Workplace mental health and wellbeing: at a tipping point?

11Jun 17

With greater public awareness, political interest and transparency around the importance of good workplace mental health and wellbeing, more and more employers are reviewing their activities in this space. Yet despite this positive trend, many employers are still facing numerous challenges in implementing effective mental health and wellbeing strategies.

New research from the Deloitte Centre for Health Solutions places workplace mental health and wellbeing at a tipping point, with employers increasingly reviewing their activities in supporting employee mental health and wellbeing. Recognising the costs of poor mental health and wellbeing on today’s workforce, the report is designed as a call to action for employers, whatever their current performance regarding mental health and wellbeing strategies.


Key findings

  • Progress towards greater awareness and recognition of mental health is occurring at a slower rate in the workplace, compared to conversations occurring in public spaces more generally
  • Costs associated with poor mental health and wellbeing result from absence costs, from presenteeism and turnover costs, as well as from staff that is not fully enthusiastic and engaged due to low mental wellbeing
  • Greater public awareness, increasing political attention and an increased emphasis on employer responsibilities are driving an increased interest in workplace mental health and wellbeing.


Five key implementation challenges for employers

  • Failure to see mental health and wellbeing as a priority
  • Mental health and wellbeing policies are reactive and driven by staff events or experience
  • Lack of insight around current performance
  • Poor evidence base to measure return on investment of wellbeing strategies
  • Lack of collective knowledge around best practice.


Key actions for employers

  • Get workplace mental health and wellbeing on the agenda
  • Take stock and monitor performance
  • Create buy-in for the case for change and investment
  • Implement key initiatives adapted for specific workforce challenges and demographics
  • Evaluate programmes and communicate successes
  • Encourage employees to support colleagues.

Article published on in March 2017.

For original article and link to download the report, click here.


Reed Business Information offers employees personalised health and wellbeing programmes

06Oct 16

Reed Business Information (RBI) created the RBI Living Well programme to help their Reed employees feel well and perform well.

Lawrence Mitchell, marketing director and programme lead, says: “We set up the programme to enhance the energy and the performance of our staff, which in practical terms means that we’re energising and helping staff to feel good about themselves so they can not only feel better, but work better, which will enhance not only their own performance, but the performance of the business.

The business information and data services organisation’s Living Well Programme is based on a five-pillar framework. This includes eating well, moving the body and keeping fit, mental health and resilience, giving back, in line with the organisation’s charity agenda, and getting support, which is about staff tapping into employee networks and getting support from peers.

As part of the programme, which health and wellbeing services provider Kamwell helps to deliver, staff are offered access to wellbeing events, which may offer, for example, free gym classes, massage therapy, mindfulness training and nutritional advice and testing.

“It provides customised one-to-one services, as well as broader opportunities for staff to engage,” says Mitchell. “We think about employees as whole people and recognise that each employee will want different things based on who they are and where they are in their life journey, so we offer a range of benefits for them to engage in.”

Empowerment is at the heart of RBI’s programme, with employees encouraged to take responsibility for their own health and wellbeing. “As an [organisation] we are responsible for making it easier for employees to be healthier and for them to feel their best,” Mitchell says.

The organisation uses the programme to help improve employee engagement and staff retention and to improve the value of the employer brand.

Is there a place for personalisation in a benefits strategy?

03Oct 16

By Clare Bettelley 3rd October 2016 3:00 pm

The initial personalisation of employee benefits can be traced back to the 1980s, when the term referred to employers offering staff a wide choice of benefits to take up, typically on a flexible or voluntary basis, in the hope that they would appeal to at least some of their workforce.

But now personalisation refers to a precise, data-driven approach to benefit and reward strategy design that ensures that perks are relevant to individual employees who are, therefore, more likely to take up and value them.

Added value

As part of this evolution, employers are becoming more of a facilitator of benefits, whereby they offer staff access to a wide range of benefits that can be personalised, such as nutritional or DNA testing, and which can therefore add value to their workplace experience.

Alastair Woods, partner in the reward team at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC), says: “[The] personalisation [of benefits] is about employers providing some level of customisation to individual employees and not just groups among their workforce, but within an existing framework, rather than offering radical choice. Choice allows employees to extract value.”

Advances in technology have been instrumental in enabling employers to customise their benefits proposition. Employers are now able to access and mine data from their benefits portals relating to, for example, benefits take-up trends, which they can use to inform their benefits selection for staff. Mark Ramsook, a senior consultant at Willis Towers Watson, says: “Without technology, it’s unfeasible to consider how employers can manage benefits data, identify trends, and track and enable the purchasing process [of these benefits].”

