2021 planning: employee benefits, workplace culture and employer strategy

REBA’s Employee Wellbeing Research and Employee Wellbeing Congress highlighted some key common trends that are likely to affect the way that workplace culture, wellbeing benefits provision and employer strategies will evolve into 2021.

2021 planning: employee benefits, workplace culture and employer strategy

A more inclusive approach to wellbeing

In 2020, more than half of the respondents to REBA’s Employee Wellbeing Research said that their wellbeing strategy is available to all of their staff. That compared to just 25% in our 2019 findings.

This is positive, showing that wellbeing is no longer a head office-only perk, or available to staff in certain roles or certain jobs. But as we’ve seen throughout the Employee Wellbeing Congress, creating a more inclusive wellbeing strategy requires more than simply being able to access benefits and services (although that’s an important start).

There’s been some great progress in areas such as gender-related health. For example, our research findings showed that 59% of employers have either introduced or plan to introduce menopause support in 2020. However, there’s still further to go in many areas such as making sure that mental health support is culturally appropriate, as Poppy Jaman, CEO of the City Mental Health Alliance, highlighted in our panel debate on 30 September. 

And, Young Money blogger Iona Bain reinforced the importance of focusing on younger employees’ financial wellbeing in her Congress talk. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many younger workers risk building up debts that could affect their wellbeing for many years to come.

The bigger picture of mental health

Mental wellbeing continues to be a major concern for employers, but a notable trend in our research this year was recognition that personal issues, such as caring responsibilities and relationships, can have a major impact on workplace productivity.

While work stress caused by deadlines or workload was still the highest-ranked factor causing mental health issues for employees (78%), 71% of employers said that personal problems were also affecting their staff’s wellbeing. But, while 68% of organisations agreed that staff feel able to discuss mental health problems at work without fear of stigma, 13% said this was not the case.

Employee Assistance Programmes are a key part of employers’ offering to support employees who are struggling either with work or personal problems, with 93% of employers saying that they offer one. This was borne out by the discussions in our Big Conversation on Day 4 of the Employee Wellbeing Congress, where participants talked about the importance of making sure that EAP providers are a good partner, and willing to work with the employer to design messages for different groups of employees and across different locations.

Supporting employees through organisational change

One of the most significant findings from our Employee Wellbeing Research this year related to organisational change. In 2020, 57% of respondents said that organisational change is posing a significant threat to employee wellbeing, compared to just 17% in 2019. This was one of the biggest shifts we saw in the research this year, and with the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic still to be felt by many businesses, this trend is likely to continue.

Several of our high-profile speakers also talked of the importance of being able to deal with and accept change, including Dame Kelly Holmes who spoke about her own experiences in handling change and how they have impacted her resilience. Josh Krichefski, CEO of MediaCom, also pointed out that, in order to succeed businesses have to be comfortable with uncertainty. “But humans don’t like change,” he added. “We need to help staff and lead by example.”

Evidence and data

Our 2020 research found that employers are still evolving their approach to using data when it comes to employee wellbeing, both to understand the biggest wellbeing issues in the workforce, and to evaluate the effectiveness of wellbeing programmes. While 92% of employers say they are carrying out some analysis of their strategy, this is most commonly based on proxy measures such as employee engagement and absence rates. And, more than half of respondents in our research said that they have yet to link their wellbeing initiatives with the causes of insurance claims in the workforce.

Our Employee Wellbeing Congress panel debate on 23 September brought together clinical practitioners from BP, Rolls-Royce, Johnson & Johnson, and GSK. All were emphatic that employers need to be able to access and use data that helps them understand the requirements of the workforce – and build on this understanding to deliver the best benefits and support for employees.

They also emphasised the importance of asking for evidence in assessing the credibility of health and wellbeing suppliers, holding them to account to make sure they can provide services that match their claims.

REBA’s Professional Members can download the Employee Wellbeing Research here.

The author is Maggie Williams, content director at REBA.

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