The winter months and seasonal affective disorder can have a real and immediate impact on the workforce and the number of sick days each employee takes – we explore the ways in which employers are tackling wellbeing at work and mental health challenges through their reward strategies.
Taking the time to rest and recuperate
Data on sickness absences obtained by the Office for National Statistics in November 2019 revealed minor illnesses were the most common reason for sick leave, responsible for 38.5 million days lost over 2018-2019, accounting for 27.2 per cent of this type of absence. The results also showed that 17.5 million sick days were taken because of mental health conditions – including stress, depression and anxiety – representing 12.4 per cent of the total sick days reported. A greater number of people are reporting mental health challenges, suggesting that they feel empowered by the recent cultural shift in awareness of these conditions in the wake of celebrities and Royal Family members talking about their own struggles. This ability to identify mental health issues and seek support is an important step in overcoming the pressures of presenteeism and enabling employees to take the time to recover from illness.
The role of the employer in employee mental health and wellbeing
Paydata’s UK Reward Management Survey results in autumn 2019 captured whether respondents had a dedicated budget for mental health and wellbeing programmes in their business; 55 per cent said that they did not. Return on investment was frequently cited as a barrier to overcome when requesting resource in this area, with 82 per cent citing a lack of clarity over how to measure success as a difficulty they are grappling with. Employers also reported workplace stigma as the top challenge in managing mental health and wellbeing. This suggests that more needs to be done to build a concrete business case around how dedicated mental health and openness around employee wellbeing can drive innovation and productivity in every organisation. When it comes to implementing mental health initiatives, employers cited the biggest pressures as time, cost and resources. Communication and awareness is key to ensure individuals know what help is available.
Recognising that presenteeism undermines productivity
Overwhelmingly, employers are recognising their responsibility to support employees with their wider wellbeing, specifically in relation to their mental health. 83 per cent of respondents in Paydata’s UK Reward Management survey had policies and procedures in place to address mental health and wellbeing in the workplace. The changing face of the workplace, particularly whereby technology has facilitated constant access to work emails, has driven the need for people to feel connected and constantly available. Hours spent doing poor quality work whilst ill actually undermines productivity for a longer period. A culture that recognises that presenteeism undermines productivity is better equipped from the outset to support employees holistically with their wider health and financial concerns that in turn can help to increase employee wellbeing and drive engagement levels.
Tackling the drivers behind workplace stress
According to the CIPD, a quarter of HR professionals believe that poor financial wellbeing is a major factor in workplace stress, which is a driving force behind sick leave. This affects the employee in the first instance, but soon translates into the delivery of their work and the customer experience. Setting in place proactive strategies to lay the foundations of wider employee wellbeing can support employees in the long-term and directly translate into a positive customer experience. When it comes to supporting financial planning as an employer, ensuring your workforce is receiving competitive pay is not a motivator in itself, but if individuals feel their level of pay is inappropriate or unfair in relation to the wider market, this will be a demotivator. Introducing an effective system that provides an objective framework for reward decisions to be accurately and fairly made is crucial in ensuring that employees are financially satisfied. Financial education is a key benefit that builds upon this fair system of pay, providing further support for employees looking to establish effective personal budgets and savings.
Benefits beyond the physical
Financial wellbeing is one dimension of a wider movement where employers are extending their focus beyond the physical aspects of employee benefits, which can include gym memberships, medical and dental check ups and popular Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP) which can offer broader advice and support. Insights into mental health in the workplace from Paydata’s autumn UK Reward Management Survey suggested employers must make a business case to effect long-term change and establish the return on investment in mental health and wellbeing programmes. Just as EAP featured in the top mental health and wellbeing initiatives in the workplace, they were reported as one of the top three benefits offered to employees as part of their annual packages. 92 per cent also offered flexible working and 86 per cent offered access to counselling services. There is a clear opportunity for mental health and wellbeing initiatives to work hand in hand to support employees, instigating long-term cultural awareness and change.
Employee benefits increasingly reflect employee values
Benefits packages are now being reviewed annually by the majority of employers, illustrating the critical role they play in attracting and retaining talent, and the wider role they play in defining the values of a workplace. They have evolved from traditional cash incentives to more value-driven opportunities. More creative benefits consistently feature that relate to employee health and wellbeing. 70 per cent offer bike to work schemes, 42 per cent offer gym memberships and 57 per cent offer health check-ups, showing that many businesses are looking to support health and wellbeing. Many are based on the wider support employers can offer to employees that take their values into consideration, from volunteering days or ‘Give as you Earn’ plans, to offering wider financial and mental health support in the form of EAPs.
Shaping external perceptions and defining company culture
Promoting wider wellbeing as a value within organisations can also evidence and strengthen the employee value proposition. Virgin Atlantic reinvigorated their benefits package, taking a proactive stance around healthcare and retirement, providing healthcare that maximised mental health support and offering flexible working that accommodated retirement plans and family commitments. Actively listening to their employees was critical in their approach to define a benefits plan that promoted wider wellbeing within the workplace. This becomes a unique selling point in itself for current employees and candidates looking to join the industry, creating an effective package to retain and attract the right talent.
Define what works for you
Competitive benefits and reward strategies underpin employee wellbeing and drive efficiency in the workplace. Organisations should take the opportunity to design a package that drives employee wellbeing by reflecting value in employees’ eyes. Each organisation will undoubtedly define wellbeing in the workplace as something unique to their business strategy and culture.
About the author
Paydata is an ethical reward management consultancy, committed to making lives better at work. Paydata has helped customers successfully fine-tune their reward and HR approach for over 20 years, ensuring employers offer competitive salary and benefits packages, benchmarking competitors and the wider market. It also defines roles within companies, providing pay systems that support career progression, bridge the gender pay gap and deliver the business strategy.