RAND Europe's Dr Christian van Stolk on the disconnect of wellbeing offerings and employee take-up
Many employers, particularly in the UK, are actively looking at ways to improve the health and wellbeing offer in their workplaces. Organisations understand that investing in health and wellbeing may have a range of positive business outcomes, such as reducing absenteeism and presenteeism (being at work but not being fully productive), and improving the long-term health of staff potentially leading to better business results. However, some key challenges remain.
Data from Britain’s Healthiest Workplace (BHW), an initiative developed by VitalityHealth and which has surveyed, along with RAND Europe and the University of Cambridge, close to 400 employers and 90,000 employees across the UK over the last four years, has revealed some interesting trends.
There has been a significant divergence between what employers believe is happening in the workplace and what their employees perceive to be happening in the workplace. Most employers surveyed offer a range of health and wellbeing initiatives– less than 5% of organisations do nothing at all in this area.
However, access to these initiatives can be an issue while staff awareness of these interventions is low. Using 2017 BHW data, only 43% of employees surveyed have access to health and wellbeing initiatives in the workplace. Where such initiatives exist, only 18% of employees reported being aware of them. In addition, of the 18% aware of initiatives only 31% participate. So, participation and engagement with these initiatives appears to be low.
Involvement in health and wellbeing interventions lowers health risks
Low participation matters on a number of levels. First and foremost, it’s discouraging to hear that when businesses reach out to staff there’s little response. However, more importantly, we know that participation in health and wellbeing interventions has inherent benefits. It results in lower health risks from, for example, smoking and obesity,work by the RAND Corporation in the US shows.
Using BHW data in the UK, those participating year-on-year in health and wellbeing interventions report a significant improvement in cardiovascular health, lower levels of perceived bullying and an increase in their physical activity compared to those that don’t participate.
So, what drives participation in a workplace characterised by complex interactions? Workplaces that train line managers in health and wellbeing report higher participation in interventions. So do employers that report on the health and wellbeing of staff both internally and externally.
Therefore indications are that making health and wellbeing a business priority, reporting on it, discussing it at board level and empowering managers are what can drive culture change in the workplace.
Ultimately, increasing employee participation in workplace health and wellbeing requires organisations to set strategies that address the main health risks, engage effectively with staff, and have buy-in and support from those at the top.
Dr Christian van Stolk is vice president and lead on employment and social policy research at RAND Europe.
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