· Comment

Echo mental health pandemic calls for wellbeing change

COVID-19 and the imminent ‘echo pandemic’ in mental health means companies must overhaul their wellbeing programmes to focus on greater engagement and culture change.

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the corporate world’s focus on the health and wellbeing of their people.

What was once a focus of HR departments, considered a ‘hygiene’ factor, has now been elevated to a board level issue with its increased importance highlighted by a recent report from the Reward & Employee Benefits Association (REBA) and Mercer Marsh Benefits (MMB) that found 85% of HR teams plan to increase their focus on employee wellbeing post-pandemic.

The war for talent is raging and employee wellbeing policies will be an important differentiator for companies looking to attract and retain the best talent moving forward.

Despite this, corporate wellbeing programmes have not caught up with changing employee preferences, while at the same time failing to deliver real outcomes or behaviour change. They have been shown to be unfit for the post-pandemic world of work.

Wellbeing at work:

Employees believe mental health conditions impede their careers

Alastair Campbell: the importance of mental health during the coronavirus pandemic

Employers boost wellbeing funding during coronavirus pandemic

By failing to provide what people want and need in the future, they are not helping support the delivery of wider business efficiency and performance objectives.

Companies can address these shortcomings and build wellbeing programmes valued by employees by changing the way that they approach wellbeing - by engaging in a different way, putting mental health at the core and emphasising cultural change.

Many corporate wellbeing programmes are not failing because they are underfunded.

Mercer research from 2020 has showed that half of companies surveyed spend more than 16% of base pay on their employee benefits packages. They are failing because companies offer the wrong programmes and policies and don’t create the right culture to drive employee engagement around wellbeing.


Engaging employees

Technology is a solution, but most companies have yet to successfully integrate widely adopted technologies, such as mobile phones, into employee wellbeing policies. This needs to change so benefits reflect employees’ reality.

We launched our own well-being app, Ondo, a year ago, with the aim of improving physical, mental, social and financial well-being among our people. The deployment of this technology has transformed how our people engage with our well-being programme. They access the app 24 times a week on average compared to traditional online portals which they only access once or twice per year.

Benefits need to be more closely aligned with what employees actually want. Current shortcomings highlighted by our research found only half of UK workers agree their benefits are highly relevant.

The pandemic has also highlighted how important it is for employers to support their employees with their mental health, with 60% of individuals questioned in our recent survey believe the pandemic has negatively impacted their mental health.


Culture is key

Top-down cultural change, not just benefits and policies, is key to improving employee well-being.

Business leaders must demonstrate and embed the behaviours they want to see so employees feel supported, empowered and included as this will have the greatest impact on wellbeing. With c-suite focus on wellbeing never higher, it is also critical that leaders walk the walk - what they say and what they do must be aligned.

The pandemic impacted every person and every business in the UK.

As we emerge from lockdown, businesses must ensure they maintain their focus on employee well-being, with the ‘echo’ mental health pandemic being a specific issue that will need to be carefully navigated.

The pandemic has led to a clear demonstration of creativity and compassion by many business leaders and by applying the lessons they have learned in these areas to their corporate wellbeing programmes, companies will be able to both support their employees in the challenges ahead and emerge as winners in the war for talent in this new working world.


Nick McClelland is partner and UK growth leader at Mercer Marsh Benefits