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Five strategies to support employee engagement in health and wellbeing

What’s going on with your staff engagement in health and wellbeing? If you’re struggling with poor employee engagement then read on for advice, tips and strategies to bolster it.

Thankfully, health and wellbeing strategies are now much higher up the corporate agenda, with the turbulent two years of Covid-19 sharpening their focus. Some 80% of organisations claim to offer physical wellbeing programmes, with even more (87%) offering emotional and mental wellbeing support.

So, on the face of it, it sounds as if there’s nothing to worry about. But balance those figures with how many employees are actually using such programmes. Less than a third (32%) are said to be making use of physical wellbeing programmes, and only 23% are exploiting the mental health support. So, what’s going on?

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) claims 61% of employees are keen to engage with health and wellbeing initiatives and yet there’s real disparity between availability and usage so one has to ask why that is? One contributor to the CIPD report claimed: “Senior managers need to engage with all colleagues and not just assume what they need. Different groups need different things.” And they’re not wrong! (more on that later).

The role of the line manager

The CIPD concluded that the critical link in the employee wellbeing chain is the supportive role that line managers play. A recent Financial Times article observed: “It’s all about the line managers – from the shop floor to the top floor. They need to have interpersonal, social, and empathetic skills.”

But, as the article pointed out, line managers tend to be promoted on technical expertise whereas what is needed is a mix of people and technical skills. The managers need to feel confident and capable to spot warning signs of ill health in the employees they look after, support them and have the practical skills to monitor and signpost them.

But while line managers are certainly being trained by organisations, only 38% of HR respondents [1] agree that they are confident enough to have sensitive discussions and signpost employees to sources of help when needed. When it comes to identifying early signs of mental ill health, only 29% of HR respondents believe managers are confident or competent.

It’s not just a question of equipping managers with effective Line Manager training, expert guidance and support, it’s also about affording them the time and space to focus on people management. They’re under considerable pressure in this economic climate — indeed some may even be facing their own health issues — all of which requires understanding and support from the top as well as changes in company culture.

Taking employees with you on the journey

As reflected earlier, don’t assume what your employees need to be more engaged in health and wellbeing; get their feedback and involve them in the conversations and make them aware of what’s already on offer. For some, it may be enough to provide an employee assistance programmes (EAP) and a wellbeing focus day once a year, for others, far greater support and guidance across the wide arena of health and wellbeing may be what is needed to help them achieve a better work/life balance.

Lord Alan Sugar’s recent ‘lazy gits’ comment about PwC’s Friday afternoons off understandably drew much criticism but it would be wrong to label it a generational gulf, which is why it’s so important to consider all employees views, young and old. Gallup claims it’s critical that wellbeing is conceptualised and addressed holistically across all five of its essential elements; career, social, financial, community and physical. And this makes a lot of sense as what supports the wellbeing of Generation Z at the start of their career, for instance, will be different to what Baby Boomers need as they approach retirement.

Improving employee turnover

Are your people your most important asset?

A lot of companies claim this but their investment in people is often modest when compared to plant, equipment and other assets. A third (33%) of organisations increased their wellbeing spend in the past year in response to Covid-19 but, looking forward to the next 12 months, over half (55%) do not expect to change their health and wellbeing budget.

Maybe it’s time to start viewing wellbeing support differently. Organisations think nothing of investing in preventive maintenance (PM) programmes to keep equipment running and preventing downtime from unexpected failures. Why not apply the same principle to employees?

With PM, the strategy is to plan routine servicing on equipment to minimise the risk of breakdown. With reactive maintenance (aka run to failure), and arguably what’s being seen with presenteeism, you’re already looking at assets that are ‘failing.’ This not only damages productivity but also impacts your bottom line.

Line Management training in developing practical skills around managing employees with poor mental health, Wellbeing Champion training and Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) could all be considered as forms of PM to help organisations spot warning signs of presenteeism and know how to approach, assess and assist someone before they’re in crisis. Presenteeism remains prevalent in business although CIPD 2022 figures report it was observed less in the workplace and more in those working from home.

The Thrive4Life approach to improving employee engagement

Thrive4Life has identified five strategies that organisations could put in place to maximise their investment in their health and wellbeing programme to boost employee participation.

  1. Lead from the top. Make it real with communications, such as senior leaders speaking on videos about their own health issues, and how the organisation supports them. Your employees need to know that your leaders really care, are empathetic to their needs, and committed to their health and wellbeing.
  2. Ensure that your employees know what health benefits are available to them. Don’t assume people know what health and wellbeing benefits your organisation offers, or assume they will recognise when they need them. Health benefits should be regularly publicised and further information on them should be easy to find and access. Thrive4Life has developed a cost-effective innovative tool that ‘takes the pain out of managing health and wellbeing’ called the Health and Wellbeing Discovery Hub. This can be fully customised to your organisational needs whatever stage you are at with your health and wellbeing strategy.
  3. Reduce wellbeing stigma and apathy. Many employees still fear stigmatisation for admitting to emotional or mental health issues. Again, videos of senior leaders recounting their own experiences can help but far better to equip a network of MHFA trained staff and Wellbeing Champions to educate, encourage and assist their peers. Also, invest in Line Manager training/guidance (only two-fifths (40% [1]) of organisations claim to be doing this) as it will empower them to discuss personal wellbeing topics with team members and reassure them it’s okay not to be okay. 
  4. Reduce the time and effort needed to participate in wellbeing programs. Nearly two out of five people (38%) claimed they were too busy to take part in physical wellbeing programmes in 2020 even though they were available. Far better to make wellbeing programmes opt-out rather than opt-in, or make them competitive as in ‘steps’ challenges. And rather than make wellbeing activities just another thing to do in a long list of things to do, try embedding them in work processes.
  5. Health and wellbeing is so integrally related to performance that it should become a touch point in team catch ups and performance reviews. Introducing health and wellbeing to your regular team catch-ups, so it becomes part of everyday management talk. In performance reviews: What has the employee focused on in that assessment period to better support his or her mental and physical wellbeing? Introducing this discussion to the performance review process emphasises to employees how health and wellbeing underpins their performance and will help to catalyse them into making the effort to support their health better.

Why you need to focus on getting more employee engagement in health and wellbeing

Getting more employees engaged with your health and wellbeing initiatives benefits both you and your employees. Gallup found a striking relationship between engagement and wellbeing, with major consequences for employee productivity and performance. But it requires getting to know what your employees need and empowering team leaders to act autonomously but report back and reach a minimum standard.

How Thrive4Life can help!

Thrive4Life can provide customised Line Manager training as well as MHFA and Wellbeing Champion training. We offer health promotion in the form of an extensive library of engaging content with well-designed articles / ePublications and monthly specialist talks on all aspects of health and wellbeing.

For companies who are looking for support with a strategy and ongoing process of health and wellbeing engagement that they can build over time, Thrive4Life has used a backdrop of over 30 years’ experience of delivering specialist health, safety and wellbeing guidance across multiple industries to develop an innovative, cost-effective solution that can help any size of organisation in the form of a fully customisable Health and Wellbeing Discovery Hub.

For more information about Thrive4Life services and training courses, get in touch or call us on 020 8972 9675.

  1. CIPD health and wellbeing at work survery (2022):
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