United Kingdom

Health and wellbeing: The key challenges for employers

August 2019


In our previous article, we looked at some of the main health and wellbeing issues employers are grappling with today and identified a shift in strategy from reactive to proactive.


Workers gather

Everything in health and wellbeing boils down to employees working optimally: you want your people to be at the top of their game for as much time as possible. You want them working at their absolute best. You want them giving it their all. Imagine an employee working on a platform on the North Sea who is distracted with an ongoing personal issue. Or someone in financial services who inadvertently gives the wrong advice to a customer because they have money worries of their own. Mistakes do happen and wellbeing issues aren’t necessarily avoidable, but it doesn’t take long to join the dots to see how a lack of health and wellbeing support can cause an accident or lead to a professional indemnity claim.

However, understanding the importance of health and wellbeing is only one part of the battle. Even once general agreement has been reached across management that it’s the right thing to do morally and economically, employers have a challenge or two on their hands.

Board-buy in

Businesses need to convince everyone about health and wellbeing, not just one or two partners. Getting buy-in from the board – including stakeholders – is essential, yet this can prove a challenge. We’d always advise a business to really understand who their stakeholders are and their various motivations in order to put forward a convincing business case to them.

Yet a strong business case these days isn’t all about number crunching and return-on-investment. Instead, we’re seeing a move towards employee engagement KPIs: for many board members, remuneration is now dependent on how engaged employees are. It’s evident in the requirements for annual strategic reports where companies now have to provide commentary around their most valuable assets (their people) including the impact of business decisions on employees, engagement levels and associated risk.

And the risks associated with not investing in health and wellbeing can be massive: absenteeism, presenteeism, decreased productivity, low retention rates, brand reputation, low profit margins – it’s all connected. The companies who can assess this risk and address how to mitigate it through health and wellbeing strategies are the ones more likely to get the board’s approval.


The big challenge for employers with workplace communication is getting employees to take notice when they are constantly bombarded with so much other information already, especially if they don’t feel the messages are relevant to them. In fact, it’s where communication strategies often fail: sending out ad-hoc, generic health messages at haphazard intervals throughout the year instead of relevant, tailored information at the right time.

Crucially, any communication strategy needs to be continuous, so look at it like you would any consumer marketing approach. If you think about some of the well-known technology brands, they wouldn’t just launch one single advertising campaign and assume everyone has got the message. They are continually developing their product in line with consumer demand and re-assessing new challenges and opportunities.

Communication strategies also need to be kept simple, focusing on one health issue per campaign, so it might help to base each campaign on a significant risk or behaviour you’ve identified as an issue within your workforce.

Workforce planning

Employers need to consider the changing needs of their workforce when looking at health and wellbeing. Just as businesses are constantly changing and evolving, so too are customers and employees - and that’s important. Take the banking sector. Previously, customers wanted to talk to someone directly about a loan or mortgage. Now high street banks are closing and apps and robo-advice services are being launched instead. Customer needs have changed and so the skills and type of person needed to fill bank roles have changed, too. Invariably, their needs will be different.

Workforce planning is more important than ever, particularly in our current climate. At a macro level, the UK is currently enjoying record levels of employment, yet the impact of Brexit may mean there will be fewer overseas workers coming into the UK. Additionally, the lower birth rate between 1991 and 2011 means fewer young people will be entering the workplace. At the same time, the ageing population is creating more pressure on social care and people are inheriting later due to parents living longer. All this is creating a challenging environment for the employer in terms of talent attraction.

Employers then, need to consider the roles and skills they’re likely to need in the next few years and predict the expectations of those who will fill these roles, in line with these macro-level trends.

If the labour market continues to tighten over the next five years how else, other than salary, can employers recruit and retain the best people? Health and wellbeing, including flexible working, has to be the answer.


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For more information or to discuss any of the issues outlined in this article, please get in touch by emailing us at [email protected] or call us on 0344 573 0033.





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