Debbie Lovewell-Tuck: Changing approaches to health and wellbeing

Employers’ approaches to and strategies around employee health and wellbeing have changed immensely over the 19 years in which we have been conducting research into this area.

In the not-too-distant past, healthcare strategies tended to focus predominantly on benefits such as private medical insurance (PMI), designed to support employees once they became ill, with wellbeing initiatives seen as a ‘soft and fluffy’ addition. Only the most forward-thinking employers offered wellbeing benefits at this time, in part due to the complexities involved in calculating a return on investment on these. However, a shift in thinking has occurred and wellbeing initiatives are now often at the heart of employers’ strategies to support staff health.

One area in which many organisations have taken a huge step forward in recent years is in their approach to mental health. Just over two-thirds (67%) of respondents to this year’s survey now have specific benefits or strategies in place to support their employees’ mental health. Although not directly comparable, between 2001 and 2013 when asked if they had a specific strategy in place to tackle the issue of workplace stress, the proportion of respondents that did so was much lower, fluctuating between 28% and 52%.

This may reflect the position of mental health in society as a whole. In recent years, much has been done to break down the taboos surrounding mental health issues, encouraging those suffering from mental ill-health to speak out and seek support where required. Employers have increasingly been recognised as a key source of support.

Encouragingly, it looks like more are preparing to step up and take action in this area. Although a third (33%) of respondents do not currently have specific benefits or strategies in place to support employees’ mental health, 35% of this group are in the process of designing such a strategy, while a further 41% are planning to introduce a strategy to support staff mental health but do not yet know what this will look like.

As mental health continues to rise up the agenda, it will be interesting to see how many more follow suit in the coming year.

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Debbie Lovewell-Tuck