Businesses prioritising wellbeing through benefits strategies

Employers look to flexible working, mentoring and training to enhance packages following ‘dramatic’ rise in interest in staff health

Businesses are looking to prioritise employee wellbeing in their benefits strategies, a survey of employers has found, as experts said the cost of failing to engage on the topic was becoming better understood.

A poll of 437 UK employers, conducted by Willis Towers Watson, found 75 per cent planned to incorporate wellbeing into their benefits strategies, with financial and ‘social’ wellbeing the main areas of concern.

More than a third (37 per cent) of businesses said they were focusing on financial wellbeing, and 35 per cent were focusing on social wellbeing, which Willis Towers Watson defined as feeling connected to and interacting well with others in the workplace and community. Another 31 per cent reported that they were prioritising stress and resilience management programmes as part of their work tackling mental health problems.

Two-thirds (63 per cent) of the employers surveyed said they were looking to enhance policies in areas such as flexible working and mentoring and training opportunities.

Charles Cotton, senior pay and reward adviser at the CIPD, said it was not surprising employers were trying to ensure their benefits packages supported employee welfare “given the impact that poor wellbeing can have on the individual and organisation”.

“The report highlights that wellness isn’t just about physical health, but mental health as well, with employers looking at ways of boosting both the financial and social wellbeing of their staff,” he said.

Cotton added that the report also showed many employers were moving to ensure their benefits packages supported their approach to diversity. The survey found 60 per cent of businesses wanted to improve diversity and inclusion through their overall benefits strategy.

“This often involves a careful balancing act of trying to offer benefits that meet the diverse needs of employees, while at the same time trying to deliver these in an inclusive manner,” said Cotton.

Mark Ramsook, senior director at Willis Towers Watson Health & Benefits, said there had been a “particularly dramatic” rise in the importance of wellbeing on the business and HR agenda.

“The importance of modernising and broadening the scope of employee benefits to meet the evolving needs and expectations of today’s workforces – and to raise the bar in the drive to attract and retain top talent – has been clearly recognised by UK employers,” Ramsook said, adding that the use of health-related business data was key to “meaningful and measurable” improvements to wellbeing.

Delivery and communication of benefits programmes was another business priority highlighted by the survey. More than four out of five (84 per cent) employers said improving communication was a priority, with 70 per cent looking to focus on online portals or apps, and 66 per cent looking to implement or improve self-service systems.

Separately, official figures on wellbeing in the UK showed there was a slight improvement in individual happiness in the last year.

The latest Personal wellbeing in the UK report from the Office for National Statistics said there had been very little change in the key personal wellbeing measure in the UK in the year to March 2019, but there had been a slight increase in the happiness index, and an improvement in average long-term anxiety ratings.