Interactive benefits

Technological development is also benefitting employees in the form of increasingly interactive benefits portal interfaces. Employers’ previous static platforms that stored benefits information in the form of PDFs have been transformed into portals that allow employees to create and personalise their own user accounts from which they can select their preferred benefits. Increasingly, staff in many organisations can flex the value of these benefits up and down, and perhaps even extend access to perks to close family members.

“Choice allows employees to extract value because where there’s choice, there’s more understanding,” says Woods. “Employees are putting greater value on something that’s relevant for them.”

As well as strategy, many benefits can be personalised, such as company car schemes. Organisations can work with company car providers to enable staff to define everything from their budget to the type of seat covering and engine that they want for their car.

Similarly, health and wellbeing benefits, from health cash plans to dental healthcare, can be personalised by staff. Kirsten Samuel, managing director at health and wellbeing services provider Kamwell, says: “By having choice and flexibility at their fingertips in regards to health and wellbeing, employees can feel truly supported, empowered and energised to take control of their wellbeing.

“I have experienced so many instances first hand, where employees have told me about the difference their organisation’s health and wellbeing programme has made to their lives, not just as a means to ‘fixing’ a health problem. It offers an opportunity to enhance their wellbeing, enabling them to thrive in their personal and professional lives.”

Creating this sense of empowerment is key for employers keen to increase employee engagement and become an employer of choice. Nicky Moffat, director at What Good Leadership Looks Like, says: “Empowerment benefits organisations because it enables the collective and creative power of [employees] to be mobilised in line with a common vision or goal.

“[Employees] who are empowered have ownership of outcomes. They can use their expertise, initiative and skill to complete tasks and feel a much greater sense of satisfaction and value than if they had simply been told what to do.”

Personalised working practices also help to empower employees. Flexible working is a case in point. Martha How, reward partner at Aon Employee Benefits, says: “Empowerment is about staff management and about, for example, [employers] asking employees how they want to work and allowing employees to carve out their own working time.”

Standardised benefits approach

Perhaps the biggest obstacle to more employers taking this approach is the desire for standardisation for which many organisations, particularly larger multi-national entities, strive across their benefits policies and systems.

Peter Reilly, principal associate at the Institute for Employment Studies, says: “Frequently, [employers] want to signal that everyone is part of the same [organisation] with harmonised terms and conditions. Standardisation is also cheaper to operate [for employers]. Both tendencies militate against personalisation.”

Clearly, there is a long way to go before more organisations embrace the modern definition of personalisation, but change is afoot, particularly around reward, given the bearish economic climate and consequent lack of pay rises.

“We’ve got to a place where there’s a head of steam and pent-up frustration [among employees] with reward generally, [because] it hasn’t really changed, says PWC’s Woods. “It has always been about salary, a bonus if [employees] are lucky, a pension and some core benefits, but I think in the next few years we’ll start to see a greater array of choice.

“Now, more than ever, there is a greater need for the customisation of reward because of the diversity of the workforce coupled with the [downturn in the] economic cycle.”

This diversity, be it in the form of age, culture, religion or life choices generally, therefore needs more than a generational segmentation exercise across organisations’ communication strategies as employees demand more of a consumer experience from their employers.

What are employees doing to address obesity?

14Jul 16

Published in Forbes: By Karen Higginbottom

Obesity in the workplace in the Western world is an increasing concern, both for employers and productivity. Officially, more than one-third (35.1%) of adults over the age of 20 in the United States are classified as obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The implications of a sedentary workforce shouldn’t be underestimated: Sitting is more disruptive to workplace productivity than cyber-loafing according to an Ergotron 2016 JustStand Index. Banking is a pretty sedentary profession, so how does the sector fare when it comes to supporting the physical well-being of its employees?

U.S. firms are more advanced in delivering well-being programs than their U.K. counterparts. Approximately, half of U.S. employers offer wellness promotion initiatives, according to a 2013 survey by RAND and larger employers are more likely to have complex programs.

So what are organizations doing to ensure the physical well-being of their employees? Twenty-nine percent of employers identify obesity as a significant issue for their company, according to a global 2015/2016 Willis Towers Watson Staying@Work survey of 1669 employers in the U.S., Europe, Middle East and Asia. The research found that two-thirds of employers offer gym subsidies, but only 18% of employers offer weight management programs. More than half of employers sponsor fitness challenges between locations.

