When you couple this with the fact that 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem in the next year, and nearly half a million people in the UK believe their levels of work-related stress are making them ill, there is an undeniable need for change.
On the face of it, the impetus for this change rests with employers. But, with over 9.9 million working days lost each year because of work-related stress, the UK Government, with its responsibility for the economy and public health, has a role to play in supporting businesses to improve employee wellness. Initiatives such as mental health awareness week go a long way to help raise awareness of these issues, but how can the Government work with employers to do more to support people in the workplace?
Employers can give more flexibility and the Government can encourage them to do so
Businesses are starting to realise that employee wellness is not just about providing medical insurance or dealing with claims, but rather about encouraging employees to look after their own health. Through preventative benefits such as flexible wellness allowances, employees are able to claim for the activities that most appeal to them, such as sports team membership, rambling clubs or even art classes to help with mental wellness.
Our UK Employee Benefits Watch Report 2016/17 research found that although more than half of employees want their employer to offer a ‘wellness pot’, just 4% of employers do so, and 76% are not even considering the approach. That’s a staggering statistic, as this approach encourages employees to engage with their wellbeing benefits a lot more than a standardised ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. This ultimately benefits businesses through happier, healthier employees. The government can do more to encourage employers to move towards a proactive approach to wellness.
The Government can provide compensation for wellness schemes
One way the Government could step in and make an impact, is to provide compensation for companies that proactively try to improve the wellness of employees. This could include allowing businesses to claim tax back on wellness days or spend on physical wellness activities. Our UK research shows that employees who feel their employer is looking after their health and wellbeing are measurably more engaged and productive while at work.
Employers can use technology to improve wellness
A key driver here is technology. By using the data they have available about their employees, employers can analyse behaviours to better understand their workforce, and the reasons why employees may not be engaged or productive at work. By using these insights, employers are able to identify the benefits that resonate most with individuals and their workforce as a whole, and tailor their approach accordingly.
Businesses can also use this data to look at how and when their workforce is most efficient, and devise a strategy that encourages better productivity and engagement, by allowing more flexible working to fit in with employees’ lives for example. The Government can’t force businesses to develop and record the data they need to get these insights – but it can incentivise businesses to better support employees, and help to push them to the next level of support.
The Government can provide guidance and support to help employers make decisions for the good of their people
If the Government steps up its support for businesses to develop robust insights into the requirements of their workforces, they will not only be better equipped to meet their employees’ needs, but better informed about where their investments are seeing the best returns. Not only will this improve the wellbeing of people at work, but the knock-on effects for the UK government are widespread, from taking pressure off an already over-stretched National Health Service, to a boost in the UK economy through fewer working days lost to illness.
The UK government could be offering more support to employers to keep their employees well. Both will see the benefits of a more engaged and productive workforce - true employee wellbeing means happier employees, increased productivity and better business outcomes for all.