Companies that invest in employee health enjoy higher engagement

06 August 2018

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. 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.

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

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.

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Why leaders must balance technical expertise with soft skills

17 April 2019

Soft skills matter in the workplace just as much as technical expertise, writes Samantha Caine, Managing Director of Business Linked Teams.

For too long technical expertise has been seen as the marker of a strong candidate for development into a sales or leadership position. Sales and leadership candidates are tasked with demonstrating a diverse and wide-ranging set of technical skills, yet their aptitude in these technical skills or ‘hard skills’ cannot signify great leadership potential. This is why a healthy balance of soft skills and technical ability is required. 

So what exactly is the difference between technical skills and soft skills? In engineering, it’s crucial to demonstrate knowledge of physics as well as a strong grasp on mathematical equations. Yet, in any industry, it’s important for leaders to be able to interact with other people effectively with soft skills like communication, empathy and adaptability. 

Business Linked Team’s 2018 study into internal leadership development revealed that 69% of large organisations are prioritising the identification and development of future leaders from within the workforce. As more and more organisations begin to invest in sales or leadership development within their existing workforces, more focus needs to be placed on ensuring the right soft skills are in place. 

With those soft skills in place throughout the workforce, the business will benefit from a wider pool of potential leaders developing under their noses, and it should be the same where sales candidates are concerned. 

It’s not just about easier access to ideal candidates for these positions without the rigmarole of recruiting from outside of the organisation. The leadership development study also found that 89% of HR decision makers say succession planning has become a top priority. Those currently serving in leadership positions can’t lead forever and the same goes for those generating sales for the business.

Why leaders must balance technical expertise with soft skills

From people leaving for new opportunities or retirement, to people simply stepping aside to focus on other areas of the business, successful leaders and salespeople require experienced and capable successors that will be ready and able to confidently step into their shoes and pick up the mantle without the business experiencing any lapse in performance.

Soft skills make stronger candidates

When it comes to the soft skills required, a strong leader must be able to manage through clear communication and effective time management, coaching and goal setting. They must be able to demonstrate empathy and empower their teams to be successful, productive and fully engaged. And beyond simply giving direction, they must also be able to take direction from those above them and cascade the business strategy down through their teams. 

A strong sales candidate must possess the ability to communicate value to the customer, negotiate well and protect margin or the ability to increase the scope of a particular sales opportunity. 

With the relevant soft skills in place, the business will benefit from increased productivity, greater agility against changing market conditions and greater transparency. In turn, this will provide visibility on issues and inefficiencies while removing opportunity for miscommunication. All of this can transform the culture of a department, improving employee satisfaction and reducing staff turnover. 

Ultimately, developing leadership or sales candidates will require the business to strike the right balance between technical skills and soft skills, and this requires an effective and sustained learning journey.

A balanced learning journey

Facilitating and supporting the development of leadership and sales is best achieved by establishing training groups. By cultivating training groups, businesses are creating talent pools that will inspire and support each other on the learning journey. However, personal goals and learning objectives must be defined for each individual based on their own existing skillsets and the skills that each individual needs to develop. 

With the emergence of e-learning, businesses recognise the value of online-based learning activities, yet many make the mistake of opting for one-size-fits-all solutions which are solely focused on self-study. A development solution will only deliver true return on investment if it combines e-learning activities with group learning activities that provide opportunity for shared experiences and support.

A blended learning solution that combines self-study and face-to-face group learning activities will aid strong development of the talent pool through shared experiences. Through these shared experiences, those undergoing the training will organically develop a support network that supports the development of the group as much as it supports the development of each individual. 

The blended learning approach is supported by one of the seven principles of human learning that socially supported interactions aid the individual development of expertise, metacognitive skills, and formation of the learner’s sense of self. The strongest opportunities for development can be unlocked by blending workshops with online activities such as virtual sessions, peer coaching, self-study, online games and business simulations. But it’s crucial to provide a blend of one-to-one and group sessions too.

Beyond delivering a better learning outcome for the employee, the blended learning approach allows organisations to adapt their training quickly and easily to shifting business demands in an ever-changing landscape.