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Managing the downturn > Employee health and wellbeing strategies

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Employee health and wellbeing strategies

Health and wellbeing are important considerations for employees at any time. Having employees that are physically, emotionally, socially and financially well can make a real difference to the smooth running and success of a business. In these uncertain times, during an economic downturn and cost of living crisis, having a robust and well thought through health and wellbeing strategy for your employees is more important than ever.

Recession is a scary word and there is not much positivity for your employees at the moment – particularly in the media. Issues such as:

  • Job security
  • Cost of living
  • Cost of borrowing money
  • What does the future look like
  • How long will the recession last?

Employees will no doubt feel insecure in some way, however, not all will experience a recession in the same ways.

Understanding your workforce

Knowing your employees is important. Without doing this you cannot help them effectively.

There will be multigenerational divisions in attitudes, resilience, expectations and general financial commitments.

Take the time to review your employee data and segregate into categories – you will find not one approach will help all in most cases, especially when level of financial burden is included.

When thinking about your wellbeing strategy, you should consider how to deliver information in the right way. In particular new, technical or financial information could include jargon, unfamiliar language or might just be seen as overwhelming.

Keep your message short and snappy when communicating health and wellbeing strategies. For example, short videos are a great way to deliver messages – they are more engaging than text and can deliver emotion too. Use staff forums, wellbeing champions and management leaders to help deliver messages and receive feedback too. Keeping in touch with your employees will help you decide what is needed to support them.

The four pillars of wellbeing

When it comes to wellbeing, a simple four pillar approach is often a good place to start. However, it’s important not to isolate each area, as they will overlap and commonly a joined-up approach on wellbeing areas proves fruitful.

Physical wellbeing

Leading a healthy and active lifestyle will result increased happiness. Exercising has many benefits that not only impact us physically but emotionally too. Exercise releases endorphins which in turn relieves pain and reduces stress – this is a crucial area to remining positive and resilient when the environment around you could feel gloomy.

Gym discounts, yoga sessions, massages, running clubs, cycle clubs etc. can be a great way to make physical activities accessible and cost effective. Many employee benefits provide discounted gym memberships, and some have discounted fitness classes too.

As a business you can also run some exercise sessions for your employees. Such as weekly yoga sessions, allowing employees to attend virtually or on site – be mindful to give time for changing, showering and eating.

Employees can arrange flexible exercise clubs. Normally these are running and cycling clubs before or after work. There could also be weekly sports activities, which can be run in conjunction with local employers too to create a friendly (albeit with some degree of competitiveness) atmosphere and a chance to network/make new friends too. There may also be an opportunity, if flexible working is allowable, to create time that will not impact too much on time at home where there may be non-negotiable responsibilities.

Mental wellbeing

It goes without saying that our minds are extraordinarily complex and there are a huge number of factors that shape how we think, act and feel.

Our jobs may involve a lot of mental strain and stress and dealing with this from both an employer and employee perspective will determine the long-term success of the business. A certain amount of pressure on occasion is not necessarily a bad thing. However, if high levels of stress regularly or persistently occur and this is not dealt with, performance decreases and stress builds to the point where the effects are felt physically. This can lead to the employee having long term health issues to deal with or may quit.

We all need to feel good working and that comes from a genuinely caring employer environment. Making a commitment to good mental health is essential.

There are simple steps that can be taken, such training employees and managers to be Mental Health First Aiders. The role of a mental health first aider is not to directly deal with the problem, as they’re not trained counsellors, but to simply listen to those that are struggling and signpost them to places and people that can help.

Talking will help the majority of people and the issues that are discussed don’t have to be anything big or life changing, small things can roll into big things. Therefore, providing and encouraging a safe place to talk off the record and in confidence is a big benefit to many. However, make sure that those in these support roles get support themselves as often they will take on the problems of others, so they will need an outlet too.

Review workload pressures, are there parts of someone’s job that really aren’t necessary? Are there deadlines being set that are unrealistic? Is there adequate support and cross training to help areas going through peak workloads?

Provide professional support. There are several ways to do this, however the most accessible is by making use of Group Risk/Protection insurances. These products mostly come with counselling, employee assistance programmes, dietary/nutrition coaches, fitness support and virtual GP services.

These are not only valuable to employees but come at no extra cost and the employee’s immediate family can use them too. Not only are you supporting your employees directly but family too which delivers the message that the business cares.

Financial wellbeing

A recession can mean we feel out of control. Being out of control of your finances is perhaps one the scariest feelings you can have. Feeling out of control will mean feeling insecure about finances and any decision making process could be impacted by this negatively.

As a business, you cannot control this. However, it is important that employees have access to help with money worries. A good employee assistance programme will offering self-help on money worries and provide a helpline to discuss concerns. There is also the option of counselling for some who need a little more help.

Employees can also speak with their money lenders / bank if they feel they’re in trouble or on the path to it. Lenders and banks have much more of a duty to protect their customers and be accommodating where possible.

Mortgage repayments will be a worry for many. Interest rates have soared and so too have repayment terms. House prices have risen to a point where some areas of the UK are so expensive that earnings beyond 10x is needed to afford the average asking price. So, buying your own house can easily feel out of reach. It leaves many with no choice but to borrow as much as possible often with 35 year terms to keep payments affordable. In the longer term this will also have a knock on effect into retirement and even the ability to retire with a financial liability still outstanding.

Having a sense of what is going on around you and what your employees could possibly be experiencing is vital for a successful and supporting wellbeing plan.

Lastly, we have found by working with our clients that provision of financial education is found to be very well received by employees. These on-site and/or virtual educational sessions should be designed around what matters to employees as well as addressing the common and persistent areas of concern on managing money.

Social wellbeing

Simply put, interacting positively with others is the key to developing and keeping healthy relationships. Hybrid working and the pandemic have increased dramatically the feeling of loneliness and lack of interactions between each other.

Encouraging more interaction between employees will help drive togetherness. However, this should not be at the employee’s cost – financial hardship will mean a disparity about what can be afforded between employees. Think about simple social events that can be cost effective and still deliver the objective of driving a positive mood and allowing employees to interact in a relaxed and informal environment.

Workplace pensions for wellbeing

An area of real importance is the opportunity for employees to live the retirement they want once their working life is over. However, up to 1 in 5 people either opt out of or strongly consider leaving the workplace pension scheme due to financial hardship.

There are a couple of things you could do to help:

  • Reduce the employee contributions to the minimum legally allowable. i.e. if employees must contribute above and beyond the legal minimums, there is room to allow employees struggling to lower their contributions. This can be done on an ad-hoc basis.
  • Thinking of giving bonuses? How about paying employee pension contributions? Employee contributions tend to be based on a percentage of salary, so you could in effect provide a bonus or temporary pay rise by covering some of the employee contribution. This is a great way of keeping employees in the pensions scheme and putting more money in the pocket – and the contribution is not subject to employer NI!

When making any changes to the pension scheme, it is important to understand what type of pension scheme you have, the contributions percentage, whether salary exchange (sacrifice) is in place, whether consultation is required, union / forum involvement, impact on employment contracts etc.

In any case, please speak with your employee benefits adviser to discuss the wider implications and governance aspects.

Help with developing employee health and wellbeing strategies

We work with our clients to form robust and engaging wellbeing strategies, by understanding your employees. This approach could help you start to form a strategy for your business, many options are not difficult, or expensive to implement, but can make a real difference.

No single employer has the same situation as the next, and we work with our clients on an individual and bespoke basis to develop a health and wellbeing and employee benefits strategy to suit their employees and their business. If you would like to discuss anything in this article further please email us on [email protected].

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