A good salary, ample time off and medical benefits aren’t the only work perks employees care about. Increasingly, job candidates seek companies that invest in workplace wellbeing programmes that look after their mental, social, emotional and financial health, too.
Around 875,000 workers are living with work-related stress, depression or anxiety, according to figures from the Labour Force Survey 2022/23 highlighted in a report by the Health and Safety Executive on work-related stress, depression or anxiety in Great Britain. From a business perspective, this resulted in 17.1 million working days lost due to these mental health conditions.
Smaller companies might balk at offering work perks such as wellbeing programmes due to the cost alone. However, experts say there is a much steeper price to pay in the form of higher employee attrition and absenteeism rates, lower engagement and poor productivity – all of which hurt a company’s bottom line.
Mental and gender health among top workplace wellbeing needs
Mental health is by far the leading issue that workers want workplace support for, says Debra Clark, head of wellbeing at employee benefits consultancy Towergate Health & Protection.
Gender health issues (think fertility, menopause, male health), gender affirmation and dysmorphia, and caring responsibilities are up-and-coming wellbeing issues employees also want help with, she adds.
Larger companies tend to have more resources to scale their wellness offerings to include these nuanced issues, but small businesses generally don’t, Clark notes.
For many small businesses, offering embedded support via an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) is a cost-effective way to introduce a workplace wellbeing programme, Clark says.
EAPs provide a limited number of free counselling sessions per year for employees on a variety of issues that might have an impact on their wellbeing and workplace performance. An EAP typically involves an initial assessment and short-term counselling. However, if an employee or relative needs additional help, an EAP counsellor can refer them to a longer-term service provider.
Here’s a look at other wellbeing programmes employers are offering:
- Wellness apps: More companies are offering corporate plans for access to wellness apps such as Headspace, Calm and Vitality.
- Financial and legal planning: Access to educational support and discounted rates for financial and legal advice.
- Health and nutrition perks: These can include gym membership reimbursements, discounted rates for weight-loss or health programmes and discounts for healthy food.
- Flexible working arrangements: The option to work remotely full-time or a hybrid schedule, as well as flexible working hours that enable a better work-life balance.
- Wellbeing and personal development education: Providing access to webinars or live events focused on wellness topics, stress management or personal growth.
A strong business case for investing in wellbeing programmes
The research is clear: mental health is a critical issue in the workplace that can make or break productivity and profitability.
According to a 2021/2022 Workplace Wellbeing Index from mental health charity Mind, half of nearly 42,000 UK workers surveyed said they felt anxious on multiple occasions at work. And of those who had poor mental health, 30% took time off work because of it, with 31% citing a reason other than mental health.
The cost of poor mental health to employers has risen by 25% since the start of the pandemic. “[It was] £53 billion to £56 billion in 2020-21, which equates to over 2.6% of gross domestic product and, depending on the sector, an average cost per employee of between £1,035 and £3,710,” Andrew Berrie, Mind’s head of corporate partnerships, said in an email, commenting on a Deloitte report in 2022 on mental health and employers.
“At an organisational level, poor mental health is impacting not only on the mental health and wellbeing, satisfaction and productivity of staff, but significantly impacting on the bottom line,” he adds.
While these data points are sobering, there are also case studies showing that when organisations add wellbeing programmes into the mix, it can turn their work culture and performance around.
In 2022, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) interviewed the Midlands-based Leek United Building Society for a case study as part of CIPD’s Health and Wellbeing at Work Survey with Simplyhealth.
The building society made substantial investments over a number of years in its employees’ health and wellbeing, such as offering a workplace savings scheme, a commitment to providing fair and equal pay, increasing employer contribution rate from 6% to 7.5% to the company’s pension plan, a more supportive sick-pay leave policy and a review of maternity, paternity and adoption pay.
The return on investment is indisputable: Leek United has seen higher employee engagement, lower voluntary turnover and absence rates, and increased staff efficiency in terms of business volumes versus cost of delivery.
Costs of wellbeing in the workplace
Prioritising wellbeing in the workplace has undisputed benefits, but there also are costs to consider.
On average, an EAP costs from £5 to £15 per employee, depending on the specific services provided, the number of visits included and company size, according to the UK Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAPA).
“For every £1 spent on an EAP in the UK between October 2021 and October 2022, the average [return on investment] was £10.85. This figure has increased from an average of £8 for every £1 spent in the previous year, and £7.27 in 2019/20,” according to the UK EAPA’s 2023 Financial Return on EAPs report.
Wellness apps can be costly, but getting a small team plan will result in more savings and, potentially, access to more perks instead of employees buying a membership individually, Clark notes.
For example, Calm for Business charges about £53 per employee, per year for a minimum of five employees. A company with 50 employees, however, would pay about £47 per person, per year for access to the Calm app.
Help with picking the right programme
Choosing the right wellbeing programme can be overwhelming given the hundreds of options out there and various pricing tiers.
Clark recommends that small business owners reach out to an intermediary workplace benefits consultant who can recommend suitable programmes that fit their budget and employees’ needs. This service is typically free because the consultants are paid a commission by the provider for referring new business, Clark added.
Ultimately, looking after your employees’ mental health and overall wellbeing doesn’t need to be overly expensive or complicated.
Businesses should ensure that line managers are properly trained to navigate tough conversations and help their reports better prioritise work tasks to reduce workplace-related stress, Berrie says.
“Being empathetic and person-centered is key. [Have] one-to-one conversations with employees to understand how they best perform at work and how managers can best support them to excel,” Berrie said.
“It can start with simple conversations,” he added. “Encourage people to talk – start by talking about general wellbeing, and let people know that they can talk to you if they need to.”
Image source: Getty Images
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