Should your company have a wellbeing fund?

In-House Recruiting, Recruitment Strategies
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Daytime yoga or exercise classes. Free breakfasts. ‘Fun budgets’. What can employers offer employees to help their physical and mental wellbeing?

Work shouldn’t break people. It’s where employees spend most of their lives, and many employers appreciate the benefits of a healthy and mentally resilient modern day workforce.

What does a wellbeing fund look like?

It’s becoming more common to see employers provide coherent programmes of wellbeing initiatives. Some have gone as far as offering wellbeing funds – money on top of salary that employees can spend on activities they think will benefit them physically and mentally.

  • Multimedia retailer QVC offers benefits such as flexible working, massages, on-site beauticians, and even a local market. It also has an employee allotment, giving staff the opportunity to become gardeners and grow their own fruits and vegetables!
  • Often, tech companies such as Rackspace offer ‘fun budgets’ that allow for social events such as team happy hours or pizza and beer quiz sessions. Often their workspaces will carry gaming rooms, sleep pods and slides, all beneficial to raise spirits in a particularly challenging industry.

It’s also common for companies to reward long-term service by offering sabbaticals for people who for example, complete five years of service to promote employee wellbeing. This allows employees to spend a period such as a month relaxing and rejuvenating, so they can recharge their batteries and dive back in with fresh eyes.

Why care about employee wellbeing?

On a purely financial level, senior leaders are agreeing to wellbeing at work initiatives because of the costs sickness and ill-health can bring to an organisation. As well as the financial impact of work absences, they’re also considering the loss of productivity that will inevitably come from unhappy and tired workers.

In April 2016, VitalityHealth, Mercer, the University of Cambridge and RAND Europe conducted a report which said stress and a lack of physical activity resulted in industry losing up to 27 days of productive time, per employee, per year.

Mental health is also a concern. Last year, Business in the Community’s National Wellbeing survey revealed that in the UK, a majority (77%) had experienced symptoms of poor mental health at some point in their lives.

62% of employees attributed their symptoms to work, or that work was a contributing factor. Another study last year said that the cost of sickness absence due to ill health cost an average of £1,035 per employee, per year.

Progress has been made and there is a deeper awareness of staff wellbeing. But these figures show that more needs to be done by employers to provide employees the help needed to maintain happy and fulfilled working lives.

How to improve wellbeing at work?

There’s certainly a lot more that employers can do. Last year, research from the CIPD said that fewer than one in 10 UK organisations had a standalone wellbeing program, while only two fifths of employees believed their organisation actively promoted good mental wellbeing.

As could probably be expected, large organisations tended to have formal wellbeing strategies, while smaller companies usually acted on an ad-hoc basis.

Employers need to actively assist employees in maximising their physical and mental health, making workplaces productive, attractive and corporately responsible, without sacrificing productivity.

However, it’s the job of those introducing and promoting wellbeing initiatives to demonstrate the positive business benefits it can bring, create regular business dialogue around them, and deeply embed it into an organisation’s culture.

It must be highlighted that although an employer can take responsibility for providing information and access to wellbeing schemes, it’s ultimately up to the individuals using these resources to help themselves, which requires a certain level of education and self-awareness.

This is because wellbeing means different things to different people – a yoga class or massage could benefit certain individuals, while others might want football or quiz socials. Wellbeing schemes need to be tailored to the makeup of the organisation’s workforce.

And it’s not just about benefits or cool stuff that employees can do. It’s important to remember that wellbeing also centres around the meaning and challenge of the work individuals are doing, as well as the creation of effective working relationships in a safe environment conductive to work.

And it’s also about management – if the relationship employees have with their immediate manager is strong and positive, then that very likely raises an employee’s wellbeing more than anything an organisation can implement.

Five tips on setting up wellbeing funds and initiatives

  1. When stating the business case for a wellbeing fund or initiative, make sure it’s persuasive by making it relevant and based on the desired outcomes for the employer.
  2. If senior management needs convincing, start with pilot schemes and highlight areas of wellbeing practice that are already being done well.
  3. Creating a healthy culture is the biggest challenge, and requires commitment by senior leaders and managers to make changes, if change is needed.
  4. Managers need understanding of health and wellbeing responsibilities, with the confidence to put the right policies in place.
  5. As well as thinking about the mutual benefits for employee and employer, consider that it’s the right thing to do for modern businesses in the wider society.

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