Leading from the top – why boardroom buy-in is a must for effective wellbeing programmes

Employers are increasingly recognising the value of implementing proactive wellbeing programmes. But if you are really serious about success, there is no substitute for top-level championing from the board, argues John Dean.

Looking after the health and wellbeing of employees is a growing trend as employers recognise that healthy staff are likely to be happier, more engaged and productive.

Last year’s Employee Wellbeing Research 2018 from the Reward & Employee Benefits Association (REBA) in association with Punter Southall Health & Protection, revealed that nearly half (45%) of employers now having a defined wellbeing strategy in place – up from less than a third (30%) in 2016.

Of those without a current strategy, half said they planned to introduce one in 2018. The research also found that spending on wellbeing rose in 2017 and was expected to rise further this year.

About the author

John Dean is chief commercial officer at Punter Southall Health & Protection

Well over a quarter (30%) of employers say wellbeing strategies are primarily driven by a desire to increase employee engagement and 23% to improve organisational culture.

Whereas concerns for employees’ mental wellbeing has traditionally lagged well behind employers’ concerns for their physical health, mental health is also moving up the wellbeing agenda. Almost three in five (60%) chief executives said it was the area of employee wellbeing their board was most concerned with.

Another growth area is financial wellbeing programmes, with more than half (52%) of employers now offering financial education compared with 47% in 2017. A further 31% planned to introduce one in 2018, which could result in a 60% growth in financial wellbeing programmes in 2018.

Employers offering support for carers and addressing sleep concerns was also set to grow substantially in 2018 (by 25% and 22% respectively).

But one striking issue is that wellbeing programmes are still not being driven and championed by the board. Less than one in ten respondents said their board actively drove the organisation’s wellbeing agenda and one in 20 felt their board had little or no interest in employee wellbeing.

This is something that needs to change. For wellbeing programmes to succeed, they must be integrated into the business strategy and prioritised by the board.

Developing an effective wellbeing strategy

Building the right wellbeing programme for the workforce is key, of course, whether that involves flexible working, on-site gyms, quick access to healthcare services or mental health support. But to ensure success as well as ongoing investment and commitment across the business, it is essential any strategy is led from the top.

Having someone at board level truly championing the wellbeing strategy can be a strong motivator for employees, and demonstrate that the company is serious about health and wellbeing.

It is also useful to involve other potential wellbeing “champions” at an early stage, especially if the business has several locations.

When devising a strategy, understanding the dynamics and make-up of the workforce is imperative. Employers need to identify the specific health and wellbeing challenges their employees face such as high levels of stress, poor sleep, money worries, a lack of exercise or mental health concerns so they can create a strategy that is targeted effectively.

We recommend that employers carry out a full review of all the data available to pinpoint areas that need attention. This could involve analysing the company demographics, looking at absence data to identify the most common reasons for short and long-term absence and examining the take-up and success of existing wellbeing initiatives.

But that is just one part; it is also important to put a practical implementation plan in place. To get the backing of the board, being able to demonstrate effectiveness of wellbeing strategies is vital.

Measuring return-on-investment

Our research found less than one in five (17%) organisations are able to measure return on investment of wellbeing initiatives, while more than a quarter (26.8%) make no attempt at all to measure the impact of their actions on health and wellbeing.

It is not just senior-level support that is important for success. Line managers need to be involved in the planning process and fully trained, especially when it comes to dealing with employees with mental health issues and spotting the early signs.

Once the wellbeing strategy has been developed, it needs to be communicated across the business. There is little point developing wellbeing initiatives if no one knows about them and good communications can be the difference between success and failure.

There are many ways to communicate, including bulletin boards, emails, podcasts, intranet or creating a wellbeing day. It can of course be useful to link your wellbeing programmes to national health campaigns to improve their effectiveness.

For example, National No Smoking Day, National Stress Awareness Day or Mental Health Awareness Week (and there are many others) can all be used to generate awareness and give companies the opportunity to start conversations around these issues.

A joined-up approach across the business and the backing of the board can make all the difference when introducing wellbeing programmes. Building a tailored programme with quantifiable objectives and leading from the top will ensure the strategy is effective in improving the health and wellbeing of the workforce.


REBA/Punter Southall Health & Protection Employee Wellbeing Research 2018, https://reba.global/content/reba-wellbeing-research-2018-employee-mental-health-and-pressure-at-work-top-concerns-for-uk-ceos

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