Employers challenged over Healthiest Workplace findings

Too many organisations make wellbeing offerings optional or not visible, diminishing their return on productivity and health.

The observation was made by Dr Christian van Stolk of research firm RAND Europe, the powerhouse behind Britain’s Healthiest Workplace survey.

Speaking at a conference in Birmingham last month, van Stolk described how one NHS Trust he visited put its wellbeing intervention in a building a mile off site and ‘past the bins’: “Is that really a driver for participation for people working in operating theatres? Just think it through in terms of access,” he challenged the audience.

The RAND vice president added that wellbeing should be a core part of any business, from the time firms allocate for employees to take part in interventions, to board support for them.

“Don’t make wellbeing a bolt on, something you do in lunch, make it core to what you are doing in the workplace,” he told delegates. Leaders who see wellbeing as essential to productive working and business culture also have higher engagement with initiatives, he said. “Culture change starts with the line manager and senior leadership in your organisation.”

Sharing findings from Britain’s Heathiest Workplace, he said that participation in wellbeing programmes reduces employees’ work impairment by 3.3 percentage points compared with those who never engaged. Longer term participation led to better mental health, cardiovascular health and perceptions of bullying.

However, findings showed that uptake and awareness of wellbeing initiatives is a big problem for firms. Nearly 50 per cent of 26,000 employees across 129 firms surveyed have access to interventions, but only 22 per cent were aware of the offer. Less than a third of those aware are participating. “There is a real awareness and participation challenge,” he said.

Poor mental health is the leading cause of productivity loss. Photograph: slide from RAND presentation

 

When pressed to recommend an initiative he said: “I’m quite sceptical of putting faith in one single intervention. I think it’s a holistic approach and you can’t take work culture out of this. Leaders who are supportive will find their line managers are too – it’s that whole ecosystem.”

Dr Christian van Stolk was speaking at Health and Wellbeing at Work at Birmingham’s NEC centre on 5 March.