· 2 min read · Features

HR departments are increasingly prioritising employee wellbeing


Wellbeing schemes are not new. But since they initially emerged much has changed. They have evolved from seeing wellbeing as health and safety guidelines that seek to do no harm, to a wide range of initiatives that aim to tackle absences, presenteeism, poor productivity, employee engagement, staff retention and beyond the confines of the business, make employees happier and healthier.

Certainly the need for these kinds of interventions has never been clearer. In society obesity, chronic health conditions and mental health issues are on the rise. With such high stakes HR departments are increasingly prioritising employee wellbeing.

Smart businesses are joining up the dots to encourage their employees to become well connected through a new generation of wellbeing programmes. The basic recipe for these includes encouraging employees to get physically active and develop mental resilience, play a role in local communities, embrace a healthy social life, and even be aware of the role of sleep and nutrition. But these elements don't work in isolation. Employees can become more physically active while fundraising for charity or volunteering in their community. Better nutrition can be encouraged through social lunch clubs. Morrison's 'Miles for Smiles' campaign is an example of this. Employees are engaged in the charity of the year Save the Children and encouraged to get active at the same time.

For those organisations that don't have a wellbeing programme in place, creating a new scheme is often easier than expected. Integration is critical and many organisations are not making the most of the resources they already have in place to support their employees.

For those seeking to improve existing schemes the starting point should be to review what is already in place. For example one of the hardest things for organisations to achieve is not an overall increase in physical activity amongst its employees but an increase in employees who never take physical activity to take their first steps. While new showers, bike racks and company runs are all important, they are not enough to motivate new audiences to get started. Businesses must look again at the barriers that are stopping employees from becoming active and work on removing them.

In among the dismal reports on productivity, there are glimmers of hope in the attitude shift on employee wellbeing. Half of private companies are taking steps to reduce stress in the workplace - to bring down an estimated cost of £3.8 billion a year to UK businesses. Also the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) Absence Management survey has shown we're reaching a point of critical mass, with for the first time over half the respondents indicating a wellbeing strategy was in place. Likewise the research showed organisations that were actively evaluating their schemes were significantly more likely to have increased spend on wellbeing this year and predict a rise for next year.

The strong examples and pioneers of integrated employee wellbeing need to be promoted and celebrated, so others may follow where they lead. With an increase in the number of older workers, and a steady rise in young interns and apprentices, programmes must evolve to cater to employees' individual needs. It's about time business leader recognised having well-connected employees is not an optional extra, it's an economic imperative.

Jilly Forster (pictured) CEO of Forster Communications