How can employers create an accessible wellbeing programme?

Need to know:

  • As employers think about the benefits of recruiting from a more diverse talent pool, the importance of employee wellbeing in terms of engagement and retention should not be forgotten.
  • Events must take into account basic access needs, such as audio and visual aids, and providing a wide range of initiatives can ensure a wellness strategy reaches all employees.
  • Technology can be the key to opening wellbeing up to a wider group, but employers must be aware of specific challenges it poses.

In May 2019, Virgin Media and Scope launched the #WorkWithMe pledge, making a call to action for employers to boost diversity, increase inclusion and, ultimately, benefit business by tapping into a talent pool that is often either overlooked or disadvantaged in traditional working arrangements.

Meanwhile, one of the key HR trends of the moment is a focus on employee wellbeing. The two trends should not be seen as separate endeavours.

If employers are to increase the recruitment, support and retention of disabled individuals, they need to look beyond ramps and parking spaces, and truly consider how to create an employee experience that is positive for everyone.

Accessible events

On a basic level, accessibility might simply mean making sure everyone can be in the room. This will, in turn, ensure that a programme is more effective and far-reaching, says Daniel Williams, founder of Visualise Training and Consultancy, which works with employers to help them become more disability inclusive.

“There’s no point running an event if it’s not accessible, because [an employer is] only going to get a certain amount of people, and only a certain type, whereas if [it has] different people [it’ll] get different outcomes,” he explains.

Finding out about employees’ accessibility needs should be par for the course, Williams adds. Employers should make sure that when they run an event they ask the question: ‘do you have any access requirements?’ the same way that people always ask about dietary requirements.

For those with hearing impairments, this might mean microphones and audio loops; for the visually impaired, employers should think about sending any presentations or visual aids out in advance.

Accessibility should also be considered when creating wellbeing communications. “[Do] videos have sub-titles for those that are hearing impaired or deaf?” Williams says.

“[When] communicating with someone who is vision impaired, it is important that [employers are] not using lots of italics and different colours, and that the fonts are clear. Sans Serif and Arial are recommended.”

More than sports

Not all disabilities are physical, and plenty of people with different abilities are more than able to join in with sports-based wellbeing initiatives, such as football teams and running clubs.

However, any wellbeing approach with a narrow focus on physical activity not only runs the risk of being less inclusive of those employees who identify as disabled, but also lacks the holistic elements needed to be truly effective anyway.

Sam Fuller, director and founder at The Wellbeing Project, says: “Wellbeing means different things to different people. It’s not necessarily about swimming the channel or running a marathon, it’s about other types of achievements.

“There’s a certain amount of creativity that we need to think about [with] how we engage different people, [including] book clubs, learning and personal development.”

Vicki Field, HR director at the London Doctors Clinic, adds: “It’s important to look at all the different aspects that create wellness; so, looking at everything from financial health, physical health, nutrition, smoking and drinking, so that everything is being catered for.”

Universal initiatives

The introduction of such a wide range of programmes might well sound like a daunting task.

On the one hand, employers might do well to let staff lead the charge, using surveys and forums to gather suggestions.

Fuller says: “[Employers] may have data already from employee surveys, [but] they may need to do a wellbeing audit or assessment. Having a working group from different parts of the business interviewing people before [rolling] out a wellbeing strategy is [also] a really golden opportunity to understand what’s going on.”

Alternatively, it might be better to prioritise initiatives that are universally beneficial, and therefore inherently inclusive.

“Some benefits can be of use to absolutely everybody,” Field explains. “So, financial health: it doesn’t matter if they have a disability, or a short-term illness, or whatever, everybody at some point [may need] help with making sure they understand their pension, for example.

“Offering a GP service [also] comes in handy. If [someone has] got a disability, they’re still going to get a cold or need a flu jab. It’s one of those things which talks to everybody and can be a really great benefit that everyone gets.”

The Wellbeing Project, meanwhile, has found it useful to provide employees with a wellbeing allowance; an individual can then tailor their experience not only to their specific accessibility needs, but also to their wants.

Accessible technology

Many employers are making the most of the benefits of modern technology when it comes to boosting staff wellbeing. Whether mood-tracking apps, sleep health and wearable fitness technology, virtual GPs, or simple access to information, wellness has been revolutionised in recent years.

However, technology comes with its own set of challenges, as was Computershare UK discovered when it decided to update its product to ensure it was disability friendly.

Following an audit in late 2018, some updates were easily implemented, such as changes to colour contrasts and font sizes. Others, however, took a deeper, more fundamental approach. For example, in helping visually impaired users gain the best and smoothest experience, Computershare had to work hard to facilitate the apps and plug-ins already on the market.

Adrian Wyss, head of product innovations, EMEA plans at Computershare UK, says: “We had to reprogram our platform so that it can talk to these tools; this had a deep impact on our architecture.”

Computershare needed to think about how a user gets from the landing page to the next page without seeing the platform, explains Wyss. In solving the entire problem, which may be very deep, it will then help the firm to design all its products in the future.

This is a growing trend, says Wyss. “[Organisations now] ask if their administrators or providers fulfill these standards. There’s an increased demand for it, [which] has to do with social responsibility.

“As we all move more and more towards digital channels and get away from paper, the only channel is the website. We don’t want to exclude people from being able to [participate].”

Day-to-day processes

Organisations should take a lesson from this experience, and consider how their unseen, fundamental processes might be disadvantaging disabled employees.

Without the foundation of an accessible and supportive culture and environment, wellbeing initiatives, no matter how inclusive, might only scratch the surface.

“A lot of [employers] are trying to fill the bath up, they’re running the taps, but the plug’s pulled out, because there are systems that are just breaking people,” Fuller explains.

“It’s about empowering people, giving them the knowledge and awareness themselves, but also creating an environment around them that is supportive of their wellbeing; so, that’s the working environment and the managers, leaders and teams around them.”