The Importance of Employee Wellbeing

The third feature in our new series; The Recruiters Insight. Each month, the HR Heads LinkedIn audience vote for a hot topic of the month - and HR Heads Director Jen Gaster provides her insight as a specialist recruiter with over 20 years experience of the ever changing market. This month's topic: AI in HR.

What is Wellbeing?

The conversation around wellbeing has come to the fore in the past 10 years.  Initially, it started as being the ‘perks’ offered by a business and an instrumental part of a broader benefits programme.  More recently, the wellbeing programme is cited as one that focuses on promoting a healthier lifestyle, offering work-life balance and reduces stress and mental health issues for employees. The Employee Assistance Programme continues to be the most popular wellbeing initiative, offered by more than 9/10 respondents, followed by an occupational sick pay scheme, which is operated by more than 82.9% respondents[1]. We spend lots of our ‘awake’ time at work and for this reason our work-life has come under considerable scrutiny.

Why is it important?

Companies give incentives, tools and support to help their employees to be healthy and now 45.2% of companies in UK have a wellbeing strategy. Businesses recognise that a healthy workforce means higher productivity.  As HR professionals, we get the sense that tangible benefits such as pensions, PMI, maternity leave make a difference to a company’s ability to attract employees but the feelings that these create can be very difficult to measure. In comparison, there is a mass of evidence that show how Wellbeing programmes benefit an organisation.  Key factors identified include:

  1. Improving the health of employees. By creating a change in behaviour, choices are made around healthier food options, exercise programmes, reduced smoking.

  2. Improving productivity through presenteeism.  Many of us have been physically present at work but not really achieved much. True presenteeism and reduced absence has been cited through employees suffering less stress, reduced mental health issues and reduced depression as a direct result of wellbeing programmes.

  3. Improving recruitment and retention. By offering incentives such as gym membership, health clinics, subsidised healthy food options, companies are more likely to attract employees.  87% of employees in the HealthMiles/Workforce Survey[2] said they consider these when choosing and employer.  A strong wellbeing strategy helps organisations to stand out from the crowd and be an ‘employer of choice’.

  4. Improving Employee Culture. Employees are an expensive resource to the business and its most important asset. A strong employee wellbeing programme demonstrates that the business values the employees. It can build and sustain high morale and engagement and create shared experiences for employees.

What are the challenges?

Despite the mass of evidence and research that has been conducted around employee wellbeing, many organisations find it difficult to tangibly measure and identify which elements of the programme are most effective and in turn, which are not. Despite a huge increase in the prevalence of wellbeing programmes, REBA found that 26.8% of companies still do not measure the impact of actions on health and wellbeing[3].

Health and wellbeing metrics must tread a fine line: they mustn’t expose confidential information yet still aim to nail down data that indicates what has caused a change in culture or engagement. Lots of work is being carried out by employers, consultants, providers and medical or fitness technology providers in this space to improve measurement, collate more robust data and work out which information matters and which is irrelevant (REBA/Punter Southall Health & Protection Employee Wellbeing Research 2018).

Even once an organisation has determined what it wants to introduce as a wellbeing programme, it can be difficult to know how to integrate it in the workplace without coming across as being dictatorial.  There are various considerations here:

  1. Physical – you can not force people to eat certain foods or to engage in a gym class or other such activities. Even if you only have a healthy offering in the work restaurant, people will choose to eat what they want (often bringing their own food in or going out to eat whatever they choose).

  2. Social – although a business might want to be collaborative, internal social networks exist and if a group choose not to participate, it is very hard to influence this. Far from creating a collective, this might serve to define a disparate group.

  3. Personal – an individual’s own development at work can be structured and influenced through a development programme but an LMS is not necessarily going to be able to affectively tackle some of the wellbeing issues. It can look at stress management and personal time organisation but has its limitations.  That said, 72.8% of companies say a high- pressure work environment is the biggest threat to staff wellbeing[4] so addressing this area is key.

  4. Practical – whilst a business can design and develop a wellbeing guide and integrate the wellbeing initiatives as part of the broader reward offering, it can be difficult to affect and change behaviours that are formed and established habits.

There is no disputing that if implemented well and really bought into, a strong wellbeing policy can foster a culture of health, drive high employee engagement and morale and ultimately improve the lives of employees whilst driving the success of the organisation.  However, there is work to be done.  Stress in the workplace and mental health and wellbeing are the priorities of many boardrooms according to REBA and yet only 15.8% of organisations have a defined mental health strategy in place.


[1] Reward and Employee Benefits Association 2018

[2] The Virgin HealthMiles/Workforce Survey 2018

[3] Debi O’Donovan, Partner – REBA 2018

[4] Punter Southall Health & Protection Employee Wellbeing Research 2018




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