Some financial institutions have on-site gym facilities and classes, comments Kirsten Samuel, managing director, employee well-being specialist for Kamwell. “Other things like cycle-to-work schemes are widely used by employers in this sector. There are more creative scheme coming in such as the introduction of ‘High Octane Rides’ in Barclays , where staff have the chance of getting bursts of activity from using exercise bikes in between meetings and other tasks.”

Wellness programs have been a part of the benefits package for quite some time, remarks Jeff Oldham, vice-president, Benefitstore at Benefitfocus. “However, some of the larger enterprises are incorporating more innovative programs to address the varied needs of employees and encourage engagement to augment the more traditional wellness programs like on-site flu shots and vaccinations, smoking cessation programs, health screening and nutrition solutions.”

Finance firms are also looking to partner with the wearable tech providers to supply their workforces with fitness gadgets like Fitbits to monitor physical activity – a good way of getting people to think about their levels of activity, said Samuel. “There are examples of some even going as far as to create internal corporate challenges where individuals and teams can compete against each other.”

Why does physical well-being matter in the workplace? There is a lot of data showing the links between stress, depression and weight gain. Chronic stress is implicated in the development of obesity, and prolonged chronic stress pushes up blood sugar, impacts on the immune system and has a wide number of metabolic effects.

The ways in which physical fitness and increased mental agility link to productivity and reduced sickness absence are recognized by large employers and employees alike, remarks Samuel. “Organizations are aware of the fact that healthy, happy employees can be a catalyst for high-performing individuals and teams.”

HR can play a vital role in developing corporate well-being programs, added Samuel. “It’s the job of HR to understand the mechanics of its workforce and the relationship between people and organizational performance. Health is part of the formal duty of care that employers have and that falls into the HR remit. More than this, HR is the function best equipped to make the important links between well-being and the broader business and people strategy and has the tools to leverage employer and employee buy-in to well-being programs.”

In the U.S., the focus on physical wellness has been accelerated by rising health costs and the new requirements of the Affordable Care Act, said Oldham. “It’s also proven to be an effective way to improve productivity and reduce absenteeism. However, HR is not just focused on physical wellness programs but is also looking for ways to address emotional well-being, mental health and financial wellness as physical ailments are often a symptom of a larger cause and other life stressors.”

Oldham added that regardless of what a wellness program is looking to address, it’s important they are inclusive for all employees and can be tracked alongside individual goals to show that they are actually helping to improve the health of employees.

The importance of feeling flush – The psychology of financial wellbeing

28Apr 16

Employee finances are like their health – private and ultimately their own responsibility – but have all kinds of links and relationships with work and the workplace.

One in five employees say that worrying about their finances affects their performance at work. This is according to a survey by Barclays of people working at 100 companies. Another finding is that 70% of employers believe their employees feel the organisation is concerned about their financial wellbeing — compared to 10% of employees.

Add to this that 38% of employees say they would move to a company which made financial wellbeing a priority, and suddenly ‘financial wellbeing’ – something that seemed like jargon – becomes of very real importance.

In a nutshell, staff with strong financial wellbeing are more productive and less likely to leave. Financial worries can be linked to other areas of wellbeing, like someone’s mental health or their career path. We look at ways to help people manage both their finances, and the worries that they have about them — it’s not all about paying them more!

Barclays defines financial wellbeing as ‘Being and feeling financially healthy and secure, today and for the future’. In fact, they found that it tends to be savings, not income, which determine a person’s financial wellbeing. This includes having a ‘savings buffer’ — a pot of money set aside for unforeseen outgoings — and the ability to save money regularly.

So what are employers to do? Many firms already offer benefits that can help their workers’ money go further, like childcare vouchers. There are even some schemes available to make it easier save, such as workplace ISAs.

The starting point for most businesses is to help their staff understand what their options are. Add in some sound, independent advice, and you enable them to make healthy choices — for their bank balances, and their peace of mind. Financial education needs to be made relevant to the different elements of the workforce demographic, around age or career stages – as illustrated by a PWC survey of American workers. This found that Generation Y employees, (aged 22-34 in 2016), appear more concerned about ‘current expenses’, whereas Baby Boomers (aged 56-73) and Generation X (aged 35-55) also frequently cite ‘retiring’ as one of their top financial concerns.

PWC’s report also contained a stark statistic about the impact of financial wellbeing on productivity: 37% of respondents say that they spend three hours, or more, at work each week thinking about or dealing with issues related to their personal finances.

The bottom line seems to be that by making your employees more financially savvy — which is desirable in itself — they get more work done, are more loyal and engaged, and their overall wellbeing improves. None of which should be undervalued.

Also published in HR Zone