How to use wellbeing initiatives to boost employee engagement

Ensuring that employees are happy, healthy and engaged is one of the most important ways that an organisation can ensure sustainable high-level performance.

Key points

  • A workplace culture focused on¬†wellbeing can help to boost employee engagement.
  • A strong visual brand and communication strategy¬†designed to increase awareness across large workforces is key to engaging employees. ¬†
  • Line managers play an important role in supporting staff to cope with everyday pressures effectively and, consequently, boosting engagement levels.¬†
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Wellbeing is about the mutually supportive relationship between an employee’s physical, mental and social health. A culture of wellbeing does not just benefit staff on an individual level; it is good for business, too, and is the hallmark of any responsible employer.

The benefits of a wellbeing-focused culture include: better employee engagement, better attendance, better retention and recruitment, better brand image and higher productivity.

The Evidence, Wellbeing and Employee Engagement, a report published in May 2014 by Engage for Success, the employee engagement movement founded by David Macleod and Nita Clarke, found that engaged employees are 35% more attached to their employers than those with lower levels of wellbeing. The report also found that highly engaged organisations have the potential to reduce staff turnover by 87%.

Employee support is a priority 

Ensuring that employees have the support they need to optimise their wellbeing is a critical priority for employers focused on staff engagement, given that staff are working longer, harder and under more pressure than ever before. 

Mental ill-health is currently one of the biggest challenges facing employers and society, but there remains a culture of silence around the subject, which results in suffering and inequality for thousands of employees across the country.

Creating parity between mental and physical health should be a core priority for any engaging wellbeing strategy, because employers cannot hope to manage what they cannot talk about.

Employers can start by signing the Time to Change pledge, a public statement of aspiration that any organisation can take to show its commitment to tackling mental health stigma and discrimination.

Secure boardroom buy-in

But whatever their healthcare focus, employers must prepare a case for action through a needs assessment, presenting their business case in order to secure boardroom and stakeholder support.

Putting forward evidence of the costs is an effective way to convince senior business leaders of the value of proactive campaigns around potentially sensitive issues, such as mental ill-health.

For example, the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health report, Mental Health at Work: Developing the business case, published in December 2007, estimated that, if unaddressed, mental ill-health costs an average of £1,035 per employee, while the Organisation for Economic Co-operation report, Mental Health and Work: The United Kingdom, published in February 2014, found that mental health issues cost the UK about £70bn a year, equivalent to around 4.5% of GDP, in lost productivity at work, benefit payments and healthcare expenditure.

These figures can be used to estimate the potential cost impact on any organisation. 

A thorough needs analysis process is also required to inform the design of any programme. For example, employers should be sure to position the price of any initiative as an investment that will have long-term, sustainable benefits for their business, as well as detail the metrics that will evaluate the success of the programme. 

Focus on communication

Once this preparation is done, employers need to focus on the key tool with which to engage employees: a comprehensive communication strategy. 

A strong visual brand and communication strategy designed to increase awareness across large workforces is key to engaging employees. Creating video resources featuring, for example, employees talking about their personal experiences of overcoming challenges around mental health has proved effective for several of our member organisations in helping to showcase the tangible impact of employer support.

Getting the support of senior leaders to champion the aims of wellbeing programmes is also crucial in helping messages to resonate with, and engage, employees, because it shows that wellbeing and overcoming challenges is something that affects everyone, regardless of their job role or position.

Line managers are important

The role of line managers is also particularly important in helping to monitor and support the performance of different employee groups. Many of our wellbeing member organisations have used targeted training for line managers, to provide them with the key skills to spot early warning signs that employees might be struggling with their wellbeing.

This enables them to offer proactive, preventative interventions and direct employees to the right support.

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Line managers play an important role in helping staff to cope with everyday pressures, which will further optimise the extent to which they are engaged with the organisation. 

Louise Aston is wellbeing campaign director at Business In The Community