Companies that invest in employee health enjoy higher engagement

06 August 2018 7 min. read
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Companies that care more about health and welfare of their employees enjoy better engagement, while employees are less often sick, meaning productivity receives a boost. With this in mind, a new report has encouraged employers to think more about how they can make their employees more healthy.

While almost all employers agree that a happy worker is a productive worker, fewer than half of organisations feel they deal with mental health issues effectively in the workplace. 30% of organisations with a well-being strategy in place feel it is not achieving its full potential, while only 47% feel they are dealing with mental health discrimination and illness effectively.

Sick staff currently cost British businesses some £77 billion a year in lost productivity, something which is exacerbated by the prevalence of mental illnesses in the UK. As many as one in every four individuals in Britain will suffer at least one episode of some variety throughout their lives, while currently, around 8% of the UK population is in a state of depression.

Why employers care: the business impact of health and well-being

Having a mental illness can be debilitating, negatively affecting one’s own projects as well those of others, while the discrimination faced by those with mental health problems are an additional barrier to recovery faced by sufferers. Failing to deal with the health and well-being of their workers clearly impacts on the capacity of businesses to succeed.

A new study by consulting firm Willis Towers Watson has further linked poor health to poor workplace engagement. Low engagement costs businesses $7 trillion per year globally, and the study of around 30,000 professionals shows that workplaces which saw workers with poor health – inclined to smoke more, drink, have poor diets, a lack of exercise or sleep, or having chronic conditions – contributes predictably to absence, but also disengagement. Companies with the highest levels of absence (9.9%) and presenteeism, or the habit of turning up to work too ill to function productively (15.6%), also saw the highest level of disengagement, at 38%. This contrasts drastically with workplaces boasting a better bill of health, with those in very good health facing 21% disengagement, with 45% high engagement.

There are a number of things employers can do to boost their chances of hosting a healthy, and subsequently more productive, workforce. The most obvious, according to Willis Towers Watson, is to simply encourage healthy living. At present, only 45% of employees polled by the consultancy admitted that “Managing my health is a top priority in my life”. Contrastingly, 51%  of employees said that “Employers should actively encourage their employees to live healthy lifestyles”, suggesting that if they were shown it was acceptable in the workplace to facilitate healthy living, they might be slightly more inclined to do so.

Offering onsite and near-site programs enhances perceptions of employer well-being initiatives

As a result, some 63% of workplaces promote a healthy work environment by offering wellness activities, while 55% of employees polled agreed they were high-users of well-being apps provided to boost fitness and other fronts. However, there is a notable gap between the number of workplaces offering initiatives for a healthy workplace, and their perceived effectiveness, with only 38% saying wellness activities had enabled them to live a healthier lifestyle, and 46% saying that overall the initiatives helped to support well-being needs.

In this case, employers need to move beyond the obvious realms to make an impact on staff health. Partially, relating to previously mentioned apps, this can be done with the use of smart tech. Employers can build the employee experience through wearable devices and apps to incentivise and gamify fitness efforts, helping to build a culture of health and well being in the workplace.

48% of employees uses technology to manage their health

To this end, 48% of employees are already using technology to manage their health, with 34% using apps to monitor their activity to some extent. Employers are responding to this demand, and many are seeking to build the employee experience through wearable devices and apps. 50% have offered or will offer such an option in the next two years, alongside 60% of employers who offer access to a portal to deliver information on fitness.

Problematically, it seems that these schemes charge employees out of their pay cheque, despite ultimately being beneficial to companies via lower absence levels and higher productivity rates. Only 17% of employees would be willing to pay a higher amount out of their pay each month for access to better tools and services in this regard, suggesting that there is currently a trade-off for many staff regarding making ends meet, and living the ideal life-style.

Employers are responding and seek to build the employee experience through wearable devices and apps

The third method of enhancing wellness at work, according to Willis Towers Watson, is to empower employees. Interestingly, some 23% of employers currently send personalised messages to employees who are not living a healthy lifestyle, according to the study, but contrary to lecturing or pressuring staff into being fitter, giving employees the freedom to make better choices is key too. 80% of employees prefer to manage their health on their own, while 61% said they did not want their employer to have access to their personal health information; and 35% suggested they would not be comfortable disclosing stress or anxiety issues to their manager.

This leads into the fourth step recommended by Willis Towers Watson, which is to build trust. Without doing so, engagement in health and well-being is unlikely to change, as privacy is a concern, with workers fearing that their health may impact on job evaluation, or even retention.

Employees show little appreciation of employer initiatives globally

According to Willis Towers Watson, the majority of employers have a long way to go in this regard. The vast majority of respondents across multiple nations said they would not recommend their employer’s health and well-being initiatives. Bottom of the pile in the EMEA regional segment of the consulting firm’s research is the UK, which clearly has its work cut out, scoring a lower net score than France, the Netherlands, Ireland and Germany.

However, it is worth noting that the researchers said that a net promoter score of zero is a satisfactory benchmark, and only India scored above that, while Mexico was the next closest at -1%. This suggests that as a whole, the practices of business leaders regarding employee wellness need a major overhaul.