Employee wellbeing high on HR agenda

A desire to provide support to all staff, encourage employee engagement and reduce absence has put employee wellbeing high on the agenda for HR in 2019, new research finds*.

More than half of employers (54 per cent) run informal employee wellbeing initiatives, while one-in-five (22 per cent) has a formal programme in place. The majority of these formal employee wellbeing programmes (69.6 per cent) have been in place for a year or more – demonstrating a high level of employer commitment but also that programmes have gained traction within organisations.

Among those employers that do not have an employee wellbeing programme in place, two-thirds (68 per cent) plan to introduce one within the next 12 months.

Employers ranked cost and budget availability as the most important factor in deciding which employee wellbeing initiatives to implement. One third of employers (33 per cent) allocate a specific budget for employee wellbeing activities. Among this group, the median annual spend per employee is £36.

In terms of the initiatives that have the most impact on employee wellbeing, there are two standout areas: offering employee assistance programmes and sick pay above the statutory amount.

Employee assistance programmes (EAPs) can be extremely powerful in terms of support for employees in all areas of their work and personal life. Respondents told us this was down to the fact that the programmes are confidential, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and offer all-round help for both personal and work-related issues. HR practitioners felt that the programmes support the work that the HR function does on a day-to-day basis and many referenced the fact that counselling through EAPs is available more quickly than through the NHS.

However, one blocker to employees accessing EAPs is a concern around what happens to the information they provide when they interact with from the EAP provider. HR needs to continuously emphasise that it is confidential, and be clear that no individual employee will be identified, and neither will any detailed information be made available to the employer that might identify any employee.

HR practitioners told us that offering more generous sick pay has a strong impact on wellbeing as it can help to address presenteeism, because employees feel financially able to take time off to recover when unwell. The following anecdote from a respondent precisely illustrates the business benefit of offering sick pay above statutory rates:

About 10 years ago, we used to pay statutory sick pay. I got on board to change this to three month’s full pay, followed by three months’ half pay. Absence reduced by 50per cent and has stayed low thereafter.

For those wondering if offering free fruit to employees makes any difference to employee wellbeing, the anecdote from one respondent sums things up nicely,

Staff see [the free fruit] and use it daily. It was the subject of the biggest staff ‘revolt’ when a former MD withdrew it about 18 months ago. It got reinstated, is the main source of the ‘five a day’ input for our staff and has constant good feedback from the employee forum.

Noelle Murphy, XpertHR HR practice editor, said:

It is clear that there is a strong commitment to employee wellbeing among employers, even when the business benefits are not always tangible in the short term. To ensure that employers are maximising their return on such programmes, and employees are maximising the support available, HR practitioners should promote the programmes regularly. It is often when an employee is at their most vulnerable that they need this kind of support, so removing as many blockers as possible and reassuring employees of their confidentiality is vital.



Interested in wellbeing?  We recommend the Workplace Wellbeing and Stress Forum 2019.





Aphrodite is a creative writer and editor specialising in publishing and communications. She is passionate about undertaking projects in diverse sectors. She has written and edited copy for media as varied as social enterprise, art, fashion and education. She is at her most happy owning a project from its very conception, focusing on the client and project research in the first instance, and working closely with CEOs and Directors throughout the consultation process. Much of her work has focused on rebranding; messaging and tone of voice is one of her expertise, as is a distinctively unique writing style in my most of her creative projects. Her work is always driven by the versatility of language to galvanise image and to change perception, as it is by inspiring and being inspired by the wondrous diversity of people with whom paths she crosses cross!

Aphrodite has had a variety of high profile industry clients as a freelancer, and previously worked for a number of years as an Editor and Journalist for Prospects.ac.uk.

Aphrodite is also a professional painter.