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Are UK workers well-connected?

27 September 2012

It’s a no brainer that employee wellness matters. Staff turnover can be reduced by up to 87% through wellness programmes according to figures from Business In The Community (BITC) and the number of absences due to illness and recurring health conditions such as backache can be significantly reduced. But, while taking care of wellness leads to more connected, productive and effective workers, recent research has shown that only 14% of workers in the UK feel fully engaged with their work, compared to 21% globally.

So what does improving employee wellness actually mean and how can the UK catch up with the rest of the world? Is it encouraging them to have regular health check ups, exercise, sleep and eat well? Is it about supporting them to have a good work-life balance and to deal with the inevitable stresses of life at home? Should businesses engage their employees to make sure they are enjoying work and are getting the most out of it? Or is it about encouraging strong links with the local community and giving them time to volunteer?

The answer is of course all of these things are jigsaw pieces in the puzzle of wellness. With so many elements,  it’s no wonder companies struggle to create a comprehensive and meaningful programme. Even deciding which part of the business should spearhead wellness initiatives can be a challenge; should HR be leading the charge or does it sit better with internal communications or CR departments? Actually the good news is that for a lot of organisations many of the essential building blocks are already in place to support employee wellness. But integration is crucial, companies must work to make the most of the resources they already have in place.

For those about to embark on a new wellness initiative, research and consultation with employees at the beginning stages will pay dividends in the long run. Don’t assume you know best, but rather ask staff how they feel, what they enjoy and what would help them feel well-connected. Give them different routes to respond both formally in interviews and informally through anonymous surveys. Bringing in independent support through this process can also be invaluable. Staff will find it easier to open up honestly to someone from outside the business.

With business leaders carefully watching the bottom line, it can be tempting to think wellness schemes are an expensive luxury.  However, as the BITC Workwell model is proving, the results will positively impact company productivity as a result of improved trust and brand reputation, drive better recruitment and retention, increase attendance rates and actively engaged employees .

Wellness schemes themselves do not need to be elaborate and complex to be effective – they key is to understand the organisation and the employees working within it. At Forster Communications we have introduced additional holiday for staff that cycle or walk to work, as a simple mechanism to encourage employees to be active. The cost is relatively low to administer the scheme but it has encouraged a higher level of physical activity in our staff members. We also have wellbeing cards that encourage staff to eat well, attend cultural events and exhibitions, and become involved in their community – all critical to ensuring mental wellbeing.

It’s time for smart business to turn the paradigm on it’s head. Stop thinking how much it costs to run a wellbeing scheme and consider how much it costs not to run one. Have British managers been too short term in their thinking, assuming wellness benefits equals costs? This mentality might explain the significant productivity gap  highlighted by Office of National Statistics figures earlier this week – where the UK lags 15% behind the other industrialized G7 nations. It’s time to think about the long term and look after every aspect of a company’s most important asset – its staff.