Less than half of UK employers have a formal wellbeing strategy, poll finds

Many firms are focusing on mental health, but experts urge businesses to take a more holistic look at how they support their workforces

Less than half (44 per cent) of UK employers have an overarching wellbeing strategy in place, research has found, raising concerns that, despite marked investment in health and benefits, employer activity in this area lacks strategic focus.

A poll of 332 HR professionals in the Aon 2021 UK Benefits and Trends Survey found that while the majority had formal strategies in place for specific needs such as mental and physical wellbeing (76 and 61 per cent respectively), there was a notable lack of an overarching, comprehensive strategy tying them together.

Moreover, a fifth (22 per cent) of those surveyed said they did not intend to devise a strategy within the next 12-18 months, while 70 per cent did not have a designated budget for health and wellness.

Mark Witte, head of health and risk consulting at Aon, said while there was no shortage of investment in health and benefits generally, or of support for specific issues, employers often lacked a strategic focus when it came to wellbeing.

“There is a danger that the impact of the pandemic means employers focus the majority of their efforts on emotional and mental initiatives,” Witte said. “While this is vitally important, we urge employers to ensure the other pillars of wellbeing are not forgotten.” These include physical, financial and social wellbeing, 

Witte added that the events of the past year had elevated the importance of employee health as a “business-critical issue”. “This year will undoubtedly see continued focus on wellbeing activity with a greater demand for data and insight to help not just strategy design, but also better measure value and return on investment,” he said.

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The survey found just 9 per cent of businesses were actively measuring their return on investment from their wellbeing programmes, despite it being a crucial way to assess and tailor them to their employees’ needs.

Past studies have found that a lack of data hinders organisations’ efforts to track and measure the effectiveness of their wellbeing initiatives. Last year, in research from Axa, two-fifths (43 per cent) of employers cited poor-quality data as a hindrance, while 25 per cent said a lack of data analytics expertise was a barrier to proving effectiveness.

Jonny Gifford, senior adviser for organisational behaviour at the CIPD, said the issue of good-quality data urgently needed addressing. “Data should be relevant, representative, valid – in that it measures what it sets out to measure – and reliable. Unfortunately it is most often not,” he said.