Why employers are paying more attention to wellbeing in 2022

New survey data shows that as we exit the pandemic, businesses are seeing employee health as a foundation for change, explains Phil Sproston

Last year, HR was still geared towards delivering necessary changes to operations – and quickly – in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. With those changes now in place and the Omicron wave receding, 2022 is about more growth and bouncing back.

For HR, that means not only recognising the importance of wellbeing in principle, but actively building platforms so a workforce can have the resilience it needs. Wellbeing for employees is now a necessity.

The evidence comes from new benchmarking data on priorities and people practices among more than 1,800 leading employers worldwide, brought together as part of the Top Employers certification programme. The drive for growth has shifted from number five in the list of business priorities in the UK up to second (just behind the ongoing support for organisational and cultural change). The health and safety of employees remains third in the list of business priorities, with businesses realising its importance in good times as well as bad.

The latter is a trend that resonates particularly with Top Employers in the UK. What we’re now seeing among the UK’s 84 Certified Top Employers is how they are using wellbeing measures proactively to support their critical business priorities. It’s recognition that wellbeing is more than a token priority.

We are at a crossroads on health and wellbeing. Do we slip back into a culture where overworking is considered glamorous and being tired and stressed is a badge of honour? Since the start of the pandemic, figures suggest working weeks have only got longer for many people. Or in the wake of the pandemic experience, do we find a genuinely new form of healthy balance? 

The new data from UK Top Employers shows how nuts and bolts action is being used to support employee mental health in particular, being clear on the dividing line between where work ends and home life begins:

  • 63 per cent offer burnout recovery support (compared with 49 per cent in last year’s data); 

  • 58 per cent now guarantee time to “unplug” or take stress-relief breaks (versus 44 per cent last year);

  • 65 per cent now actively discourage use of email outside normal working hours (48 per cent);

  • 48 per cent offer programmes for coping with information overload (38 per cent).

This is backed up by greater prominence and participation in wellbeing activities:

  • 96 per cent now promote physical activities (when it was 79 per cent); 

  • 98 per cent have initiatives to raise awareness on emotional wellbeing;

  • 83 per cent consistently use wellbeing apps to help their employees;

  • 67 per cent involve their employees in the design of wellbeing strategy. 

Interestingly, on average, the best UK employers are more active on health and wellbeing support than their counterparts in the rest of the world. So, for example, almost all (98 per cent) have an EAP in place, compared with 71 per cent when looking across other countries.

  • 80 per cent consistently have a wellbeing champion to drive initiatives (versus 59 per cent); 

  • 76 per cent offer religious or spiritual facilities for worship (26 per cent); 89 per cent offer financial education (60 per cent); 

  • 83 per cent make use of technology in the form of wellbeing apps to drive change (56 per cent).

In all of this there is a clear recognition of the importance of holistic wellbeing, how full engagement and the energy for taking on new challenges isn’t solely founded on physical health.

Evidence from engagement surveys undertaken by our UK Top Employers backs up the need to think about the ‘whole employee’. From being 10th in the list of priorities for development from the employees’ point of view, work/life balance has jumped up to second place in the course of one year.

In general, supporting the drive for growth means HR needs to look at the link between wellbeing and engagement. That means listening – and paying more attention to staff as individuals. Employees expect to be consulted over how they feel about the business they work for multiple times a year. 62 per cent of the UK’s Top Employers offer ‘pulse’ surveys multiple times per year (81 per cent in addition to their annual engagement survey compared with 69 per cent last year). 

In the current battle for the right talent to drive growth, the best HR teams will not only be clear about how important employee wellbeing is but also the actions required to deliver it. 

Phil Sproston is region manager for UK & Ireland at Top Employers Institute