The number of UK employers with workplace wellbeing strategies in place has increased by 15% in a year with sleep management advice being one of the fastest growing areas, according to a new research report.
The report, ‘Employee Wellbeing Research 2017: The evolution of workplace wellbeing in the UK’, from Reward & Employee Benefits Association (REBA) in association with Punter Southall Health & Protection shows 45% of UK companies have a clearly-defined wellbeing strategy in place, compared to less than a third (30%) in 2016 – and 26% have had a strategy for more than three years. Of those that don’t, 46% plan on implementing one this year, 24% in the next few years and a quarter (25%) have it on their ‘wish list’.
Over a third (37%) launched their wellbeing strategy to improve employee engagement, and just over a quarter (26%) to improve organisational culture. Other drivers included improving productivity levels (11%), reducing long and short-term sickness absence (6% & 5%) and retaining talent (5%).
The survey was based on a 250 wellbeing, HR and employee benefits professionals, 58% of whom worked in organisations with over 1,000 staff. Most were in the private sector.
Beate O’Neil, Head of Wellbeing Consulting at Punter Southall Health & Protection said: “The jump in companies promoting employee health and wellbeing to improve their culture and engage employees demonstrates that wellbeing is no longer a ‘nice to have’, but an area of growing strategic importance.
“Whereas in the past many employers struggled to obtain budgets for wellbeing initiatives, almost two-thirds (65%) of respondents with a wellbeing strategy now have a dedicated budget. The median annual spend per employee on wellbeing is between £51 and £75, which is encouraging.”
Spending on wellbeing is expected to rise fastest amongst organisations currently without a wellbeing strategy.
Some 86% of employers are focusing on promoting physical activity and 82% on mental health in their wellbeing strategy. However, the report says there is less emphasis on eliminating negative behaviours such as smoking, alcohol use and drug addiction because employers think these require an individual approach and some see it as only offering support to a few rather than the whole workforce.
The top wellbeing initiatives offered by employers are employee assistance programmes (89%), followed by discounted or free gym membership (78%) and health screenings (63%).
Employers also claimed that employee assistance programmes (71%) were the most effective for their business, followed by on-site medical support (66%) and mental health support (56%). Employees on the other hand favoured free fruit (60%), discounted or free gym membership (42%) and on-site medical support (41%).
One of the fastest growing areas of wellbeing for 2017 is sleep management, with the number of companies including sleep in their wellbeing strategy set to double from 42% to 88% this year, says the report. The interest in sleep management comes after research from RAND Corporation showed lack of sleep experienced by UK workers costs the economy somewhere in the region of £40 billion a year due to the potential impact on employee performance, productivity and stress.
The wellbeing report found carers and financial education were also priorities. The number of companies offering support for carers is expected to jump from 37% to 83% this year. Meanwhile, more than a quarter of companies (27%) plan to add financial education or guidance to their health and wellbeing strategy over the next 12 months, and almost half (49%) will over the next few years.
Others will add ‘mindfulness’ sessions (39%) and health/wellbeing apps for use on smartphones (43%) although some media reports have questioned their effectiveness.
Similarly the number of employers providing access to a virtual GP has grown (16% vs 12%), as has the number offering wearable devices, such as pedometers or more advanced GP trackers (14% vs 10%).
When it comes to how employers are engaging their workforce, there are various approaches being used. The main methods of communication used are email (73%), intranet (70%) and posters and leaflets (63%), whilst over a quarter (26%) had a dedicated online wellbeing website or portal and 25% use wellbeing champions. Only around a third (32%) of employers train line managers to promote employee wellbeing.
Beate O’Neil added: “Having a wellbeing strategy in place is not enough – employers need to communicate the benefits, train line managers to support their programmes and use good technology to support their campaigns. Many companies aren’t making the most of social media, apps, audio or video (podcasts or YouTube) and text messaging to communicate their initiatives. They could be missing a trick particularly in terms of engaging younger, tech savvy workers.”