Nicola Mohns: No one size fits all – wellbeing needs to get personal

Whether boosting resilience, backing better work-life balance or creating behavioural change for a healthier lifestyle, it is important to make an effort where it counts for wellbeing.

During the Second World War, the American Air Force wanted to find ways to reduce the number of casualties. Studying the planes that came back to base, it thought the best approach was to fortify the parts that had been shot. That was, until the penny dropped. In fact, the hits to non-returning planes mattered far more.

And so it goes with assessing employee health risks and providing suitable support. It is vital to draw meaningful insight, rather than just gather numbers for the sake of it, and then look beyond to ensure wellbeing programmes deliver and demonstrate significant health outcomes.

Looking at a data-set of employers engaged in our wellbeing programme, which uses a health age calculator to measure individual employee risks, AXA PPP Healthcare has seen that the average total risk count increases steadily up to and around age 55. After this point, the average individual’s health risk drops.

So, are employees nearing their 60s suddenly seeing the light and transforming their lifestyles? Or, like the missing planes, have they simply been lost to the data-set.

In actuality, one of the main reasons older employees are missing is that those with increased risks have left the workforce due to ill health. This is a big issue, both for employers in losing some of their most experienced and valued staff, and for employees, who are losing their livelihoods.

Where should wellbeing programmes best intervene? How can employers ensure those needing support are identified? How can an organisation better influence the health risks of its working population and promote longer-term better health?

One of the biggest criticisms of the wellbeing industry is that it just makes fit people even fitter. We must not fall into the trap of thinking it is good enough to engage the employees who already get it and fail to convince the proportion where effort to change behaviours and lifestyles could have a more dramatic impact.

In practice, this means taking an evidence-based approach that is relevant, achievable and engaging, and that builds on the insight that comes from taking a deep dive and thoroughly investigating a workforce’s health issues and how these affect performance and productivity.

We are social animals. So, to be successful, wellbeing programmes need to take a bio-psycho-social approach to safeguarding and enhancing employees’ health.

This should build on the five drivers of wellbeing: fitness, nutrition, mindset, lifestyle and health. It should also recognise that raising health awareness is just the start; the wellbeing programmes with real impact are those that take individuals beyond awareness and, through careful coordination of benefits, communication and support, motivate them to make lasting, positive changes.

The strongest results will come from sustained programmes that keep listening, learning, and adapting to meet new challenges and opportunities as and when they arise. Getting this right can make an organisation a great place to work, and people will respond with their loyalty and commitment.

Nicola Mohns is head of corporate marketing at AXA PPP Healthcare