An evolution: how employers are embracing employee wellness

As more employers understand the business benefits of employee wellbeing and broaden its scope of coverage, what ethical considerations should they make? We have witnessed a tremendous increase in interest in employee wellbeing strategies over the past few years. But we are aware that such strategies are still in their infancy in the UK.



Our recent report Employee Wellbeing Research 2017: The evolution of workplace wellbeing in the UK’  produced in association with Punter Southall Health & Protection, is based on the answers of those employers with some degree of engagement in wellbeing – they are either already running schemes or plan to start within the next few years.

It does not capture the vast majority of employers out there yet to realise the business benefits of employee wellbeing. But they will in time.

Rise of agile working

The world of work is changing around us with the rise of digital devices and computerisation and an increasingly agile and piecemeal-based labour market (as opposed to permanently-employed one). These changes bring about new challenges for us a society, and as employers.

How will the people who work for us, in whatever capacity, be treated? Does employee wellbeing mean offering initiatives to keep people productive and working like finely-tuned cogs in a machine, or is it about having a culture of caring for employees as human beings? The line is very fine and needs to be carefully considered.

A digital device that measures employee data to assist with performance and health can be a great tool for both employer and employee. But it has the potential to become a way to discriminate against certain groups of staff. How long before staff who refuse to wear certain devices are told they cannot get certain wellbeing benefits, must pay more for insurances, or have their performance reviews linked to their health?

Ethical question must be asked

This research reflects the exciting developments in wellbeing ahead – employers are willing to embrace digital devices. But ethical questions must be asked every step of the way.

For the majority of our respondents, employee wellbeing is still primarily focused on physical and mental health. But for those at the vanguard, employee wellbeing is becoming the new total reward, the new employee engagement. These forward-thinking reward and employee benefits practitioners consider wellbeing to encompass broader emotional and financial health too.

Speaking to employers doing very good work in the wellbeing space, we at REBA can see a huge variance in practices. For some a wellbeing strategy means having a comprehensive range of initiatives, for others it is vital that any such initiatives are tied into business objectives and measured against them.

It takes time to build the case

The very few employers doing it really well can demonstrate the data at board level across a range of measures. But you can bet they didn’t start that way. Someone had to press the case, persuade senior leadership to back them, and gradually build it over the years, learning what works for their particular organisation along the way.

No benefits package is one-size-fits-all. This is especially true of employee wellbeing. Workplace culture is crucial to the success or failure of wellbeing strategies and initiatives. And cultures differ completely across workplaces.

How senior leaders and line managers are seen to act will have a bigger effect on workplace wellbeing than anything an HR, reward, benefits or wellbeing practitioner can implement.

Wellbeing is all about people caring for people.

Debi O'Donovan is director of REBA.

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