How to create an agile wellbeing strategy

An agile wellbeing strategy can help businesses respond to changing employee health needs, whatever the year ahead has in store, says Laura Wade

The past couple of years have created a huge shift in the importance employees place on being helped to stay healthy. Recent research shows that 86 per cent of employees now believe their employer is responsible for their health and wellbeing, with more than three in five (62 per cent) saying the support provided makes them less likely to move elsewhere.

Yet no one can predict what the year ahead holds. New challenges, ranging from long Covid and the NHS backlog to burnout and fatigue, are already affecting different people in different ways, meaning it’s never been more important to create a responsive strategy. So here are five steps towards keeping your people healthy, whatever 2022 holds.

Look at your data

Data matters because it gives true focus on what’s needed and allows measurable goals and targets to be set. Sickness data, for example, tells you what’s causing people to be absent; EAP data tells you what people are worried about; and exit interview data shows where people didn’t feel looked after. While employee pulse surveys show how people feel about the support already provided and what issues are currently emerging.

Biometric data, gained from health assessments and ‘know your number’ initiatives, can show where future problems might occur and help to calculate the increased risk of employees developing diabetes, cancer or cardiovascular disease, due to unhealthy habits and more sedentary lifestyles following lockdowns and work from home mandates.

Decide what to prioritise

There might be some obvious areas to tackle when it comes to reducing issues that are generating sickness absence. But it’s also important to examine how different areas of wellbeing impact on wider business strategy.

If high levels of stress and poor work-life balance aren’t causing people to become sick, but are causing them to leave the business, how much is this costing in terms of recruitment, training and reputation? If people working from home have become more sedentary, how has this increased the risk of musculoskeletal injuries and how much could be saved by supporting them now before they become too sick to work?

Make the business case

Compare your data to national averages to see where your business could do better. Use your analysis to make the case for which health and wellbeing goals to focus on in the short, medium and longer term. Don’t forget about long-term, preventative health goals, as these often cost little to rectify with behaviour change education yet can generate the biggest returns.

Once you’ve identified key focus areas, get buy-in from senior stakeholders and set benchmarks and goals. Don’t just think in terms of sickness absence – also consider employee engagement, retention and attraction. You might even want to look at customer satisfaction factors linked to employee engagement.

Create an action plan

Create a calendar of wellbeing days linked to seasonal awareness days, such as World Mental Health Day, Men’s Health Day and Know Your Numbers Day. These occasions get lots of media attention, making it far easier to get your message across. People are also most motivated to make lifestyle and behaviour changes in January, so it’s a great time to promote new initiatives that help employees get healthy.

Keep abreast of new trends and developments as they emerge, so that e-learning or webinars can be quickly rolled out to help employees with specific challenges, be this managing pain while waiting for delayed operations due to the NHS backlog or a rise in fatigue or burnout. If your data shows certain demographics are more at risk of emerging issues, create specific campaigns for them to reduce the risk of them going off sick or becoming unproductive, while boosting your reputation as a caring and diverse employer.

Make it cost-effective

Demonstrate cost savings, in terms of reduced sickness absence or increased retention, to stakeholders to justify funding further initiatives. Also look at how salary sacrifice schemes might reduce the cost of benefits to both employees and the business.

If you can’t afford preventative services, such as full health MOTs, consider offering a basic service with the option for employees to pay extra for the full service if they want. Consider how to provide services outside of traditional face-to-face models – for instance, via postal health screening or AI-driven mental health counselling apps. This will achieve far more than simply keeping costs down. It will also ensure services remain accessible to people working from home depending how the pandemic and working patterns progresses over the next year.

Laura Wade is divisional director of ToHealth