Watch on demand: How to cater to a greater diversity of needs with your wellbeing strategy

When it comes to wellbeing, how can HR meet the many different needs of a diverse workforce? Panellists on HR magazine’s HR Lunchtime Debate met to discuss one of the people profession's top priorities for 2022.

The first step, said Angela Matthews, head of policy and research at the Business Disability Forum (BDF), is understanding your employee base.

She said: “It’s amazing, the amount of employers I’ve spoken to - even team leaders - who don’t know where their team members live, who they live with, or even who has broadband access.”


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Employers, she said, now have to look at the make-up of their employee base, going further than just protected characteristics like race or sexuality.

She added that organisations now have to ask who is prone to loneliness and who has the resources to keep themselves well.

Much of this first step, Matthews said, can come at the team leader level: “We’re seeing the nature of workplace relationships having to change, so that workplaces really know who their staff are, and what resources their staff have access to.

“You need to know that before you start designing your wellbeing strategy.”

Neil Morrison, group HR director at water company Severn Trent, agreed.

He said: “Understanding what people want is really important in terms of any kind of people strategy. 

“Rather than defining it from the centre, or coming out of what’s important to me, it must be important to everyone.”

Jas Rai, head of people at the British Library, added that huge pressure has fallen on HR to become experts in the various areas in which employees might need help .

She said: “I think HR teams themselves are absolutely exhausted from being this expertise.

“That’s where you can call upon people in your workforce to support you - employee networks, staff networks, and our colleagues in trade unions - really using them to help us understand the diverse needs of the organisation.”

Benefits are often seen as a significant part of the wellbeing offering.

Morrison said: “This is where, if we’re not careful, we end up going after fads and trinkets.

People can get carried away, he said, with distractions like apps that count your steps. But the basic provision of care, now and for the future, he added, is a fundamental part of the employer’s offering.

Benefits like a good pension scheme or healthcare, he added: “Are the fundamental cornerstones of looking after your workforce, and everything else builds on top of that.”

Matthews said many of these apps introduce an element of competition between colleagues, for example, how far your colleagues have run that day.

She said: “We’ve been inundated with emails from our disability network from disabled staff who say it’s not accessible to them.”

It is vital, she added, that the wellbeing initiatives you undertake be accessible to all your employees.

“I’m still going into offices where I’m seeing signs that say ‘Take the stairs instead of the lift.’ And we’ve got disabled employees and visitors who are having to request not to take the stairs.”

When asked how to sum up best practice for building an inclusive wellbeing strategy, Morrison said that employers should empower workers to come up with a solution that the organisation can then champion - and deliver.

“Ultimately, with so many different people experiencing so many different things, they are the best place to try and identify what’s actually important to them, and how we can make the workplace better for them.

Rai added: “Engage with your people. 

“But get your leadership on board, make sure they’re driving it and setting the standard and role modelling it.”


Watch the full webinar here.