You would have needed to be a contestant on I’m a Celebrity… to have missed the growth in media interest in health and wellbeing benefits, especially in relation to employees and their mental health.
We all understand what is meant by ‘health’ – being healthy, free from disease or illness; we even have specific English idioms such as ‘in rude health’ to describe it and confuse non-native speakers. But what about ‘wellbeing’ – it isn’t just the absence of illness, it’s something more than just ‘good health’.
If you take a look at its dictionary definition, there is even considerable debate over whether it is wellbeing, well-being or well being!
I’ll settle for ‘wellbeing’, and in the Collins English Dictionary it is defined as ‘The condition of being contented, healthy, or successful’; the Oxford Dictionary says, ‘The state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy’. Therefore, it appears that wellbeing relates to both physical health and a state of mind – contented, comfortable, happy.
This is the reason why there is considerable focus on employee wellbeing and mental health at the moment, because recent reports such as Thriving at Work by Stevenson/Farmer, published in October 2017, show that there are significant issues in the UK.
The Government sponsored review reports that:
- The annual cost to the UK economy of poor mental health is up to £99bn, of which about £42bn is borne by employers
- About 300,000 people with a long-term mental health problem lose their jobs each year
- The number of people forced to stop work as a result of mental health problems was 50% higher than for those with physical health conditions
- About 15% of people at work have symptoms of an existing mental health condition
The report outlines a number of strategies that business can employ to help reduce stress and improve employee mental wellbeing, including:
- Create a mental health at work plan
- Build mental health awareness by making information and support accessible
- Encourage open conversations
- Provide good working conditions and ensure employees have a healthy work-life balance
- Promote effective people management, with line managers holding regular conversations about health and wellbeing with their staff
- Routinely monitor employee mental health
As part of the review, evaluations of workplace interventions by Deloitte (Mental Health and Employers: The Case for Investment, October 2017) show a return to business of between £1.50 and £9 for every £1 invested in mental health strategy.
The Stevenson/Farmer report hasn’t taken health and wellbeing benefit providers by surprise. For some time now there has been increased focus on mental health issues and the development of specific mental health strategies.
In some cases there is a need to invest in additional services but in many situations improvements to employee wellbeing can be achieved by better use of existing benefits and their communication to employees:
- Development of financial education programmes to equip employees with skills to help them understand personal money matters to reduce financial worries and stress
- Mental health ‘first aid’ training for employees – especially those in supervisory positions, so they are able to recognise issues in themselves and colleagues, and take appropriate action
- Access to telephonic helplines and counselling services via Employee Assistance Programmes.
Often EAPs will already be provided through company Group Income Protection, Group Life Insurance and Group Healthcare Benefits but the communication of these benefits may not have given employees sufficient information to know where to look in times of stress.
- ‘Virtual GP’ providing timely direct access to GP services without lengthy waiting times
- Access to early intervention/triage without GP referral under Private Medical Insurance
- Digital wellbeing tools empowering employees with the ability to assess and improve their wellbeing in real time
Wellbeing is now recognised as a key ingredient not only for personal happiness but also business productivity. Successful businesses will understand the direct link between employee wellbeing and bottom-line improvement. Investment in employee wellbeing should be high on any company’s priorities when looking at ways to increase productivity.