Just one in four UK businesses have wellbeing programmes, survey suggests

Many delay acting on employee health, despite recognising the potential benefits in managing stress and building resilience

Only a quarter of UK businesses have a wellbeing programme in place, despite the vast majority recognising the positive impact it could have on both employees and the organisation, research has found.

A survey of employers, conducted by the consultancy Buck, found just 26 per cent of firms had a wellbeing programme, well below the international average of 42 per cent.

Buck said many businesses were delaying acting on wellbeing, with less than a third (29 per cent) of respondents planning to implement a stress management or resilience-building plan in the next 12 months compared to more than half (57 per cent) who were planning to do so in the next three years.

That is despite widespread acceptance of the benefits of employee wellbeing, with 97 per cent of employers recognising wellbeing programmes could help employees manage stress, depression or anxiety and work-life balance issues.

A similar number (94 per cent) also said improving engagement and morale was a core reason for implementing a strategy.

Anne-Marie Ayre, head of health and productivity at Buck in the UK, said businesses needed a “pioneering attitude” towards wellbeing. “Nearly all the businesses we surveyed have a clear understanding of the benefits that wellbeing initiatives can bring – but they need to put these ideas into practice,” she said.

“Businesses that establish a wellbeing programme for their staff not only experience increased employee engagement, but also benefit from higher staff retention and productivity.

“In order to achieve these goals, however, companies need to provide something that is truly innovative and beneficial to the employee experience.”

The survey questioned 252 predominantly large businesses across 52 countries.

However, Rachel Suff, senior policy advisor at CIPD, told People Management the picture in the UK might be more positive than the figures suggest.

Our research, published last May, found around 40 per cent [of employers] had a standalone wellbeing strategy or plans, and we have found the proportion with a focused health and wellbeing strategy has gone up slowly over recent years.” she said.

She added those organisations that did have a standalone wellbeing strategy tended to see more positive outcomes, including lower sickness absence, better culture around health and wellbeing, and a more inclusive culture generally.

But Suff said businesses needed to be better at making health and wellbeing a strategic priority. “Make sure all your actions are joined up around health and wellbeing – then you’re more likely to reap the benefits of your investments,” she said.

“The trouble with a lot of organisations is they don’t necessarily see health and wellbeing as a strategic priority. Perhaps they don’t train line managers, who are really integral to this, or senior leaders aren’t on board.

“It’s these fundamental organisational issues that need to be addressed. There’s no point having stand-alone health and wellbeing interventions.”

HR is well placed to engage senior management by making the business case for health and wellbeing, Suff added. “It’s pointing out at a simple level that a healthier workforce is a happier workforce. Senior managers will grasp that, because many do understand that employee engagement is important to their business.”