Employees are likely to come under significant pressure as organisations’ embark on their quest for growth in 2022. Health and wellbeing initiatves will therefore become an integral part of business success, writes Phil Sprotson, who reveals what some of the UK’s ‘Top Employers’ are doing to support wellbeing.
New benchmarking data from among the UK’s leading employers shows how the return to growth has become a major priority for 2022.
In any year, this means increased demands on people and performance, the potential need for longer hours, more responsibilities and change. These all can have an effect on employee wellbeing, and responsible organisations will make this a priority.
However, in the post-pandemic era and a context where employee wellbeing has been stretched and strained for two years and counting, building wellbeing has become a foundation of HR and occupational health teams’ contribution their organisations.
The importance of this issue is backed up by evidence, compiled by the Top Employers Institute, from the people practices and priorities of more than 1,800 organisations globally.
The drive for growth has leaped from number five to second in the list of business priorities among the UK’s 84 certified Top Employers, and sits just behind the strongly-related issue of supporting organisational and cultural change. Meanwhile the health and safety of employees remains third in the list of business priorities, with employers realising its importance in good times as well as bad.
Important year ahead for OH
Health and wellbeing can’t be treated as a token priority, or just one of an employer’s many values. This will be an important year for OH professionals to contribute to thinking on HR strategy, assess employees’ needs, and consider what initiatives will have the greatest impact in supporting change and growth.
In the global context, UK employers have been more active in pushing the full range of holistic health and wellbeing support. Eighty per cent of the Top Employers consistently have a wellbeing champion to drive initiatives (versus an average figure of 59% among employers in the rest of the world); 76% offer religious or spiritual facilities for worship (26%); 89% provide financial education for employees (60%); and almost all UK Top Employers (98%) have an employee assistance programme in place, compared with 71% globally.
This will be an important year for OH professionals to contribute to thinking on HR strategy, assess employees’ needs, and consider what initiatives will have the greatest impact in supporting change and growth.”
More UK organisations than ever before are trying to end the sense of employee uncertainty over the boundaries of work in a digital age. For example, more than half (58%) now guarantee time to “unplug” or take stress-relief breaks (up from 44% in last year’s data); nearly two-thirds (65%) now actively discourage use of email outside normal working hours (up from 48%); and 48% offer programmes for coping with information overload (38%). This is an important recognition of the relationship between digital working and pressure on mental health.
Employers are also responding when the scales tilt the wrong way: 63% offer burnout recovery support, compared with 49% last year.
There is also evidence of efforts to encourage a more proactive awareness of individual mental health and facilitate access to support. Ninety-six per cent of UK Top Employers now promote physical activities (79% last year); 98% have initiatives to raise awareness on emotional wellbeing; and 83% provide wellbeing apps to help their employees.
At Santander UK, for example, a wide-ranging package of schemes across physical, mental, social and financial wellbeing have been flagged as making a significant contribution to the organisation’s ability to deal with its challenges.
This includes a mental wellbeing app for all staff, offering live chat with trained psychologists as well as CBT training, mindfulness and mood trackers. Santander colleagues are encouraged to take a ‘wellbeing hour’ between 1pm and 2pm, get away from their desks and focus on their wellbeing. A Mental Wellbeing Network is used to keep people connected while working remotely, through virtual ‘Tea and Talk’, yoga and meditation sessions. All staff have access to 12 live gym classes each month.
Santander also has targeted ways to support more individual needs: partnering with the Tommy’s charity as a Pregnancy and Parenting at Work Champion to offer support on pregnancy, baby loss, adoption and fertility; and training menopause advocates across the organisation.
The impact is filtering through to staff engagement and commitment. In the most recent engagement survey, 89% of Santander’s people felt their immediate manager supported them in having a good balance between their work and personal life; 91% felt their employer had taken the appropriate steps to ensure employees stayed safe and healthy during the pandemic; and 86% felt they were provided the appropriate flexibility to be effective and productive during the pandemic (the ability to work from home, flexible work schedules, part time options).
TCS (Tata Consultancy Services) is another UK Top Employer that has been pushing wellbeing innovations. In response to employee anxiety around limited access to NHS services during Covid-19 lockdowns, TCS introduced 24/7 virtual GP support for employees and their dependents. Dedicated employee networks have been set up, like TCS Minds for connecting and sharing thinking on mental wellbeing, and other groups for Workplace Parents and Mental Health First Aiders. The organisation encourages a strong sense of purpose and contribution to wider society through a volunteering partnership with The Wildlife Trust.
The Covid-19 pandemic put health and wellbeing front and centre of organisational priorities. With the need for a return to business growth, OH must now demonstrate its specific and ongoing role as more than a support function; something that is integral to people performance and meeting targets. This will mean that OH teams will need to stay in touch with best practice and the health and wellbeing factors that might affect employees’ performance as the UK moves into this next phase of economic recovery.