Delivering an effective employee wellbeing strategy: why it matters


Workplace wellbeing is often regarded as a “fluffy” term by business leaders, but employee wellbeing strategy is rising up the corporate agenda as smart companies begin to realise what it can bring to employee engagement and the bottom line. Linda Levesque, HR director at Unum, offers some practical tips on how to deliver an effective wellbeing programme.

Employees who feel cared for by their employer are 27% more likely to stay with them for more than five years (ICM Research, 2014). This is a considerable financial incentive when you consider that the average cost of replacing a member of staff earning £25,000 or more is £30,614 (Cass Business School, 2013).

Wellbeing resources

Good practice manual: Wellbeing

Despite this, recent research from financial protection specialist Unum has found that more than one-third of businesses do not have an employee wellbeing strategy in place. In fact, two-thirds of companies do not even have processes to monitor the mental and physical health of employees (Opinion Matters, 2015).

Understanding employee needs

So, what can be done? Identifying what support employees need can seem like an overwhelming challenge to many employers. A simple way of addressing this, though, is to monitor their mental and physical health.

Mental health issues are one of the most common causes of sickness absence, but unfortunately it remains a taboo subject in many professions.

Over two-thirds (67%) of employees feel scared, embarrassed or unable to talk about mental health concerns with their employer, according to the Time to talk campaign.

Physical health problems are often easier to detect. However, some are not easy to spot such as musculoskeletal conditions, or harder for employees to discuss, such as cancer.

The first step in effectively monitoring physical or mental health problems is to create a culture of openness, encouraging employees to speak to their line manager, HR team, or even a fellow colleague about their condition. If line managers get to know their employees, then it is more likely that they will be able to spot the signs if they are  struggling with either their mental or physical health.

Getting the employee benefits balance right

Employee benefits are a tangible way to show employees that they are valued. However, delivering an effective wellbeing strategy is not simply a case of picking an attractive sounding list of benefits. Richard Branson’s Virgin Group is known for offering its staff unlimited holiday, and, while that might sound like a great perk, it may not be suitable or even desirable for all businesses. Smart companies should look to adopt a flexible benefits package that is carefully tailored towards the needs of their particular employees and their culture.

A wellbeing strategy should be based around three key pillars. The first pillar is prevention. Initiatives such as subsidised gym membership or desk assessments should be introduced to help build a healthy and happy workforce and hopefully stop as many issues as possible from developing in the first place.

Second, a company should have an efficient intervention process, such as an employee assistance  programme, so it can pick up and deal with any issues before they become more serious.

Finally, they should put protection measures in place for employees should they need to take time off work due to ill health, through services such as income protection. This means that staff are supported financially during long periods of absence when the last thing they need to worry about is money and there is rehabilitation support to help them back into the workplace when they are ready to return.

Communicating available benefits

Once you have the plan in place, it is essential that employees know about it. Effectively communicating your wellbeing strategy is key to ensuring that you get the maximum return on investment. Failing to tell staff about benefits is essentially money wasted. They cannot appreciate and value something that they do not know about. Getting buy-in from senior leadership is also important in identifying and managing employees’ health effectively. This is particularly true in the case of mental health problems, which should be made a priority for all businesses, across all divisions and not dealt with in isolation by the HR department.

An effective way to do this is by identifying champions across the business – those people who understand the need for wellbeing and also have a level of authority and respect within the company.

To find out if your wellbeing strategy is performing strongly, why not take Unum’s Wellbeing MOTThe short survey will only take five minutes to complete and will give you some handy hints and tips on how to improve your workplace. Your employees are your most important asset, if you look after them then you are looking after the best interests of your business too


Cass Business School (2013). “Cost of brain drain”, commissioned by Unum.

ICM (2014). “Wellbeing lag”, commissioned by Unum.

Opinion Matters (2015). “Wellbeing MOT”, commissioned by Unum.


About Linda Levesque

Linda Levesque is HR director at Unum.
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