Magazine article Management Today

Sponsored Round Table: Setting the Wellbeing Agenda

Magazine article Management Today

Sponsored Round Table: Setting the Wellbeing Agenda

Article excerpt

What are the links between healthy employees and healthy organisations, and how good are UK employers at encouraging their staff to adopt healthier lifestyles? These are among the questions we put to a panel of executives, academics and practitioners experienced in workplace health at a round-table discussion in London.

Ian Wylie What issues keep business leaders awake at night when they think about the health of their employees?

Nick Bacon Big demographic changes. We know about the ageing workforce, about the increase in contract work and insecure work, about underemployment and financial stress. The big question for me is, what are employers doing to help employees cope with those issues? What can they do to try and ensure that employees have more satisfying working lives and more security at work, and beyond work?

Good mainstream, well-funded employers will do the right thing and develop good services. But so many other employers are not engaging with this agenda, particularly smaller and medium-sized firms. Increasingly, it seems to be that the state has to legislate to push this agenda forward.

Peter O'Donnell But there has to be something in it for the employers To try and persuade them to do something for the greater good of society is a tough ask. If you can say to them that by caring about health and wellbeing at work they get a more engaged workforce, that their absences will be down, that their key employees are more likely to be at work and they will get more motivated staff, then they will begin to see a direct correlation with business results.

Tony Jackson We also need to put ourselves in the shoes of owners of small businesses. What is the thought process you go through if someone comes along with a medical condition? One: shock, fear, grief - it is likely to be a close friend as well. Two: I want to do the right thing. Three: I don't know if I can afford to do the right thing. Four: gosh, the last time I spoke to HR, they said I have to treat everyone the same, but I want to do the right thing for this individual. These are all the thought processes that owners will go through.

Nikki Gatenby There is a culture of fear that means you are paralysed into doing nothing sometimes, which is the worst possible scenario for everybody involved. We need to remove fear, and I am not quite sure how you do it. My experience of HR has been that it is more about avoiding tribunals. I apologise if that offends anyone, but I believe it should be more about how we can help things get better.

Damien Marmion I am not sure that employers really see the business case for healthy employees. When we go and talk to large corporates, they absolutely do not get it. And I worry that more and more is being spent on wellness in an inappropriate way. There is not enough evidence to actually produce the ROI.

Nikki Gatenby If you show them that their sick days and staff turnover will reduce, that will give them ROI. Our sick days are the lowest in any business that I have ever worked in.

Alison Dunn What works in one organisation does not always work in another. Increasingly, we look for an evidence base so we know what will achieve the maximum benefit. At the moment we are looking at how to encourage employees to change their health-related behaviours. So the first thing we are going to do is a small piece of research to find out what employees think the barriers are and what will help them to change their health behaviours.

Peter O'Donnell That is a great point. If you think about the typical benefit package, it was designed in the 1960s and 1970s for a population that was going to live to an average of 73. Your house was your investment and that was going to pay off your mortgage. You were going to have a state pension that would give you a good return. It is a completely different world we live in now. And yet, benefit packages are primarily the same. …

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