, it’s about looking after a company’s greatest asset. It’s about valuing your workforce while recognising that each and every employee is an individual, with different needs and different motivations.
Indeed, 95 per cent of respondents to the recent Aon UK Benefits and Trends survey 2019 agreed there is a strong correlation between employee health and performance; employers are acutely aware of the role they have to play in educating their workforce and helping them make better lifestyle choices.
Not only that, but both employers and employees are starting to realise that health and wellbeing is a joint responsibility. Just as employers are aware of their responsibilities to their workforce, there’s a major drive now towards empowerment and sustainable behaviour change to support employees taking control of their own health and wellbeing. It’s no longer enough for businesses to take a paternalistic approach, spoon-feeding their workforce into making the ‘right’ choices for their physical, emotional and financial health. A spoon-fed approach doesn’t engage, it can have the complete opposite effect. Instead, providing staff with the right tools to encourage them on their journeys to better health can reap rewards for businesses.
In our next article, we look at the challenges this can bring for employers, in terms of staff engagement, achieving board buy-in and workforce planning.
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