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Employee Wellbeing Research 2018: Staff mental health and pressure at work top concerns for UK CEOs

Mental health in the workplace is the top priority for almost three in five (60%) CEOs in the UK and the area of employee wellbeing with which their board is most concerned, according to a new report. 


The Employee Wellbeing Research 2018 published by Reward & Employee Benefits Association (REBA) in association with Punter Southall Health & Protection.

Just one in six (16%) employers have a defined mental health strategy in place, however over a third (37%) plan to introduce one in the next 12 months and a further quarter (26%) by 2020. This suggests that by the early 2020s more than three-quarters (78%) of UK companies will have a defined mental health strategy.

Wellbeing spending rose in 2017 and is expected to rise further in 2018, yet it remains relatively low, with a median spend of just £26 to £50 per year per employee, even at organisations with a wellbeing strategy in place.

There has been a significant increase in corporate wellbeing programmes in the UK with almost half (45%) of organisations having a defined wellbeing strategy in place – up from less than a third (30%) in 2016. 84% of those without one are planning to introduce one either within the next 12 months or over the next three years.

What is driving the rise in wellbeing programmes?

For employers the key drivers of wellbeing strategies are to improve engagement and culture, with well over a quarter (30%) saying wellbeing strategies are primarily driven by a desire to increase employee engagement and 23% to improve organisational culture.

73% of respondents said that high pressure working environments are now the biggest threat to wellbeing and are worried about the negative impact on their employees. Other concerns include employees’ physical inactivity (55%) and managing the wellbeing of an ageing workforce (36%).

What do wellbeing programmes focus on?

Most employee wellbeing strategies address physical activity (85%), health and safety in the workplace (85%) and mental health (84%), while nearly three-quarters (73%) address work-life balance and over two thirds (69%) cover nutrition and healthy eating.

Risks to wellbeing programmes

But one striking issue is that programmes are not being driven by the board. Less than one in ten (8%) say the board actively drives the organisation’s wellbeing agenda and one in twenty (5%) say their board has little or no interest in employee wellbeing.

John Dean, chief commercial officer at Punter Southall Health & Protection, said, “Whereas in previous years few talked openly about mental health, it is now the top concern of UK employers. There is also a clear recognition that high pressured working environments put employees’ physical and mental health at risk.

“While there is a positive increase in companies adopting wellbeing programmes year on year, few strategies are being driven by the board and this is concerning. For wellbeing programmes to succeed, it is essential they are integrated into the business strategy and prioritised by the board,” he said.  

Debi O’Donovan, director at the Reward & Employee Benefits Association, said: “In a world of rapid change impacting the way we work and the skills employees need, a focus on resilience and wellbeing is a vital strategy for employers which want to run successful organisations. So, since our first research into employee wellbeing in 2016, it is encouraging to see the appetite for implementing effective wellbeing strategies continue to grow.

"The national focus on mental health is reflected in the survey results. Ensuring that the mental wellbeing of employees is safeguarded must be a priority and it is encouraging to see that over 80% of respondents highlighted this as an area that they will focus on.

However, we would like to see stronger leadership come from boards, because where we see wellbeing led from the top we also see the most impressive results for both employees and their organisations.”

Download a copy of the 88 page Employee Wellbeing Research 2018 (free to REBA Professional Members and all those working for REBA Associate Members).

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